I don’t use the word ‘cultivate’ lightly, I use it after much thought.
Cultivate has a few different definitions, and there are a couple that speak to me:
I don’t think (at least for me) that focus is something you can simply switch on and off – until you are very well practised in it that is. In fact, I’m not sure (once again, at least for me) that you can ever get to the stage where you can quickly and simply flick the focus switch.
Focus is something that doesn’t seem to come naturally to me for just any old task. Especially ones that are undertaken alone.
In a group setting focus is much easier for me. I tune in to what people are saying and time flows effortlessly. I’ve never had a problem focusing in a classroom, a yoga studio or a meeting room.
It’s when I am alone, with a task at hand, that procrastination and distraction become apparent. Very apparent.
As luck would have it, I’m alone most of the day – working from home in my own business. I also have many tasks to focus on, my own projects and client work.
Client work comes a little easier for me. I have deadlines (and I’m 110% deadline orientated). I have someone to answer to. And I feel passionate about doing a great job. Even then, on most days, focus doesn’t come easily. It’s something I have to work for.
When it comes to my own work, projects for my business and things like writing blog posts… Well, it’s a hard slog. Because distraction is easy. Scrolling through a social media feed doesn’t ask much of me. Losing time down a Wikipedia black hole doesn’t stretch me or my attention span. It’s easy to be distracted. It’s harder to ‘do the work’.
Is this resonating with you?
For the longest time, the phrase ‘do the work’ was one I heard a lot, but one that confused me. I wasn’t really sure what it meant. It got bandied about a lot, but no one was really telling me what ‘the work’ was.
I’d have days where I thought I knew exactly what ‘the work’ was. I was doing it. Kicking goals. But then the next day I’d once again feel like I didn’t understand it at all.
It’s only been recently that I think I’m shining a light on what ‘the work’ truly is. It’s deep work.
Professor Cal Newport describes deep work as, “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.
“It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.”
OH! So, that’s what ‘doing the work’ means. Gotcha.
Deep work is still something I’m new to. If you follow me on Facebook you know I’m working my way through Newport’s book on this subject right now.
But it was before I’d even heard of deep work that I knew I needed to cultivate focus. And for me, hand in hand with focus comes motivation. Or is it motivation that comes first? Chicken or the egg. What I do know is that motivation breeds powerful rationalisation behind focus. It eggs it on (excuse the pun). So it makes sense that motivation is something else I’m delving into.
As I’ve alluded to, I’m not even close to closing off this focus chapter of research for myself. It’s something I’m going to continue to look at. But I’ve come across something I’d like to share with you now, knowing that I will in the future have much more to say on this subject.
I’m slightly obsessed with knowing all about other people’s routines. How do they start their morning? What is it they do before entering the creative cave? What does their work day look like?
I’m slightly obsessed because I know routine is very important to cultivating focus. People do these things to hone their minds. To shine a spotlight on what’s important. To focus on doing the work.
I think routines are basically made up of two things. What you DO do, and what you DON’T do. For example, you do take a run first thing in the morning and you don’t check your social media feeds till afterwards.
As someone lucky enough to have (mostly) full control over what my day looks like, I’m in a privileged position to design a routine that works perfectly for me. A routine that cultivates focus. So that’s what I’m working on. And, of course, I’ll report back.
Now I’d love to hear from you – what does ‘cultivating focus’ mean to you? How do you do it? Let me know in the comment section below.