Focus is a place where I can slip into easily on some days, while on the others, I may have to coax myself into it. There is the long-term kind, which is the ability to stick to one goal long enough to see it through. And the short-term kind, that special ingredient needed to carry out day-to-day tasks to make long-term stuff happen. These may be mundane but utterly necessary tasks: such as writing a paper, filing taxes, administrative work, getting down to the nuts and bolts of creative work…
This is not a comprehensive list, but here’s what I’ve found to be useful for me, when I need to get down to business:
- First, observe what your level of optimal stimulation feels like for you. Know how this state feels like, in your body, in your mind. For me, optimal stimulation is when I’m clear headed, focused, directed, not jumpy or jittery, or in the sluggish grips of inertia. By knowing this feeling intimately, you can more easily direct your energy and attention towards shifting to that state. For me, it’s when my level of brain clutter or urge to wander about, or scroll through stuff diminishes considerably. I’m able to sit and just focus on that one task.
- What does it take for you to get there? How does your routine help you get started? When I wake up, I’m usually under-stimulated, because well, I’ve been sleeping. What helps me shift from one state to another is changing my environments. If I need a boost of work mode-type energy, I go to a neighborhood Starbucks where I know tons of freelancers are working. I let the group energy buoy me. Sometimes, I do wake up feeling restless and wired, with a desire to GO and SEE and DO and EXPLORE. So I do. I go for a walk. I go into a store to look at new things, to satisfy that sensation seeking side of me. Then I am more ready to settle down and get stuff done. This requires some patience and willingness to be attuned to how you’re feeling physically, and be open to responding to it.
- What tasks NEED to be accomplished for the day? Categorize them. Save your brainstorming and idea generation tasks for dreamier states. Admin, specific, goal-oriented tasks are best suited for the zone of optimal stimulation. As I’m self-employed and juggling multiple projects, the types of tasks I tackle varies greatly on a day to day basis, which suits me perfectly fine. I have long accepted that sitting in an office 5 days a week is NOT for me. But I do know to tackle the pressing priorities once I get into that zone of optimal stimulation. I know better now than to squander that focus on non-essentials!
- Be flexible. Accept that you will not be feeling the same way every day. Trust in the flow of your day, that you will still be able to get things done even if they don’t flow from A to B to C to D. That D to B to A to C is equally acceptable. Also, accept that one thing may work for you one day, and then it may not work the next! Keep playing, be open to trying out other ways.
- Keep timelines realistic. This would horrify the old perfectionistic me, but give yourself some bandwidth to achieve things. For example, if you intend to launch a project, instead of giving yourself a hard date, i.e. it MUST happen on Feb 21st, fix it instead on the 4th week of February. Of course, it’s not always up to us to define timelines, especially when clients are involved. But it’s always possible to give yourself some wiggle room to play with how you eventually accomplish a task.
- Accept that your attention will drift.
- Accept that overload may happen.
- Set concentration levels for 20 minutes max. Focused attention in adults happens in 20 minute blocks (and that’s for the best of ’em.) Every twenty minutes, allow yourself a 3 – 5 minute break to do completely mindless activities or something totally different from whatever you were focusing on. Then go back to it.
- Nothing’s permanent. Your emotional state is not the be-all and end-all. It comes. It goes. As sensitive people or empaths we tend to overemphasize our emotional states, but truly, they are just a form of information (important, yes), but not THE ultimate thing we should use to direct our lives. I know, it isn’t easy sometimes. But whenever I’m caught in a upswing and rush of stimulation, or wallowing in the deeper end of an under stimulation cycle, I remind myself that it’s just temporary. Change is just a few moments, hours or a day away.
Above all, working with your temperament – instead of fighting it! – and figuring out what works for you requires an openness and curiosity to play with how you are and how you work. Be okay with experimenting a little. It’s about responding gently to whatever arises. You can’t go wrong, because there is NO ultimate right and wrong, as long as it feels good and works for you.