Small packages sometimes hold the biggest lessons.
I had a candle warmer that collected dust for years. It needed two things: a “tart” (which is a wickless disc of scented candle wax) and a tea-light candle to go below the warming dish to heat the wax.
Finally, I bought a few Yankee Candle tarts. I looked forward to my office smelling like the scent of “Sun and Sand.” Within an hour, the tart had melted, and the room (and hallway) was infused with a tantalizing aroma. Score one for products that do what you expect them to do.
My next experience was not as successful. I burned a new tea-light candle, but the tart wasn’t melting. I felt the bottom of the metal dish. Its coolness surprised me. But the candle was burning. Why was there no heat?
Finally, it dawned on me. There was a breeze from another room that had the little flame dancing like Lady Gaga on five cups of espresso. The heat from the candle was being diverted and its potency, minimized.
Are you not the same?
Fragmented Attention-Span… The Enemy of Focus
You might try to focus on too many things at the same time. Then you wonder why a you never write the book, your marketing attempts never fully meet your expectations, or why your networking connections fall flat.
It’s because you’re trying to dance all over the place. Your attention is fragmented and only produces partially finished projects.
Today, our culture worships productivity. In an age where it’s possible to engage in several activities at the same time (hello, technology), we find our efforts are often scattered, rendering them almost useless. Our effectiveness becomes muted and weak. We’re like the small tea-light candle whose flame gets blown about by the breeze. Productivity experts give us “life hacks” to help us do more in less time.
But what does that do to the quality of our work? Is it always about getting as many tasks done in as short amount of time as possible? Or can we do the “deep work?”
In the book Deep Work Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport, explains deep work:
“Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”
In other words, deep work demands you commit to the work, block out distractions, and push your thinking skills to the limit. This type of effort produces tangible results and true learning.
But I’m curious. How often do you focus only on one task? How often do you not reflexively check email while listening to a Zoom meeting? Or check social media platforms when you’re talking to someone on the phone?
I’m as guilty as anyone else. The results are predictably dismal. You’re never fully present and as a result, your output isn’t as strong as it could be if you were focused.
For Creativity to Flourish… You Need To Focus
Personally, I think there is a general fear of focusing on our work. There are always emails to answer, phone calls to make, and other tasks that all seem to be a priority. If we take our concentration off one area, we feel we’ll lose ground. But is that really true?
In the Cleveland Clinic article, Why Multi-tasking Doesn’t Work, a study found that just 2.5% of people are able to multitask effectively. I’m guessing you’re probably not in that group. Neither am I. Our attempts to work on multiple tasks at once are actually jumping from one task to another, otherwise known as task-switching.
It usually isn’t effective and can often inhibit true productivity.
Technology only adds more fuel to the fire. The constant flow of information has addicted us to interruptions with a diminished ability to distinguish what is important versus what is merely interesting. Since we’re always afraid we’ll miss something, we try to absorb everything at once.
So much for FOMO (fear of missing out).
Say No To Your Electronic Devices
I admit I have a slight advantage when it comes to technology. I’m slightly addicted, but not as much as I would have been if I were younger. I didn’t grow up with technology. I got my information from visiting a local library and spent hours reading books.
Today it’s quite different. The majority of our population gets their information from the internet. The siren call of the screen calls to everyone, whether it’s on their desks or in their pockets.
It’s time to get off this crazy merry-go-round. Your brain does its best work when it can focus on one task at a time. And not only does this apply to business tasks, but also relationships.
If you’re having a meeting with a potential business partner but can’t listen for ten minutes before checking your phone for email messages, there’s a problem. Trying to keep up with technology’s offerings is a fool’s errand. You will never consume even a fraction of the information channeled through multiple technology devices.
Writing a Book Requires Focus
When writing a book, you need to eliminate as many distractions as possible. It may mean writing your book from a different location, free from interruptions. Or it may mean writing in a notebook at a cafe while leaving your electronic devices behind.
The point is that in order to focus, you need to give yourself a little time to “de-tox.” Try meditating or deep-breathing exercises to slow yourself down before you concentrate on the one task—writing.
Shut a few things down, or at least hide them while you focus on completing one task. Try focusing for 10 minutes on one thing. Then try 15 minutes. Extend your focus times until you’re able to focus completely on a task for a half hour. You might even be able to go a full hour before you know it.
You may find that you reap the rewards of a fuller and deeper life. You’ll get that book written, you’ll formulate a sound marketing strategy, and you’ll start building relationships that are rich and meaningful. When you treat people more importantly than your email inbox, it will pay off. When you approach your work with the intention to give it your fullest attention, you’ll reach success, even if it is in 15-minute increments.
Otherwise, you’ll be just like that little tea-light, with its flame dancing in the breeze…never producing the energy you know you have inside.