Slow Down, You’re Movin’ Too Fast

There is something almost magical about getting lost in the moment, whether deeply engaged in a project at work, or while at play indulging in your favorite hobby. Sometimes all it takes to get lost is the company of your favorite person.

I have a friend who is one of the most satisfied people I know. His hobby, which he indulges in often, is woodworking and I suspect it has much to do with his contentment. When he is working with the wood, it takes a lot of concentration. It’s hard to worry about other things when your mind is completely occupied.

We don’t do enough of that intense focusing, I’m afraid. We are so busy and so scattered that our focus follows suit.

After you have spent some quality time fully focused on what (or who) is at hand, it feels as if something important has transpired. Something has—you have fulfilled a deep need to concentrate. Have you noticed that, when this happens, the hours seem to fly by? Even though you may have been working, it feels more like you’ve been on a mini vacation.

That’s because concentrated focus causes the rest of the world to fade away. It’s just you and what’s in front of you and that can be amazingly relaxing. This is true whether it’s a spreadsheet you are balancing at work or, after hours, a ballroom dance you are attempting to master. In my case, it happens when I am writing a column. I am alone with the empty page in front of me and the more the thoughts and words unfold, the more it seems as if nothing else exists. As I write the words you are now reading, I am on a noisy airplane and yet, because I am thoroughly focused on the task at hand, I feel undisturbed and happy.

How can we apply concentrated focus to improve the quality of our work and personal lives?

When you are in a meeting, can you be present to only what’s going on in the room instead of worrying about other issues? When you’re talking on the phone, can you close your eyes and be with the person you’re conversing with instead of working on other things simultaneously? When you’re driving, can you only drive?

I’m as guilty of multi-tasking as the next person but I am becoming increasingly aware of the price we pay for it. We are frazzled. We are stressed. And people, we are grumpy.

The more I think of my woodworking friend, the more I recognize he’s onto something big. I also realize it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. You don’t have to give up multi-tasking in favor of concentrated focus. Consider this: absorption in one thing at a time not only gets the task at hand done more quickly and efficiently, it also considerably reduces your stress level. How’s that for multi-tasking?

Years ago, someone taught me the following productivity trick: choose the three most important things you want to get done that day and make sure you do them. The days on which I follow this sage advice are considerably more enjoyable than the rest. When my head hits the pillow on those nights, I’m a happy camper and deeply satisfied. Although having a sense of accomplishment is a strong part of it, having spent time fully engaged in getting those three things done enhances my feelings of fulfillment. Also, those mini vacations really work! I’m much more relaxed and get to sleep easily.

Whatever the work you do, it can only be enhanced by focusing more completely and on one thing at a time. The more often you indulge yourself in this practice, the more you’ll get done. The funny part is, you’ll have added energy and be much less grumpy. Again with the multi-tasking! What a great thing!

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