Focus Pocus

Romanian_NudeI’m just back from a brief trip to the Deepish North – no, not the really Deep North like Northumberland – where I took my son Frankie to Barnard Castle for a few great days with his grandparents. They only have wired internet, and upstairs only, and in quite awkward places too… so it was tricky to get online when, among all the other things, Frankie wants me to play all of the time and is demanding to know where I am if I drop out of sight for longer than a few seconds. I could only do one thing at a time. No email. No Facebook. No… anything. Just family. Talking and being with loved ones. I loved it. And I relearned a very special lesson. Want to know what it was?

The lesson was all about focus.

It’s the thing that you’ll hear everyone saying that they need. In this media-saturated modern world there are too many voices competing with each other for our limited attention. Even while I was writing this, a good friend Skyped me on a different PC and I was torn between that important conversation and trying to get my thoughts for this article down before I lost them. I ended up doing a partial job on both, feeling as though I hadn’t really done either of them justice.

On the train back, I sat with my laptop trying to get some important coding done on a pet project of mine. Of course, in the seat next to me, Frankie was busy firing off a new very important question every couple of seconds. “Daddy, why does…” “Daddy, in the first episode, when does…” “Daddy, do you know why…” “Daddy… Daddy… Daddy…”

I could have told him to stop asking questions, or to be quiet, or to watch a DVD or play a game etc to give me time to myself. I didn’t though. I focused on being with him, and I answered every single one of his questions for the next few hours. The other people in our carriage in the seats around us were all smiling and chuckling to themselves as they marveled at how a small boy could come up with so many questions for so long. I did not begrudge Frankie any of it. I figured that if he had questions, then I could sure as heck answer them to the best of my ability. By the way, he only stumped me once in three hours. The killer question that he earnestly asked me, and for which I had no answer, was “Daddy? Why do trains not have seat belts?” I had to admit that this was a very good question, and I told him so. He was not impressed, and repeated the question. I asked him if he thought they should, and he said “Yes.”

What did I learn? That by focusing on my son and nothing else, we shared a special time together that built stronger bonds between us. After starting the visit by feeling frustrated that I couldn’t do the things online that I usually do, by the end of the visit I was loving the focus on just being with people in an accepting and 100% attentive way.

Not long after I arrived back home, and had put Frankie to bed and caught up with Judy, I hit the internet. One of the first things that I noticed was that Patti Stafford had blogged about her own issues with making decisions and focusing her energies. Reading her blog post, I was struck by how similar it was to my own experience.

When it comes to making decisions, I hate deciding on one thing because it means giving up this and that, which I also feel I love. So, I get around myself by promising that I will focus on the one thing I choose, and that I’ll get around to the other things later on in the schedule. That way, it doesn’t feel as though I am giving them up.

So, make that FOCUS. F.O.C.U.S. Follow One Course Until Successful.

You see, I love doing so many things, I’m constantly dragging myself off in conflicting directions. It’s partly unproductive chaos, and partly what I think gives me my productive spark. And I don’t want to make a choice and stick to it, because how can I give up the other things that I want to do?

What’s the answer?

Part of it just like the song says, just let go. All I have to do to start being productive is just let go of all the other stuff and trust that it will all settle and find its level without my having to be there controlling it.

How do I make it OK to not do the other things?

I just put time limits on everything. If I say that I will not be writing fiction as a priority because it makes me very little money, whereas writing and selling PLR over at PLR Gentleman makes me money so that’ll be my priority, then I avoid depressing myself about never writing again by making an agreement with myself that I will write and sell PLR for a certain amount of time – say, six weeks – and after that I’ll do some more fiction writing.

Six week agreements seem to work very well indeed for me. I get to experience doing something every day for at least 30 days, so that the thing starts to embed itself in me as a habit. But what keeps me going is the thought that, at the end of the six weeks, I can stop and do whatever I like for a bit. And then after that, I can choose a new thing to focus on for the next six weeks. And so on.

Right now, I am feeling torn between two writing tasks. Putting off making a decision about which one to do has resulted in a lot of time being squandered. What’s needed is a simple decision – write about this one for six weeks, and then stop and write about the other one.

The best thing in the world can feel like a prison sentence if I commit to doing it every day for ever and ever, Amen. So the smart thing to do is put a time limit on it. The worst thing in the world suddenly seems very do-able once I realize that it’s only for a short period of time.