Let's face it. We are living in a digital age, where information is readily available in so many short little pieces, tweets, texts, news reports, essays, videos, manifestos, etc. It’s an amazing time to live and learn. But how much does it stick?
The norm of staying “in the know” is putting ourselves in an environment where we feel we need to be flooded with email, texts, RSS feeds, and other types of information consistently and constantly in order to keep up. But how does our human brain actually function with all of this noise?
The endless subscriptions from new services and notifications on the smartphone have opened up a floodgate of trivial to relevant news stories and suggestions that come at us at the very second we tune to a screen. The text notifications from friends and emails from clients and coworkers beg to be answered in real time as if being available 24/7 is the new standard. Does productivity have to necessarily be correlated with being "busy" and physically tired all the time?
I’m getting exhausted and a bit scatter brained just thinking about it.
One second of adding a simple task onto Reminders can lead to “hey, let me check Facebook first.” And then there goes an hour of my life getting sucked into the whirlpool of another depressing bit of global news. While I’m now enraptured and looking into the history of violent mass shootings in America, I totally forget what I was in the process of doing in the first place.
There’s distractions we deliberately allow in our lives (Snapchat) and then there’s distractions that pop up in our heads without us noticing (pangs of jealousy or heartbreak). Healthy or unhealthy is relative. In either case, we’ve lost touch with ourselves. We’ve allowed ourselves to dull a bit in the head or in the opposite extreme overthink and dwell.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m the worst at this. I communicate in different time zones and currently my heart and mind is scattered across multiple countries and even places I haven't been. While I’m in mid discussion with someone on Skype, my head may be nodding, but my mind is oftentimes wandering and 100 steps ahead time and place. If I’m at a coffee shop, I’m smelling different foods and my eyes shift when I see people coming and going. Internally, there is also A LOT of noise. “How long is this meeting going to take? Nod nod nod. "Hmm..how long does it take for me to get to my next appointment? Is it rude if I interrupt right now? AHHH! I’ll probably have to take an Uber instead. But when will I pick up my bike? Shit, what are we talking about again?” And then I reiterate the last sentence of what was just said. It becomes clear real quick, I’ve been daydreaming. I hate that I've been conditioned to act like asshole lost in focus. And then being self aware and guilty about it later, saying "sorry, can you repeat what you said again?"
My best friend once told me there is a difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound. Listening, however, is something you consciously choose to do and requires concentration. You actually have to process those sounds into words and meaning. To have a dialogue and debate requires listening and focusing on what’s being said rather than just mindlessly nodding.
I think most people are guilty of this problem and wavering between that thin balance between listening and hearing, ESPECIALLY when phones are in the picture. I see it all of the time, especially within 30 seconds after the “not so shameful, sly subtle sneak peek at cellphone” maneuver on the dining table. I will always assume its a Tinder message (just for fun). The concentration level and the flow of conversation just deters and isn't the same ever since that one glance was taken.
Don’t worry, I’ve already got my guard up. We can continue our talk later when we’re back to looking at each other in the eye.
It’s a socially accepted cultural phenomenon. I don’t take it personally when friends pop up their phones in between conversation or check their Snapchats and update their Instagram. It just makes it totally okay for me to do the same. And I do with no shame doing do depending which crowd I’m in.
But, come on guys. If we can’t stay focused on the people we care about and the topics discussed, how does this translate to how we focus when we are by ourselves at work or at home?
This week I branded FOCUS. The last 3 weeks of BANDCHALLENGE had been information overdrive full of scheduled meet-ups between BALANCE, LEARN, COLLABORATE, everything I had prioritized in my schedule had to deal with synchronizing calendars and times to let myself be flooded by the infinite possibilities.
But there was a part of me I didn't like that manifested by constantly moving and being busy scattered in different directions all the time. It was my last week in Taiwan before flying off to San Francisco, where I told myself more opportunities lay. I wanted to spend this last week efficiently and effectively without reaching burn out, feeling drained just because I told myself I had to do something.
So I told myself to stay off the grid. To disconnect. To unplug. To rid myself of distractions. To write more on pen and paper and enjoy the moment and live in the NOW. To place more value in face to face communication. To focus on one thing at one time.
