Category Archives: Focus

Just One Thing!

Happy New Year!  Okay, we’re about done with the first month of the year, so I’m a little late.  I might have partied too hard (aka had lots of friends visiting and couldn’t find time or a quiet space to get work done) and caught one of those terrifically bad cold bugs going around.  But I’ve been doing a lot of reevaluating BECAUSE it’s a brand spankin’ new year and I want to do this right.

In the past, the last few weeks of the year were when your friends would start talking about New Year’s Eve plans and New Year’s resolutions (and possibly resolutions that we knew we would immediately fail by January 2nd).  Articles online and tv show hosts would blast us with stories of resolutions that work.  Personally, since I’m a huge fan of lists, I’d come up with a list of All Important Resolutions that I was absolutely, positively sure I was going to keep.  I’d do it in my typical style and have a resolution for each area of my life: career, health, family.  And you all likely know what resulted.  The resolution to exercise twice a week failed within a couple months despite my great results.  The resolution to better stay in contact with far flung family members would get pushed by the wayside as the daily grind of keeping up with the family staring me in the face each day.  And of course, new “priorities” would crop up for the career category.  And on.  And on.  And on.  Disheartening.

But wait!  There’s a better solution, I promise.  I’m going to make a BROAD assumption that anyone reading the articles on this site is trying to make forward progress in their lives toward bigger and better things for themselves.  So here’s what I’ve decided: One Resolution.  Really.  Only one.  Because we’ve spoken of it before, that we only have so many hours in a day, so much brain power, so much will power, etc. that we can’t focus on multiple things and hope to gain any real ground.  Even the idea of “focus” requires that you narrow the subject down… to one thing.

So before we get all gung-ho and run around screaming “This is my year!!!”, sit down and really think about all the things that are important to you.  Then cross off a few items.  Then cross out another one.  And another.  Until you’ve got the one thing that’s so important, that getting it done will make the rest of your important goals easier to attain.  This shouldn’t be hurried.  This should be completely deliberate.  It might take some serious time.  But once you get down to it, “focus” and “priority” and “most important” are all words that describe a single thing.  And if you spend 80% of your time making progress on that One Thing, then you’re making progress on the one thing that will make the rest of your life propel forward toward more success.

For any naysayers out there, those who are sure that having many things to concentrate on is possible, read The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.  It’s a book many successful people read and try to live by and the authors do a good job debunking the glorious myths of multi-tasking and providing concrete examples of successful implementation of the one thing philosophy.

This month’s take aways:

  • Find your One Thing.

The Importance of Zzzzzs

I am good friends with more than a few nurses.  Strangely, I don’t know how that came to be considering that I have more nurse friends than you’d expect from someone not in the medical field.  But as the news got around that I was changing my work schedule to nights, I was barraged with warnings, advice, and admonishments.  Things like, “Make sure you take vitamin D supplements” and “Don’t forget to keep eating leafy greens” and “Working nights can make you sick!” It was as though they believed I’d completely lost my mind and turned into some fast food eating troglodyte whose idea of exercise was gnawing on beef jerky (which I want to assure my readers, I am not).

Out of all those helpful words to the wise, the hardest and yet simplest thing they reminded me to do (in a seemingly ENDLESS barrage of advice) was to “get enough sleep”.  For the last few months I’ve been tracking my sleep with the Jawbone UP and the results haven’t been pretty.  A few weeks ago, I received this message on my Jawbone app:  “Sleep deprivation can compromise everything from organ function, to creativity and emotional stability. Skimping on sleep can even shorten your life. Sleep more. Feel better. Live longer. A triple win!”  Even my app thinks I need to sleep more.  I am currently writing this post under the influence of five hours of sleep.  It took me six hours, a shower, one cup of tea, and two cups of coffee to get me this far in this post.  As for productivity, lack of sleep is the antiChrist.  Here’s a video with scary graphics of how evil lack of sleep can be: What would happen if you didn’t sleep?

