Sometimes we need to exercise a bit of tunnel vision and force ourselves to focus by closing ourselves off to external stimuli. Put simply, and crudely, we need to buckle down and do the work. Of course, for most of us this is much easier said than done.
Rewarding work often requires multiple problems to be solved and probably over an extended period of time. A series of complex questions may need to be answered in order to progress and tackling this kind of work needs concentration, focus and prolonged routines of disciplined behaviour.
We know this!! There are few high achievers out there that do what they do by chance. Top performers build on their talents with repetitive regimes of focus. They constantly scan for distractions and treat the process of deflecting them away as one of the most important skills they can develop. This approach is a mindset that must be cultivated.
I'm sure we all recall acknowledging a period of momentum at one stage or another, found ourselves enjoying the rhythm and feeling good about the way we're staying on task. But it's inevitable that this state is only temporary. We're not machines and life throws interruptions at us that we can't always avoid.
This year I set myself a few goals. They were centred around the notion of achieving more by creating the environments in which I could build and sustain focus. I designed my schedules and woke up each day motivated to follow through on my promises and repeat the patterns of the previous day. After seven weeks I noticed real progress and felt good about the trajectory I was on; conceptual projects that once seemed out of reach suddenly felt tangible and achievable.
Then finding myself interrupted, I suddenly de-railed. I had to travel abroad for a one off project and needed(?) to take part in a couple of indulgent social functions. My routine cracked and I struggled to regain my focus. After working hard to form positive habits my default reaction to breaking them was annoyance, frustration and dejection.
I started to question my motives, and of course my abilities to bring my goals to fruition. Over the following two weeks I lumbered from one task to the next, awkward about my priorities and unmotivated to push myself back into gear.
But this is the trap. This is the mentality that must be avoided at all costs. Even when we build up a decent rhythm of productivity and find ourselves doing well and achieving things, a simple disruption can send us spiralling back to square one. It is unavoidable. Where we can grow however is in learning to control our responses to inevitable and inescapable interruptions.
So what to do? It's important to acknowledge the quicksand. On breaking a winning streak many of us feel overwhelmed by the idea of starting again and we can quickly sink into new and unwanted routines if we dwell too long.
Getting back to it as soon as possible is the best strategy. Instead of thinking about where you were, think about jump-starting your routine and taking the first step. Go running. Say no to that glass of wine. Do not start that new box set. Go and write your plans out in long form. Do something to help shift attention back to the path you want to be on.
By implication, an active mind will always wander. The ability to detect such wandering and quickly pull it back to the task at hand over and over again, day after day, week after week is where the secret to accomplishment lies.