Image courtesy of Luke Daniel Photo
I was running the other day and overhead a woman talking to her friend about an interesting topic: focus. Her resolution was to stop driving herself crazy at work by doing one thing at one time. So far, it’s been working for her. She hasn’t lost any sense of productivity and goes home at night feeling like a person, not a machine programed to mindlessly perform multiple tasks at once.
Our work-a-day routines are a whirl of dividing our attention so successfully, we stop paying attention to the passing of time. Our days become so unremarkable, we tend lose track of them entirely without intentional intervention.
I was on this train for the first five years of my career. One day I was 22, the next, 27. I spent that time sweating blood every day as I clawed my way up the ladder at an advertising agency. As a reward, I was given even more work and less personal time.
What broke the cycle was taking a trip to Ireland with my Dad for two weeks and realizing how lovely it was to not be beholden to work email and meetings for the vast majority of my day. When my time was my own, I could afford to focus on the moment and task at hand. Time magically slowed the hell down. The memories we created in those two weeks are some of the most vivid moments of my 20’s.
I did the same thing on my next trip – no work email or thoughts of outside obligations allowed. My only job was to create vivid memories by just being in the moment. I got really good at this the more I traveled and somehow, work always managed to get done in my absence.
Now, I’m practicing this experiment in my every day life. I dedicate small time blocks to individual tasks throughout the day. When the rush of demand gets too great, I’ll go outside and take a short walk to realign my focus. I not only listen to Luke when he’s talking, but I’ll look him in the eye, rather than at my phone.
Demonstrating focus has given me a new understanding of and respect for time. It’s shown me how to use it responsibly. In turn, this has reminded me that I’m a human and not a multi-tasking machine.
I feel like I’ve just discovered the secret to happiness.