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Keeping focused on what matters right now

Posted Nov 17 2012 8:36am

Figure out what matters most, and stick with it till it’s done

One of the things I’ve been working on, lately, is keeping focused on what matters to me right now. This is a two-part challenge:

  1. Keeping from getting pulled in different directions by competing ideas and activities, and
  2. Keeping from getting too rigid in my thinking about what I should be doing.

The first “prong” of the challenge is your standard-issue ADD/ADHD/TBI-related distractability. I find that in the course of my day, I can get pulled in a hundred different directions in the space of a few hours. I get pretty excited about different things — opportunities, ideas, activities — and it works against me. Now, I’m one of those people who is always finding intriguing things to follow up on, and that’s a far sight better than being depressed and glum. On the whole I find life a fascinating adventure, more than a dreary chore to be endured. The problem with getting excited about different things, is that they end up taking me off in different directions, and then at the end of the day when I look back, I am no closer to achieving what I set out to, first thing in the morning.

And that dims the bright light of my day quite a bit. In fact, it puts me in a bit of a “bipolar” cycle — I get up in the morning so excited about everything and what I want to accomplish. And I go-go-go all day long, flitting from one thing to the next with lots of energy and exuberance. But by the end of the day, I’m wiped out. Just beat. And when I review my progress — and see that I’ve not done as much as I intended (sometimes I haven’t done anything I’ve intended) — it depresses me, and I feel terrible.

Ups and downs. Roller coasters. All that.

With regard to the second “prong” (not getting too rigid in my thinking), I find that in my eagerness to stay on track (often in the days following a “cognitive free-for-all”), I can get very locked into a set routine and a specific way of doing things.

Take today, for example. I have a handful of things I need to do for A Big Project that I’m working towards, and I am also going out of town for Thanksgiving and also some international business travel two weeks after that. So, for my Big Project, I have less time than I’d like, to focus on it. So, I had it in my mind that I was going to follow my standard weekend routine, so I could have the kind of structure that will help me stay on track and make steady progress towards my Project.

The only thing is, I got myself locked into thinking that I “had” to do certain things that I don’t really need to — and those things will eat up a bunch of time that I really need to do things like prepare for my travels, as well as sleep and get myself good and rested. I don’t “have” to do anything, except the bare minimum of everyday upkeep that’s directly related to my work and my upcoming travels. I have some extra things I need to do, before I go in a couple of weeks, too — like make sure there’s enough money in the right bank account, and there’s sufficient oil to heat the house in my absence, the trash is taken to the dump, and all the things I usually do will be all set for my spouse, while I’m away.

I have extra things to do. I can’t be running around doing non-essential things, just because they are part of my weekend routine and they provide a familiar structure that I can work in. I can’t get all rigid and hidebound — I need to stay flexible and loose and keep focused on what is most important to do over the next two weeks.

So, to keep myself on track, I am keeping a master list of what needs to be done, what I need to collect, what I need to dig out of the closet in my study, and what I need to put in order. Having a list is very helpful to me — so long as I don’t get bogged down in the details. That’s a killer. I tend to go overboard, figuring out what all I need to do, when  simple list would suffice. Gotta keep it simple, or I’m going to overwhelm myself.

Check my bank balances and make sure I have enough money in the travel account, as well as have specific bills paid off before I leave… Make sure all the trash is taken out of the garage, and I’ve moved things around in the garage to make room for my spouse to move freely… compile a list of numbers I have to keep things going… make sure I have international coverage on my phone (because I’m going to be away overseas for a week)… the list of just what needs to be done is pretty extensive, so if I get into detailing my exact steps for each one, it will just bog me down.

I’ve noticed more of that bogging down, lately. It might just be anxiety that’s driving me, but it’s making me — and everyone around me — nuts. Too much detail. Truly. People are actually telling me I’m micromanaging over nothing, which is true. Again, that rigidity. Have to do it a certain way… or else.

And that’s no good.

So, it’s all a process — and it can get pretty messy, if I don’t keep well-organized. The first step towards getting organized is realizing just how scattered I can get… and making an effort to collect my thoughts and get them all down in one place. I’m visualizing the “flow” of the next three weeks (which includes my time traveling for work), which helps me figure out what I need to do, and when.

Just having things figured out and settling into place in my mind goes a long way towards settling me down and keeping me from getting anxious and uptight — which leads to more distractability. And not having as much distractability and manic chasing, helps me to not get so tired — which makes me more scattered. Figuring things out and writing them down — keeping focused on what matters most right now, and not getting pulled off in a thousand different directions because another idea seems interesting.

Sustained Focus — that’s the ticket.

Enough talk. Time to work on my list and then take action.


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