Making friends with the whims of concentration
Please enjoy this sample narration from my brain last week while I was attempting to work on an Important Thing:
Argh! The cat’s licking is driving me crazy!! I wonder what’s on Twitter? (opens Twitter and reads a few entries)
I need to do that THING! Argh! Quit farting around! (closes Twitter) Okay, now work. (attempts to start the THING)
I wonder why those bees are hanging around outside my window… (ponders) What’s in my email inbox? (checks) Wait – what was I doing – oh! The THING!
Two hours later, the THING was not done.
When I was a kid, it was the same scenario except I was supposed to be cleaning my room. I’d get distracted by some fascinating thing (shell collection, old books, etc.) in the attempt and my mom would speak from another room, “I don’t hear any cleaning going on in there.”
It used to drive my mom batty. Now it drives ME batty. If I had an employer, I’d have someone to keep me on task (maybe). But, like many, I am self-employed and sometimes get hopelessly off-track and can’t get back on.
Traction or distraction?
If I had traction, I would be moving forward with the THING. But in the scenario above, I was completely distracted and unable to focus.
If you have ADD or just think you do, maybe you can relate. We all have days like this. In fact, one of my favorite authors, Ned Hallowell, theorizes that even those without ADD may have the same behaviors when trying to juggle too many things.
If you get distracted like this periodically, it’s pretty normal. But, since it’s hardly a desirable place to be in very long, you might be wondering what to do about it?
Moving toward traction
Bouts of distraction happen. That’s just how it is.
Everyone has different symptoms when they’re feeling distracted, but the outcome is usually the same: you’re busy, but your work’s not purposeful.
Since I really believe it’s your office’s job to support you, sometimes making small adjustments to your space can help you feel less distracted so you can focus better.
Small adjustments come from the little things you notice around you. Be curious for a moment about what’s distracting you. On the crazy day I described above the sun’s glare was bothering me. I noticed the cat’s repetitious grooming. I looked around me and saw multiple open project folders vying for my attention.
All of the things you notice are great information.
Once you realize what’s pulling you off-track, take a couple of minutes to manage your experience. Remove the attention-grabbers. Your sanity is worth it.
For myself, I closed the blinds to keep the glare out of my eyes, I moved the cat off my lap, I put a project away that was messing up my desk, and closed the other blinds because the sun moved (well, technically, the earth moved).
Anyway, managing my experience helped me concentrate enough to start the THING.
Except when that doesn’t work
I tried to start the THING and got distracted. Again.
And then I humbly realized: I can’t bend focus to my will. Concentration can only be managed. Even in the clearest, most refreshing spaces sometimes people still can’t concentrate.
When focus is an Inside Job
When adjusting your external space doesn’t work, it’s time to look inside yourself and find out what is really happening. It’s what I call an Inside Job.
If your brain is zipping along at breakneck speed – while you’re compulsively checking email, Facebook, Twitter, and photos of your dogs all at the same time – it’s a symptom.
Sometimes you need a break. Or a glass of water. Or a 2-week vacation. No matter which way you slice it, your brain needs to be allowed to run free.
A desk can drag you down
Once upon a time, people moved around. They moved their bodies for work, walked places, rode animals, collected their own food. Frankly, it wasn’t that long ago.
Today, I know a lot of people who, for work, sit at desks for a large portion of the day. Me, for one. Now, that’s not such a bad thing. If not for the Internet, Inspired Home Office wouldn’t exist.
But for many people that natural, vital movement is gone.
What to do about it
That compulsive internet checking is an attempt to meet the need for movement, except that it doesn’t work very well.
If you beat yourself up because you can’t concentrate, take a fresh look at what’s happening.
Robert Fritz, another of my very favorite authors, believes that taking breaks is vital to creativity. Who hasn’t gotten a good idea in the shower? Or out walking?
If you’re not productive and feeling antsy, move. That’s right. Get on up and get away from your desk. Do something you like. You’ll be surprised what good it’ll do you – and how much better you’ll concentrate when you get back.