I love distractions. There, I said it. I love finding a good rabbit hole on the Internet and getting lost for hours. I never knew that every Pixar film is related and can be placed on a timeline until I found the Pixar Theory. I never knew the fascinating history and art of Bonsai trees until I heard a podcast and started looking up images on Google.
I love being distracted.
But I desire to be focused.
I want to have an idea and see it completed. I want to be singularly focused until that task is done. It isn’t easy, but it is possible with a little foresight and a lot of faith.
Focus on focusing
One place I always tend to fail is looking ahead and planning. I wait until a great idea hits me and then I chase after it. I work at that idea with 100% effort until it is done. That leaves me completely drained for any task that comes later. It also leaves me in a bad situation because it puts me behind on the tasks I put on the back burner while chasing this great concept.
This is where a lesson I learned from exercising has application at my desk. My coach has a few saying he has drilled into me. One is, “Slow is steady; steady is fast.” The other is, “Always work at 80%.” The idea behind both these sayings is to work consistently but have enough gas in the tank to finish well. If you give all your effort on one task, you will not have enough to finish what comes after it.
To help me with that, I have learned to lean heavily on my Google Calendar. There is a great discussion about this at Lifehacker. but the point is to schedule your day in a way that you get reminded of what you should be doing at any given time.
This has proven beneficial to me in multiple ways. I schedule breaks for both my brain and my body. This prevents me from getting too frustrated with one thing. It also helps me focus because I know I only have a certain amount of time to work on a given task (like this article for example).
Forcing yourself to make a schedule also forces you to do something else critical to being focused…
Find your priorities
I am a DIY-er at heart. Some of my earliest memories are of my father and me going out on a Saturday morning to buy materials to fix or build something for our house. Because of that, when something in my house breaks, my first reaction is to look up how to fix it, see if it is above my skill level, refuse to admit it is, and get it done “good enough.”
Having a do-it-myself attitude is good, but it has several downfalls. My family recently moved into a new house with too many projects to count. It only took a few weeks for me to become completely overwhelmed with everything I felt I had to do.
It took my wife sitting me down and helping me develop a plan of priorities for me to finally get a grasp on what I needed to do now, what could wait, and what really didn’t even need to be done.
Every day of our lives can be like a project home. There are lots of things to do, but we have to find what really matters, what really has to be done today, and what can wait or not be done at all.
Developing a schedule and doing the work of planning forces you to do that. It also makes you realize the aspects of your job you have to do but do not really enjoy. Anyone who knows me personally has heard at least one sermon from me on the evils of email.
I hate email.
I hate going through email.
I hate clicking emails.
I know they are a necessary evil, but they are evil.
And I hate email.
This totally understandable, justifiable, and relatable loathing has caused me to neglect my email, resulting in the cumulation of several thousand of them. Now I have a scheduled time devoted to emails every day. Of course, I respond to urgent ones, but now I have time to deal with them properly, file them, and delete them. I have found that scheduling time for them has caused me to be faster in my responses, although I spend less time dealing with them.
And since I know I only have limited time to deal with them, I have developed a process. Currently, my inbox is sitting at zero and has been like that for several weeks.
Less time spent in emails means I have more time for the priorities I discovered earlier.
In all things, rely on the Holy Spirit
At the beginning of every journey we start off with tons of energy and gusto, only to lose steam, become frustrated, and embrace whatever weakness we were trying to overcome. It is a death cycle.
When I read Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ,” I realize that applies to the plain, simple work I do at my desk every day of the week.
But it goes beyond just the work I do. It also goes into the way I prepare to do the work. That is why doing the planning before doing the work has become so important to me.
It may not be the most fun part of the day, but it is an important part that will make us more productive, more peaceful, and better witnesses for Christ.
I have found in those days where I just don’t want to do the planning, or much of anything, I must go to the Holy Spirit and ask for the desire to work in a way that honors and pleases Him.