The Importance of Focus… Oooh, Squirrel!

I recently sat down with a professional travel writer to get a little bit of advice and insight into her world. She makes a living out of freelance writing and it turns out that almost 12 years ago I took her Continuing Education course on travel writing. As I shared my thoughts and goals with her, it became shockingly apparent to me the lack of focus that I have.

Photo by Alana Wilner Photography

Photo by Alana Wilner Photography

“I’ve written a book (fiction) that I want to get published. It’s part of a three-book series.”

“I’m working on an e-book as a pull for my blog and to self-publish on the side.”

“I’m trying to increase my blog traffic through marketing efforts.”

“I’m hoping to partner with some travel operators on my next big trip overseas.”

“I want to write a travel guide for my favourite island in Scotland.”

Okay… did we mention that these are just my writing goals? Add to that my day-job, my pregnancy, my day to day life and my desire to streamline my home, is it any wonder that I’m not actually making progress on any of these fronts?

I’m willing to bet that I’m not in this alone… at least I hope I’m not in this alone!

The key element that I realize I’m missing is focus. I used to be laser-focused, ironically at a time when I was working three jobs as one. I didn’t have time for fluff, to be distracted. I was the most productive (and burnt out…) that I’ve ever been in my life. Obviously I don’t want to go back to burn out, that’s not good for anyone, but how can I get a little focus back in my life?

The Focus Project

I’m taking a leaf out of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project and giving myself a one-month challenge. For the month of August, I’m challenging myself to do one thing at a time, focus my energies, and see what really happens to my productivity and my state of mind. Every challenge needs some rules, right? Here are mine:

1. Do one thing on the computer at a time.

I’m the person that watches Netflix while checking email while scheduling tweets while writing blog posts. It’s ridiculous and I know it. I’m either writing, or I’m not. I’m either working on my social media, or I’m not. I’m either on a conference call, or I’m not. My one caveat is that music needs to be allowed, so some might call that two things on my computer at a time, but music helps me cut out distractions.

2. Be present.

I recently heard someone say how difficult it was to do anything without thinking about what has just happened or what is going to happen. Isn’t it a little sad that we struggle to be in the here and now? It’s something that I’m horrible at, so I’m going to make a conscious effort. This, I believe, will be the biggest challenge on my plate.

3. Make time for the quiet.

This can be going for a walk, doing a yoga class, or simply sitting and meditating (though I struggle with this one!), but I think we all need a little more quiet in our over-stimulated lives.

4. Actively use the parking lot system.

Remember my predilection for doing or thinking about multiple goals at once? Yeah… that’s going to be a struggle, BUT, I think that as long as I can ‘park’ my ideas for the moment, I can try to work on just one thing until it’s done. I don’t want to forget any of my goals, challenges or ideas, so I’ll sticky note them until I’m ready to tackle them. This goes for both work and life.

5. Regularly prioritize my to-do list.

One of my mentors recently shared with me a method to get more done. Ironically, at the time she shared it to help me to get anything done at all, as I was massively struggling, but since using it I’ve found it has helped me to accomplish more than I planned to. The method was of taking my epic to-do list and highlighting my top three priorities for the day. Nothing else mattered until those three things were done. Isn’t it funny how we often push off the most pressing items? We imagine them to be the biggest challenges, so we build up walls against them, yet if we actually sit down to tackle them, they can actually be easy? For both my work and my life to-do lists, I’m going to enforce my daily priorities and see what happens.

Am I the only one that struggles with focus? Do you share my struggle?

I’m going to be challenging myself to these five principles for the month of August. If you want to join me on this challenge, I would love it! I don’t want to spam my blog readers with updates on this, but if you head on over to my Facebook page, perhaps that’s a place that we can regularly check in with one another? Set weekly goals and compare notes? I’ll be there… maybe you’ll join me?

Here’s to the importance of focus. Cheers.


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10 Responses to The Importance of Focus… Oooh, Squirrel!

  1. Marlene July 31, 2015 at 10:34 am #

    Great blog. Lol at myself. Took three attempts to finish cuz I was doing 4 other things at the same time !!! Sheesh

    • Victoria Smith August 3, 2015 at 3:37 pm #

      I know, right? It seriously blows my mind how I feel like I have a self-created attention deficit disorder.

  2. Jenny Kim August 2, 2015 at 12:22 pm #

    Focus is one of those things I struggle with as well. There are so many distractions, and I try to do too many things at once. I need to just sit down and finish a small goal for the day. I also find the act of listing everything that you need to do helps tremendously with my productivity. I just start crossing off things that I’ve finished until my whole list is complete. You end up feeling you are making progress.

    • Victoria Smith August 2, 2015 at 1:57 pm #

      Agreed – I think we all have put multi-tasking up on a pedestal, when really it would do us better to do one thing at a time and do it well.

  3. Rebecca August 2, 2015 at 1:01 pm #

    Don’t worry. Parenthood will practically solve this problem for you. I found that, once my daughter was born, I was more productive than I had been during my pregnancy. I didn’t have nearly as much time to sit and write as I’d had before she was born, but I used the time I did have much more effectively. You can’t waste time you don’t have!
    Rebecca recently posted…The Death of the CoolMy Profile

    • Victoria Smith August 2, 2015 at 1:56 pm #

      Great point! I have to say, nesting kicked in super early for me (I’m only second trimester) and I was a productivity DEMON yesterday. Feeling the pain of it today though, even if my to-do list is happy.

  4. Julie August 4, 2015 at 8:13 am #

    Great thoughts – I can never decide if I’m also scattered with lots of ideas, or brilliant in my diversity. If I have to ask, it’s probably the former. As I write this I have 4 browser tabs open with video cameras because now I think that adding ‘vlogging’ to the weekly work is a good idea. Yikes. Oh and i have another browser window open for video editing classes around London because frankly, I have no idea about that shit!
    Julie recently posted…Exploring the City of London like a TouristMy Profile

    • Victoria Smith August 4, 2015 at 7:53 pm #

      Oh man! Vlogging is a skill. Are you a member of travel blog success? They have a travel videography course by the great Captain and Clark. It includes video editing. I’ve taken the course and it’s awesome – though I have been too busy to tackle a video as of yet!

  5. Irma August 7, 2015 at 8:33 am #

    Victoria, you struck a nerve. I’m going to chat with you on Facebook and join you on your challenge – a few days late, but never mind. 🙂

    • Victoria Smith August 10, 2015 at 6:18 am #

      I hear you, Irma! I’ve never actually read this book, but I’ve heard all about The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, and it sounds like he’s on the same page, asking whether we’re sacrificing our ability to think and read deeply. Possibly another book for the to-be-read pile.

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