It’s New Year! The holidays are behind us. We have celebrated our blessings, mourned our losses and pooled our resources in anticipation of another round of challenges. Now here we are, in the dead of winter, gathering the strands of our lives and charting out a plan for a new start, looking for ways to inspire, motivate, and most importantly, focus.
It’s not easy! Especially during times of economic hardship, which are currently abounding, our attention needs to be drawn in many directions, for we must simultaneously take care of our jobs, our families, our homes and ourselves. And as I always say to my son, we first take care of the things we need to do, then we can get the things we want…
While I’ve never believed there is a definitive plan of action that works for everyone, I do know that there are certain strategies we can utilize that will help us stay on track. Here is a list of ideas that have helped me whenever I can implement them. I hope they will provide you with support for your own efforts to focus on fulfilling your responsibilities and achieving your goals for the coming year.
1). Manage your environment
I can’t stress enough the importance of this one. If you do have to make a mess, try to limit it to a certain area, and don’t let yourself fall too far behind on basic maintenance tasks, like dishes and laundry. We may always have one of those piles of papers out of hand and a cupboard or two we’re afraid to approach, but we can at least keep the clutter at bay by not letting the daily accumulations get out of hand.
Suggestion: Spend at least 20-30 minutes each day on basic cleaning and organization, such as making the bed, doing the dishes, or cleaning the bathroom. Your efforts to create a tidy environment will reflect in a clearer mind as you tackle life’s bigger challenges.
2). Clear your mind
Many of us find that meditation, or at the very least, a few minutes of silence in the morning to breathe deeply and relax, sets the tone for clear and productive thinking. While on occasion we may find ourselves rushing to get to work on time, or walking our children out the school doors, whenever possible it is possible to enjoy a few moments of silence to try and find a sense of equanimity.
Tip: Try setting your alarm five or ten minutes early to give yourself time to breathe deeply and clear your mind, before the daily grind of thoughts settles down. If you’re like me and you have a lot of lucid dreams, take a few minutes to write them down, and allow yourself to slowly transition into being awake and in the “real” world.
3). Organize your thoughts
I’m a big believer in lists. They help focus our big priorities as well as the little things we don’t want to forget. I try to write down as much as I can remember throughout the day, so I’m not distracted by distracting thoughts while working on longer projects.
Suggestion: Try making a to-do list in the morning including the schedule. It’s helpful to anticipate how long different tasks or projects will take you to complete, so you don’t have unrealistic expectations about how much you can accomplish on any given day. If the whole list is overwhelming you, start with just one thing as your goal. If you can accomplish that one thing, you can always choose the second one from your list.
4). Limit your social media time
As a person who spends most of my work time in front of a computer, I find endless distractions on the various social media platforms that I monitor on a daily basis. Sometimes, jumping from Facebook to Twitter to the various blogs I follow, not to mention random links that catch my eye along the way, I start to feel like I’m suffering from an extreme case of ADD.
Tip: Even if you stay in Hootsuite for most of your day, make sure you schedule specific times away from social media. The busiest marketing gurus or community managers too (and probably more than most) need regular breaks from the endless buzz of conversation. The incessant chatter becomes draining after a while, and conflicts with any kind of focused, self-directed work.
5). Turn off the tv
This one really works. I recently had the misfortune (which I now consider lucky!) to be forced to cut cable television from my monthly budget. At first, it was a very difficult transition, especially for my 8-year-old son, who cried as if he had lost a best friend and swore he would die. Of course not. And with a little help from Netflix, which allowed him to view entire seasons of some of his favorite programs (as well as discover some new ones, I might add), we weaned off the commercially-based programming that seemed to suck up to no end. hours of our life, and save a lot of money every month.
Suggestion: Try to do without it. This may sound radical, but it has completely changed my life. I no longer lapse into a stupor for hours on end, letting my brain check out while watching endless episodes of cooking shows or design contests or worse, the reality TV programs that used to suck me into the train wrecks of glorified dysfunctional families and communities. I get more done around the house, spend more quality time with my son (who reads more), and I now find that I have more time to devote to writing! Yes!!
6). Don’t forget about your body
I’ll admit, this is one that keeps me struggling. I wasn’t always the most athletic person, and I wasn’t a member of the gym, so staying physically active was something I had to choose consciously, every day. If you already do regular exercise or other physical activity, good for you! The older I get, the more I realize how important overall physical, emotional, and spiritual balance is to keeping the body flexible and active.
Suggestion: Start your morning with some stretches and exercises. (I like to do light yoga, crunches and leg lifts.) Even ten minutes will help you feel more focused and able to work longer hours. Take regular breaks from your work, especially if you’re like me and sit at your computer for long periods of time every day. If possible, walk and get out, to run errands, or get from one place to the next. Don’t forget that important part of you that is alive from the neck down!
7). Forgive yourself for not doing it right
You will have good days, and you will have bad days. It’s just part of life. The best thing we can do is continue to practice the things we know will help us feel better, work better, and live a more balanced life.
The thing that most often causes me to lose focus is my incredible fascination with all of life’s minute intricacies. Having an appreciation for the extraordinary interconnectedness of all living things is wonderful food for the soul, but it does not get one through a day of basic work. Staying focused will give you the satisfaction of first getting things done that need to happen, so you can fully experience the joy and wonder of fulfilling your true desires. So take care of business, and then, celebrate!