In Brain Rules by John Medina (check out my review here), rule number seven is Sleep.  According to Medina, lack of sleep causes the brain to short circuit.  This short circuiting could explain why I’m having such difficulty writing this post and cannot even BEGIN to read my textbook on management for utilities (I’m sure my inability to study that has nothing to do with the dry, soporific material, nope, not at all).

Actually, I’m picking up the writing of this post more than a year after starting this because life as a walking zombie was just not working for me.  The importance of sleep is a real thing, people!

Here are this week’s Kick Me takeaways based on reading research by far smarter people than I to improve your sleep quality and quantity:

  • AVOID ALCOHOL, caffeine and other such chemicals 4-6 hours before bedtime.
  • CREATE A SOOTHING SLEEP CHAMBER so your bedroom gets fully dark, maintains a nice cool temperature, and look into making your bed more comfortable.
  • SCHEDULE BEDTIME.  Maintaining a regular bedtime schedule gets the internal clock set.

Good luck with your sleeping routines!  Let me know of any tips and tricks you use to help you sleep.  Until next time!

What was I doing again??

This week I’ve been struggling with getting my To Dos done. Frankly, I’ve been distracted. Unfocused. Unproductive.   During my daily reflections at the end of the day, more often than not, I’ve had more fails than gains. Mostly the fails have occurred for my “study” item on my To Do list. One of my week’s Vision themes was to comprehensively get through a significant portion of study material… and progress has been minimal. I admit it, I’ve been putting it off. On the rare occasion that I actually did sit down to read my textbooks, I’ve found myself reading the words but not really taking anything in, thereby wasting oodles of precious time! Bah! (A Kicking Myself moment to be sure.) On the third day of miserable failure on this front, I did some research to find methods to nail down my focus. Lots of articles out there (like this one from Entrepreneur.com) point out how we’ve trained our brains to multi-task so well that we don’t know how to focus anymore. This makes sense when I find myself thinking about plans for dinner while reading about redox reactions (these two trains of thought do NOT visit the same stations and I end up getting nowhere).

One method I found fairly popular is the Pomodoro Technique created by Francesco Cirillo. It’s a simple system of breaking up your time into 25-minute periods, or one Pomodoro, to work on ONE task and then taking a short 3-5 minute break. Then after four Pomodori (the Italian plural of pomodoro), take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. I’ve adopted the 25 minute task period for my study sessions and not much else yet because I’m a pansy and if my brain really needs to be retrained, then I’m going to start slow so I don’t injure myself. After the first day and three Pomodori chemistry sessions later, I was able to really dig deep into a difficult chapter.

A great free read is from Leo Babauta, author of the Zen Habits blog and The Power of Less, called Focus. He discusses how our culture has changed to one of such connectivity to people and media that it’s become one of distraction as well as widely available knowledge. In his book, he gives concrete, actionable things to slowly rid yourself of distractions and your own bad habits of seeking out the distractions.

Here are this week’s Kick Me takeaways based on advice from the above resources:

  • SCHEDULE FOCUS TIME. I find myself with long blocks of time to get things completed. But when I don’t schedule specific priority tasks/projects to be done within certain blocks of time, I discover very few of those Must Do tasks get checked off the list. From 9am-11am, work on training presentation.
  • SET TIME LIMITS. Finding focus is a skill that you build over time. So do sprints, rather than try a marathon. Short periods of focus time separated by even shorter breaks to prevent fatigue; 25 minutes wax on, 5 minutes wax off (yes, that was a Karate Kid reference for all you Mr. Miyagi fans).
  • DISCONNECT. Put the cell on silent and stick in a drawer. Turn off the email alerts and don’t even log into Facebook or Twitter or whatever social website you have as your drug of choice. They’ll all be waiting for you later. I promise.

I’d love to hear other people’s experiences and attempts at disconnecting and finding their lost ability to “single-task”!