8 Tips For Regaining Focus

I am working on the next couple of posts in my How To Fix Your Life series, which began with Painting Reality: Examining Your Current Life. I rather unexpectedly took last Monday off, but I have no intention of making a habit of it. I will update here once a week, even if I need to write a filler post to do it. Tonight I find that I am having trouble clearing my head and focusing my mind on the task at hand, so I thought I’d take some time to refocus a bit, and write a post about exactly that. Here are eight things I’m doing this evening in an attempt to get all my brain cells firing in the same direction.

  1. Tea. I’ve brewed myself a cup of decaffeinated tea, which I am drinking slowly and with relish (enjoyment, that is, not a pickled sauce). Decaffeinated is a key word there — with my mind already fragmented, the last thing I need is to ingest a stimulant.
  2. The Outdoors. I’m sitting in the spacious outdoors this evening, writing on my laptop under the clear evening sky, rather than in my cramped bedroom in the shadows cast by my torchiere lamp and surrounded by the trappings of daily mundane existence.
  3. Simplicity. I just closed almost all of my applications, and minimized the rest, leaving only my writing to focus on. No web browser windows, no games, no MP3s, nothing but my writing and a hidden instant messenger window — and it would be wise to close even that.
  4. Mindfulness. I am concentrating on my breathing, shutting out other sounds and thoughts to focus on just that and my writing.
  5. One Thing. I am doing one thing at a time. If another thought intrudes that I want to capture, I take just enough time to jot it down on my to do list before returning to this post. By doing so, I am able to let go of it, let it leave my mind, so that I can focus on writing again.
  6. Comfort. I am doing whatever I can to keep myself physically comfortable, so that I am not distracted by things like the temperature or a touch of heartburn. For instance, it has gotten quite cold since I began writing this, but I’m not ready to go inside quite yet — so I’ve put on warmer clothes and returned to focus on writing.
  7. Peace of Mind. Sometimes we *have* to multi-task to some degree. For instance, the laundry is running as I write this. It’s not occupying my attention, but I will need to tend to it once an hour. By choosing a spot outside where I can hear the washer and dryer, I don’t have to worry about whether I’ll forget about it when it stops. I’m letting my ears keep track of that open loop instead of my thoughts. I have peace of mind about that because I won’t lose track of that — even though the One Thing that I’m doing isn’t laundry.
  8. Do One Thing — Something Else! If all else fails, do something else for a while. If your brain insists on not focusing on the thing you want it to, give it a break for a while, but do something similar that won’t cause too much of a context switch. For instance, I am still writing a blog post, just not the one I was having trouble focusing on. I’m still thinking about Uplift!, personal development, blogging, and so forth, but I’m letting my brain take the path of least resistance until I hit my stride and am ready to return to the heavy lifting — which is now!

This list is by no means complete, it’s just what I’ve come up with this evening to reacquire focus and get my thoughts in order. What do you do when you’re trying to concentrate on something but you’re tired, distractible, or otherwise just can’t seem to get your mind to settle down and stay on task?

My Personal Inventory

I thought it might be helpful if I provided an example of a personal inventory — both for you (so that you can see what I’m talking about) and for me (since it’s been a while since I’ve done this). So here’s one for me. It’s been about six months since the last time I really sat down to do this, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out. My life is very different today than it was six months ago.

So, without further ado, my personal inventory!

Health

This category is the most challenging of the three for me, and I’ve had a couple of health-related setbacks since the last time I took stock. Overall, I consider my health to be decent — I don’t get sick more often than average, rarely need to visit the doctor, and generally find that I don’t struggle with health issues. That said, there are a few issues that I am dissatisfied with or at risk for.

Here they are, in decreasing order of priority:

  1. In the past six months, I’ve discovered that I have a health condition related to a fiber deficiency in my diet, and have increased my fiber intake as a consequence. Pro-actively monitoring my diet in previous years could have averted this condition, and it’s important that I continue watching what I eat permanently in order to avoid exacerbating it.
  2. I wear glasses to correct my vision, which is quite poor uncorrected. My glasses are three years old, and it is well past time for new ones. They are currently on order, and I will switch to the new pair as soon as they arrive. I have worn glasses for all of my adult life and teenage years, and I would like to get rid of them.
  3. I carry around a lot more weight than I need to, and given the family history of diabetes, it is likely to develop into something more serious if not kept in check. This, coupled with my high cholesterol, means that I should be pro-active about improving my diet and exercise habits.
  4. I have a history of depression.
  5. I just don’t seem to have the time to improve my health, nor much enthusiasm for doing so.