I’ll tell you right now it wasn’t easy. In all honesty, I might have to wear this FOCUS band for a longer period of time. But for that one week accountability reflection piece, I’ll reveal where I’m at...
I’m nowhere near where I want to be in terms of concentration and clarity or even direction towards the “what are you doing in life?” question but it was nice and refreshing to acknowledge how influential environment is to my current state of mind. Ultimately, there are always ways I can adapt my process to improve my mentality in the future.
Read up on the BANDChallenge if you want to join. It's not too late to become self aware and accountable for things you can change.
And if you haven’t already, please take just ONE MINUTE of your time and help me aggregate this information “What are your 5 values?”
If you want to stay accountable for FOCUS, take a second to fill this out.
- What does "FOCUS" mean to you?
- What causes you to lose FOCUS?
- What do you intend to do to maintain FOCUS?
- How have you lived up to the word "FOCUS" after one week?
(VIA TIFFLIN INTERPRETATION)
1. What does "FOCUS" mean to you?
For me personally, "Focus" means to direct and devote my attention completely to one thing at one time. To place my full concentration and be able to operate without any external or internal distractions. It doesn’t have to solely be just about setting goals and finishing tasks, but more to be disciplined in the pursuit of clarity. Focus to me means drive and unwavering consistency in both mind, body, and spirit. Focus on a conversation. Focus on a task. Focus on being myself and no hesitations and compromises.
2. What causes you to lose FOCUS?
- Hunger. Sometimes I feel faint when I don’t have food right away
- My mind. My anxiety that I have SO MUCH I need to do and then I dwell “I don’t know where to start…”
- Fatigue. I go through periods where my body feels like crashing and no matter how much caffeine I take, I’ll always be told “girl, you look tired.” I then feel super self conscious and quickly defensive and badmouth x guy to NEVER say those words to a girl if he knows what's good for him.
- Loose ends with relationships/friendships and leaving things unsaid, what you would call "grudges" that are unresolved
- Social media. Feeling temporarily caught up in other people’s lives. Especially now, its wedding engagement season...."HMM..I like the idea of proposals over the thought of marriage..would I ever go through a flash mob proposal..wow...that would be cool..I wonder what song I'd dance to.."
- The thought of doing something more entertaining than what I’m currently doing. And the ease of going off and doing that instead.
3. What do you intend to do to maintain FOCUS?
After identifying some of the causes to my lack of focus and finding that most of it is influenced by how my body and mind feels (obvi), I came up with general outline for my week
Eat hearty meals: Don’t skip out on breakfast. Eat less oily and starchy foods.
Sleep more: Listen to my body and acknowledge I need more rest. Take afternoon naps
Declutter: Remove baggage to make more space in my life.
Disconnect: Check my phone less
Say No: Don’t feel compelled to do too much at one time and commit. There are endless opportunities to do too much. Focus on what I need right now.
Do smaller tasks: Break up a large project to individual tasks so it’s easier to accomplish and feels more rewarding when checking off the TO DO list
Find an accountability partner: Working on something with someone else at the same time. I can disappoint myself but I don't like disappointing other people.
Work offline: Writing more on paper and pen
Enjoy and embrace: Try not to overanalyze and worry about all the things that haven’t been done and just enjoy the process
Take little breaks: When feeling overwhelmed, go for a walk or go on a long bike ride and think things through and reevaluate priorities.
Reward myself: Work hard and then small incentive system. I’m thinking Netflix, beer, chocolate.
4. How have you lived up to this word "FOCUS" after one week?
I dissected my process of living up to the word, FOCUS in three separate chunks. The first is to remove myself from distraction (disconnect/declutter), the second is to listen to my body (more naps/better food), and the third is simply just to be (don’t overthink too much and enjoy the processand wherever it takes me).
FOCUS for me ultimately is about being present and respecting my surroundings and also not to feel burdened by shitty feelings to start off mentally clean. Kinda like hitting the RESTART button. I think everyone needs that once in awhile. My goal is simply to reach clarity- just to be coherent and able to know what I want and own up to it.
