Focus

As is obvious I haven’t posted on the blog for quite some time. I have been in Argentina for the last two months, and pretty much just working out and studying. There has been some stress connected with business events in Asia but far less than usual. I’m looking forward to getting back in another three weeks.

This post is about focusing.

The Practical Stoic makes a point that it is necessary to feed one’s mind all the time. Just as you can’t eat once a month, neither can you just read or watch something inspiring once and hope that your mind just accepts it for the rest of time. You must feed your mind constantly. But – at the same time … I’m suspicious of the self-help industry in so many ways. I have this sense that many people who write the self-help books are simply churning out content, talking it up in the blogosphere/podcast world to get people to buy it, and that it is somehow a scam. And although some of that is doubtless true, there is still a lot of excellent material out there to learn from.

This is the case for a book that I bought called Hyperfocus [Chris Bailey]. Funnily enough, I bought it 2 months ago in the throes of enthusiasm from the course that I was taking from Barbara Oakley on ‘Learning How To Learn’. And then I couldn’t focus to read it. 😊

I have recently started to listen to audiobooks, and the audiobook for Hyperfocus came with the Kindle edition. So, just a few days ago, I decided to try listening to it instead of reading it.

Listening in some ways may be better for me. I think that when I read, I have a tendency to skip over parts of what is written on the page in front of me instead of absorbing it. In this case, after listening to the first few chapters of the book I discovered a gem, at least for me.

He has a matrix (See Below) to categorize the various things that one does every day. It was a real eye-opener for me. The four quadrants are:

The basic matrix Chris Bailey talks about

The basic matrix Chris Bailey talks about

Unattractive / Productive = Necessary = Things that need to be done but that you don’t particularly like doing

Attractive / Productive = Purposeful = Things that you ENJOY doing. The sweet spot

Unattractive / Unproductive = Unnecessary = Things that don’t really need to be done like tidying one’s desk – allow you to procrastinate from Necessary or Purposeful activities

Attractive / Unproductive = Distracting = Things you like to do and just distract you from focusing – Social Media

As I have said in earlier blog posts, I have always been irritated by the word “passion”. I can rarely remember being passionate about anything. What I did in the military? Perhaps? But even that I’m not so sure of anymore.

But filling out this matrix made me at least realize what I like and what I don’t like. It is truly never too late to learn new things about oneself.

My first attempt at it … A work in progress

My first attempt at it … A work in progress

I don’t like to proselytize about anything. But I will happily tell you what seems to work for me. In this instance, this matrix was one of those things. It was enough to get me off my hands and to actually start working and it inspired me to write again this morning for my blog. I like writing.

Focusing, or the ability to focus, has been one of the things that I have wanted to improve upon for years. I realize, of course, that other people may think that I am already focused, but nonetheless I have always seen this as one of my shortcomings. I have always believed that if I could work in a really focused way for just 4 to 5 hours a day that would be immensely better than 9 or 10 hours of distracted work.

And, should you choose to read the book, you will see that there are numerous studies that show that task switching is extraordinarily inefficient for humans. Once you switch from one task to another and try to switch back, it can take 15 to 30 minutes before you can really apply yourself back to your original task. I am in the school of work smarter not harder. And I really do believe that if I could focus better, I wouldn’t have to work so hard. Lazy at heart, that’s me.

So today, I am hoping to make the fresh start on concentrating on the things that I enjoy (attractive & purposeful) and that are required (unattractive & necessary). In effect, the two boxes at the top of the matrix.

Although I must admit I do not necessarily agree (as he said in the book) that cleaning and tidying and organizing is unattractive and unproductive. If one is a minimalist and somewhat obsessive about being neat and clean, I’m not sure that those really belong in that bottom left quadrant. :-) I may have to move those.

I am also trying to pay attention to what he says about being on auto-pilot. This is something I have really noticed about myself. I get in auto-pilot mode in a bad way. At a certain time of day I just start to wind down. And once I start, I’m done for the day. But I’m pretty sure if I can get myself out of that mode I might have a couple of useful hours of focusing left in me. I’ll try it and let everybody know in a week or so how that works out for me. 😊

I have also just included a blank copy of the spreadsheet in case anybody wants to download it and use it.