Things aren’t as bleak as all that, though. I’m not one to focus solely on the negative (anymore), so here are the positive aspects of my health:

  1. As noted above, I have already improved my diet considerably. I eat a lot more vegetables than I used to, and I eat smaller portions. Although I still eat junk food, I am a lot more moderate about it. For instance, a trip to Jack in the Box used to consist of a large Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger meal with soda and a large milkshake. These days I’ll get a Junior Bacon Cheeseburger, a small fries, and a small milkshake — or if I’m being really good, a Chicken Fajita Pita, side salad, and a small milkshake. My philosophy is that a diet that denies you everything you want is a diet that won’t last very long. It’s a lot easier to eat LESS of the things I like than to replace them with things I don’t enjoy as much.
  2. I walk a mile every morning. My commute makes this easy — I take the train, and I live a mile from the train station. Although I wasn’t keen on the distance from the train station when I moved here, I find now that I’m glad of it. I know someone who’s struggling to find time to walk a mile before work each day, whereas I do so automatically without thinking about it!
  3. My depression has been in remission for two and a half years, and I haven’t had any trouble keeping it that way — despite some negative events in my life since then (such as a breakup and the development of my dietary health issues).

Overall, health is the area of my life that needs the most improvement, because it is also the one for which I have the least enthusiasm. My primary motivation in health is to avoid negative consequences, whereas in the other areas of my life I have pro-active motivations and goals. Perhaps I should examine my outlook on it and try to find a way to be more interested in and pro-active about my health.

Wealth

Wealth is one of my favorite topics — I love talking money! I’m also pretty happy with where my finances are right now, although things could always be better!

I have a decent job in Silicon Valley, I have positive cash flow, and my assets outweigh my liabilities, although not by much (yet). I am on my way to being able to retire, the only question is… when?

I used to believe that the best option was to accumulate a million dollars, invest it at 5% (or more, but 5% seems conservative enough to count on), and live off the interest. The downside to that plan is that it takes a very, very long time to acquire $1M by working for a living. At the pace I’m currently going, it seems likely that I’ll be old and/or sick by the time I am in a position to fully retire. I don’t want to wind up with a retirement I can’t enjoy.

Additionally, I’m unhappy with the time investment required by my work. In theory, I work an eight hour day, but in reality, from the time my alarm goes off at 6 AM till the time I get home over twelve hours later at 6:15 PM, I’m doing things that are necessitated by my employment. The overhead of holding my job is 50%. I consider this excessive, it detracts from my happiness, and I want to find ways to reduce the amount of time I invest in earning income.

So now I’m considering the benefits of passive income, and learning to believe that retirement or semi-retirement is possible much sooner that way than it is with strict accumulation. Why should I spend vast quantities of my time working for someone else until the bank account is full? Why wait 40 years to begin enjoying the fruits of my labors if I can independently create multiple streams of income that will support me now? I am learning a lot about decoupling my income from my time.

It’s a transition, though, and one that I’m right in the middle of. I’m not fully decided what I want to do. There are other things I could do to speed up the accumulation, such as moving to a programming job. Right now I’m at a financial crossroads, looking around, trying to decide what to do.

I have some personal projects I’m working on in hopes that they can contribute to my early retirement from traditional employment, not the least of which is this blog. My biggest challenge right now is making the time to work on them.

Relationships

Relationships are important to me in a way they didn’t used to be. My sojourn to Portland, OR took me away from my friends and family here in Silicon Valley for two and a half years, and it was largely that social distance that brought me back. Right now I am in pretty good shape with my relationships, though there is one major thing I would change:

Time.

I don’t have the time I wish I had to see all my friends. There are people I haven’t seen since I moved back to Silicon Valley six months ago, and others I see occasionally or even frequently and wish I had more time for.

That said, I am glad to have reconnected with the friends that I have, and to be dating a wonderful woman who makes me very happy. In many ways, my relationships are the best they’ve ever been in my life, and with the exception of wanting time for even more of the same, I can’t think of anything I’m dissatisfied with.

Conclusion

There’s a common theme here: time. Overall, my life is pretty good — the best it’s ever been, even. The pervasive problem that keeps cropping up everywhere is that there just aren’t enough hours in the day — or days in the week — for everything I want to get done. And what time I have is largely consumed by employment. This issue seems to be the greatest challenge standing between me and the life that I want to live.

I hope that this personal example has given you some insight into the sorts of things you can write about in your personal inventory, what the value of doing so might be, and how to go about doing it. As always, please share any feedback you may have in the comments!