FOCUS ON YOUR ENVIRONMENT
I very conveniently ran out of data the past few days. Forced to only check my messages in wifi areas, I began to transition from my reliance on internet to curb boredom and embrace my surroundings in a more loving way.
Instead of using my commute time on the MRT to endless social media timesucks, I was people watching in curiosity. A couple of days ago, I was on the MRT stand-surfing, and a mom comes next to me with her baby held in her arms. I begin smiling and making silly faces. The mom smiled and gave me the “it’s okay to play with my baby” gesture head nod of approval and for just two stops, I got the wonderful chance of feeling loved by a complete little stranger. I felt the immense raw dynamic between power and vulnerability transformed into the movement of just four tiny fingers grasped around my two. It was a lovely moment. Sincerely.
Because I didn’t have the distractions of a buzzing phone, I was able to dedicate my full attention completely to conversation among people I actually wanted to see. Rather than being subject to the whim of spontaneous “let’s hang out” among acquaintances and feeling victim to the “what if’s” and missed opportunity costs, I focused on the relationships I wanted to keep and nurture. This is a big step for me.
Aside from disconnecting to the internet, I dedicated a whole day to decluttering. Starting from unsubscribing to services that plagued my inbox. FYI I wake up to practically 100-200 new emails a day on 5 different email accounts which I spend most of the time marking read or delete anyway. I used my Unroll.me account and found nearly 1000 new subscriptions that needed unsubscribing—services from old online daily deals to marketing news recaps I never seriously followed ever. Slowly, I started removing excess.
I also cleaned up all the lone files that accumulated on my desktop and gave them lovely folder homes. Downloaded Onetab and although I’m currently still staring at a browser of 15 tabs that piled up in a short 10 minutes, I will try to form a system to develop the habit of consolidation and organization. Anyways, it’s a start!
After cleaning up my online presence, I took some time to clean up my offline space of material possessions. From discarding old scattered receipts in my wallet to old underwear shoved in my closet, I started to feel less burdened by past memorabilia that didn’t add any value to my life whatsoever. I just managed to consolidate all of my life possessions in two suitcases and one backpack to take with me to San Francisco. (I'm annoyed it's two. It was the 5 pairs of shoes I own that made the second suitcase count..sigh). #lessismore
In summary, it just feels nice not to hold on to things and not to feel burdened by a growing inbox and endless notification feeds. My body feels less tiresome when I’m physically carrying less on me as well. I felt lighter and less overwhelmed which definitely is a contributing factor to staying focused and in control I’d say.
FOCUS ON YOUR BODY
Quite simply, if you feel hungry. Eat. If you feel tired, take a nap.
It works. It just does.
I took a 3 hour nap today and then felt revitalized to start this blog post. I didn’t feel like it yesterday. I had recently strained my rotator cuff in a dance competition (worth it to win...WHATUP!!) and have been in recovery indoors for the past 4 days. It’s nice to listen to my body and chase after my feelings. If I don’t feel like doing something, I’m not going to force myself to do it. It’s empowering to feel this way. In the end, whatever system YOU have to live a more effective life is up to you anyway.
FOCUS ON WHAT YOU WANT
Quite simply, chase after your feelings. Be mindful of your needs and your desires. Accentuate the positive aspects of your life while still honoring and not invalidating the negative parts that you want to change. It feels liberating when you can focus on what you want, when you want it.
It was a challenge for me to confront old uncertainly waning unhealthy relationships and point out all the things that had been left unsaid to reach towards a point of mutual understanding and respect. A big part of my process in terms of giving focus towards who I am as a person means acknowledging the past in light of making authentic decisions present and future. I'm glad I was able to do that. I'm glad I have closure. I'm glad I hold onto the relationships that matter.
I think it’s been a low key week. Productive? Social? Maybe not in the most conventional sense. But I feel good. And I think it’s just the start really…
I believe my challenge to adapt my process for FOCUS in the future may just be getting off the grid more and having some more ME time. I also want to work on the power of saying No more.
But that's just me. Everyone has their own system.
This coming week's challenge for me is CREATE.
I'm intentionally leaving these questions open-ended.
Currently, I'm at the China Airlines Lounge right now headed to San Francisco. One way. Wish me luck!