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Leading Life: In focus

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

It's hard to believe that we’ve already arrived at the final post in the Leading Life series! Where has the time gone?

Before we dive into today's topic, let’s quickly review the ground we’ve covered together this summer:

And now we’ll wrap up by spending a few minutes focusing on… focus.

I have three brief observations to share:

  1. Focusing makes us happy. Have you noticed that you're happier when your mind isn’t wandering? Most of us probably don't take time to consider it, but that’s precisely what researchers Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert found. Participants in their study were pinged randomly throughout the day and asked what they were doing, whether their minds were wandering, and how happy they were. Killingsworth and Gilbert found that even dreaming of wonderful far off places (my words, not theirs) doesn’t increase our happiness when it distracts us from our current activities. Why not test this out yourself? I think you'll find that they're right. (I certainly did.)

  2. Email can be the enemy of focus. I could devote an entire blog-post series to the ways email has taken over our lives. Thankfully, there are many ways to reduce email distractions. Here are just a few. Commit to checking email only 2 or 3 times a day at designated times. If this suggestion makes you break out in a cold sweat, you’re not alone. Many of us have become accustomed (read: addicted) to the slot-machine nature of our inboxes. In that case, how about starting small by simply asking, “Do I have time to deal with whatever I might find in my inbox if I check email right now?” If the answer is no, perhaps you can wait for a better time. Tame your inbox. Overflowing inboxes can create constant low-level noise. Check out these tips for getting email under control from David Allen of “Getting Things Done” fame. Establishing clear email norms with colleagues can also reduce email volume. Are you expected to acknowledge every email you receive? Is it necessary to reply to all? Clear agreements have the added benefit of reducing the misunderstandings that can plague digital communication. Try an email alternative. Some of my clients swear by Slack, citing its ability to reduce email overload, though this too is a slippery slope. Don't underestimate the advantages of a face-to-face meeting or phone call. Sometimes a 10-minute conversation can accomplish what hours of emailing cannot.

  3. Focus can bring meaning to chaos. There are many possible interpretations of this statement, and I'm pretty sure that all are true. Here, I’m thinking of a technique recommended by Peter Bregman in 18 Minutes: Identify 5ish key areas of focus for your life (both personal and professional) and commit to spending 95% of your time there. I’m not suggesting that this is easy, but imagine a life lived by this principle. What would you say no to? What possibilities would open up?

Alright, I think I've crammed more than enough into this final Leading Life post. I worry that it feels unfocused. ;) I’ll end by simply inviting you to consider how you might create more moments spent fully engrossed in what you’re doing. Once you experience how great it feels, I bet you’ll do whatever you can to make it a regular occurrence.

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