A few weeks ago, I put out a call on Twitter and on Facebook for detailed posts that people would like to see. I got enough great responses that I’m going to fill the entire month of July – one post per day – addressing these ideas.
Terrence on Facebook wants to know about “Meditation and focusing techniques.”
Meditation and focusing is a big part of my daily routine. I strive to be a good parent, a good husband, and a successful writer and small business owner. Alone, those demands on my time and attention are intense, but when you add on top of that my hobbies, community work, and other interests, it’s key that when I’m involved with something, I need to have ease of mind and also an ability to focus on the task at hand.
I do lots of little things to make this possible. After making a long list of these techniques, I realized that seven of them stood out from the pack.
Get plenty of sleep This wasn’t quite as true with me when I was a college student, as I would be able to focus reasonably well on very little sleep. Today, though, I realize that I may not have been focusing quite at my optimum at those times. My most productive and worthwhile days almost always come after a good night of sleep.
For me, the best amount of sleep is somewhere between seven and eight hours total, and with a bit more added on for each interruption during the night. The more dreams I have mixed in with deep sleep, the better my next day seems to go. If I get less than that for one night, I seem to do well the next day, but if I chain together days with inadequate sleep, my attention starts to really slip. My work simply isn’t as good and there’s not as much of it produced.
Eliminate distractions – and no excuses I do my best work when I’m able to slip into a “zone,” where I’m so in touch with what I’m doing that I lose all track of time and awareness of the outside world. This “zone” is often easily interrupted by things such as phone calls, instant messages, email, and things like this that can “pop” in and distract me.
Thus, I tend to get into the zone most effectively by eliminating as many paths to distraction as I can. I turn off my cell phone and my business phone. I block many of the websites that most distract me. I turn off all of my social media “pop up” programs. I close the door to my office. These touches reduce the number of ways in which I can be distracted from the task at hand.
Work in bursts I tend to embed myself with a single task until either it’s done or my run of concentration on it breaks. This period can be anywhere from ten minutes to two hours, but when I find my mind starting to wander away from the task at hand, I put it aside for a while and do something else.
I find that whenever I push through breaks in my concentration, I tend to work a lot more slowly and the progress I do make is of low quality. I’m almost always better off if I just go do something different for a while. I’ll move from writing to reading email. I’ll move from email to reading a relevant book. I’ll move from reading to working on an article.
Handle expected transitions with meditation Whenever I know I’m about to transition from working to personal time, or when I’m going to start working during our children’s naptime, I take a short break (ten to twenty minutes) to meditate and get my mind relaxed and ready to handle a completely different set of challenges.
This is something I more or less used to do while commuting. I would try to completely blank my mind on my way from home to work so that I could work effectively. I’d try to blank my mind on my way from work to home so that I could be an effective parent and husband.
Meditate using “cool waves” My usual meditation technique is to just sit in a comfortable place, close my eyes, and try as best I can to blank out my mind. I try to avoid all thoughts and to think about nothing at all (or as close to it as possible).
If I can achieve that, I try to imagine cool waves are slowly coming up my body, as if I’m lying on a beach as the tide is coming in and the water is cool – not cold, but not even lukewarm. Once it reaches my face, I imagine it receding just as slowly.
Some people complain of falling asleep while meditating. This only happens to me if I get inadequate sleep, which is my single fundamental technique for focusing on the task at hand.
Don’t “overwork” Being successful at parenting or at work requires some degree of balance. If you spend too much time in one zone or another, you lose out on the ability to subconsciously reflect on what you’ve achieved in that area of life.
The consequence of that seems to be (for me) that I lose the ability to govern what is important work and what isn’t important work. I’ll get heavily distracted by social networking, for example, and fail to write good posts. I’ll stop spending time gathering good ideas and end up writing articles based on substandard ideas. When you can’t judge what’s important and what isn’t, you end up treating the trivial with as much importance as the vital and that just causes stress and a reduction of quality on the important things.
Don’t let work interrupt your personal life Do you live to work or work to live? If your job is all that matters to you, leave that cell phone on all the time and ignore your kids when you get a call from work or when you sit on the deck looking up resources for your job. Your children and spouse and friends certainly do notice this. They can tell when you’re paying attention to them or to something else and they decide based on that how important they are to you and how much attention and effort they should give in return in your relationship.
Take time off. Go home at five. Roll around in the grass with your children while work is the last thing on your mind. It’ll make you a better worker and a happier person.