Finding Focus & Flow in a Distracted World
Some days I’m a demon for getting things done. I’m “firing on all cylinders.” As things in my calendar or workflow show up, I knock them out with a resounding sense of being on top of my game. I’m on top of my to-do list and all my appointments are on time and on-topic. I’m in my flow.
Other days it feels like I’m a sloth with ADHD. I hardly get anything done and can’t stay on task to save my life. Every new notification or random distraction takes me down an endless rabbit hole of straying from my task at hand.
These distractions frustrate me and will result in me justifying my distractions or (more often) condemning myself for not getting more done. And these feelings and though processes can get momentum and steamroll and entire day, or even two.
On days when I’m in my flow, there are lots of things happening OUTSIDE me; phone calls, emails, errands — all actions. I am operating externally. It’s not that I’m not using my brain, but it’s a tool I’m using to get things done.
On days when I’m not in my flow, there are lots of things happening INSIDE of me. It’s like a three ring circus of thoughts, judgements, ideas and recriminations. It’s exhausting and frustrating. Predictably... NOTHING. GETS. DONE. In this case my brain is running the show, and I’m not in charge.
When this happens, it can be easy to get trapped in a debilitating spiral of blame, shame and suffering. The quiet, yet persistent voice keeps nagging:
- “Why can’t I get more done?”
“How am I EVER going to be successful if my days go like this?”
“This is the reason I haven’t achieved ‘X’!”
“What are my kids learning from me by the way I lead my life?”
“This confirms what I’ve always been afraid of, that I’m (a) ‘X’” (failure, worthless, flawed)
For the purposes of this conversation, I want to distinuguish that ME and MY BRAIN are two different entities.
If you’re familiar with this frustrating experience, then it’s time to throw away your to-do list. It’s not doing you any favors right now. We need to look at what you’re up to from a new angle.
To change this way of operating in the world, we need to shift two important things:
- Shift the way we design our schedules from being a VICTIM of a never-ending todo list to being the MASTER of how we allocate our time and energy.
- Shift from focusing on the distractions of what’s going on INSIDE our heads to creating action steps we can take OUTSIDE our heads.
From Victim to Master
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Life is complicated. There’s work, relationships, kids, never-ending errands and an endless stream of information that we receive every day. A vast majority of them have no real impact on our lives, yet they consume a large chunk of our energy and time.
We all think we’re the master of our world, but for most men, if we looked at the day-to-day existence, we are REACTING to the world around us. We react to requests, invitations, and expectations. Some of these might sound familiar:
- “Can you pick up X on the way home?”
“I’m doing a fundraiser for (insert worthy charity), would you donate?”
“I think we should meet about this, what’s your calendar look like?”
“You are so good at X, would you give me a quick hand? It won’t take long”
“I’d love your insight/advice, can I buy you a cup of coffee?”
“I don’t feel like making a meal, where would you like to go out to dinner?”
“We haven’t been away AT ALL this summer, can we take a long weekend in August?”
The list goes on and on. We react to circumstances and powers that are WAY beyond our control. And we get in the habit of reacting. Reacting by doing whatever it takes to make people go away. Reacting by doing whatever is easiest in the moment, in order to be left alone and to enjoy a fleeting moment where we think we have control over what happens next.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth. With every short cut we choose, we bind ourselves further into future commitments and expectations that become harder and harder over time to let go of.
We must take a stand.
Being the MASTER of your world means choosing what fits into your bigger plan and what is in service of where you’re going or who you want to be.
It means saying “no.” It especially means saying “no” when you’ve said “yes” in the past. Saying “no” when “yes” is easier. Saying “no” when you know it will upset someone. Maybe your wife, maybe your boss, maybe your kids.
Instead of reacting, let go of whatever doesn’t serve you. Take back your choice. Take back your power and get your hands back on the wheel of your life.
Stay connected to people who really matter to you, and let everyone else go. You’ll get to own your choices, and people will get used to hearing your authentic self, not some placating , bland, vanilla “yes man.”
Once you have made the choice to shift from being a victim to being the master of your choices, it’s time to focus on moving thought and opinion to action and achievement.
Shifting Focus from INSIDE to OUTSIDE
“What should I do first?”
“What’s the right way to do this?”
“Where do I start?”
These are familiar questions. They face us when we’re taking on a new project or a daunting task. This is especially true if you’re facing a challenging project or topic that you’ve put off. Examples might include weight loss, money management, relationship issues and other “hot button” topics.
We want to do our best, and we don’t want to screw it up. However the problem is, that we often get mired in spending more time thinking about a project and worrying about how we might screw it up compared to the time it would take to implement it.
You might be thinking, “But Charlie, there are ramifications if we don’t do it right!!”
That may be true, but I’m willing to bet the impacts are far less significant than your brain says they are. It’s easy to over-worry about getting it right if you’re a person who’s a people-pleaser or a perfectionist. But the cost is immense — inaction, stagnation and a lack of results.
“OK, so where do I start?”
Great question. I’ve created a 4-part action plan that will empower you to transform any challenging assignment from feeling overwhelming to actionable. Together with this framework you’ll create an simple, yet effective plan that you can dig into starting today.