Sunday, March 16, 2008

Zen Focus

I've been working on unitasking since my post last week, but it's a lot harder than I expected. The monkey mind jumps around from topic to topic. Turning off the TV helps for a while, until I remember I haven't listened to the evening news, etc. I turn on the 24-hour news channel, but after the half-hour go-round, I find myself switching to entertainment channels. Before long I'm back at trying to get work done while keeping an eye on the TV program. I'm back at square one.

I've been following the Zen Habits blog I mentioned in the Unitasking post. I especially liked a recent post on Focus. Here's a trenchant excerpt:

Your focus determines your reality.

It’s something we don’t think about much of the time, but give it some consideration now:

If you wake up in the morning and think about the miserable things you need to do later in the day, you’ll have a miserable day. If you wake up and focus instead on what a wonderful gift your life is, you’ll have a great day.

If we let our attention jump from one thing to another, we will have a busy, fractured and probably unproductive day. If we focus entirely on one job, we may lose ourselves in that job, and it will not only be the most productive thing we do all day, but it’ll be very enjoyable.
The essay discusses four ways to focus:
  • "Focus on a goal. ... Maintain your focus on your goal, and you’ve won half the battle in achieving it."
  • "Focus on now. ... [F]ocusing on the present can do a lot for you. It helps reduce stress, it helps you enjoy life to the fullest, and it can increase your effectiveness."
  • "Focus on the task at hand. ... People find greatest enjoyment not when they’re passively mindless, but when they’re absorbed in a mindful challenge."
  • "Focus on the positive. ... [L]earn to see the positive in just about any situation. This results in happiness, in my experience, as you don’t focus on the bad parts of your life, but on the good things."

I'm tempted to reproduce more of it here--Leo Babauta, the Zen Habits blogger, has released all his content from copyright, and freely grants permission to others to reproduce it, although he asks to be given credit. (Speaking from my lawyer side, I'm astounded...but what a very Zen thing to do, eh?) I won't copy it here, however, but rather recommend you go to the Zen Habits website and read it. The guy has a good prose style and the site is well-designed, with lots of good content.

FOCUS. Yep, that's what I need to do.


Charles Gramlich said...

I'll have to check out that site. Good information here. I definitely try to start the day thinking of positives, although it's not always easy to do.

Shauna Roberts said...

I'm of mixed minds about unitasking. On the one hand, I see the value of doing one thing, focusing on doing that thing, and enjoying the experience of doing that one thing.

On the other hand, music enhances many kinds of experiences, especially those that have a rhythm, like breadmaking or exercising. Also, many of the things one does each day are not enjoyable, and doing something else at the same time makes them more bearable. My life is busy enough that if I did only one thing at a time, a lot of things wouldn't get done.

I wonder whether the problems with multitasking are more common with men, since their brains are not designed for it, than for women, whose brains are? Humans would have died out a long time ago if women didn't do ten things at once, including taking care of babies.

Lisa said...

ZEN. The word keeps popping up in my day to day life and I'm glad. I'm going through an especially busy time with multiple priorities tugging at me from all directions and I have to stop and focus often during the day. I'm all for striving to uni-task and can see how much more effective I am when I can do it. I can become easily overwhelmed and defocused lately and I think the word ACCEPT is the one I need to also keep in mind -- as in I ought to just accept that I can't do everything I want to. I need to check out that site!

Steve Malley said...

I'm liking this Zen-kick you're on. I practice a fair bit myself.

Small wonder Zen grew among the samurai: nothing like wearing a bathroom to fight a guy with a four foot razor blade to focus the mind! :)

cs harris said...

Nice site. Thanks for pointing me to it.

Sphinx Ink said...

Charles, I too am trying to start my days with positive thoughts--but I'm finding it hard to remember to be positive. I'll keep trying!

Shauna, I agree listening to music makes certain tasks go quicker and more smoothly. I love classical music, especially Mozart and baroque music, which I find a soothing and relaxing background for some tasks. When I need to concentrate, however, I find I must have silence. At those times even instrumental music disrupts my focus. I guess each person must decide for her/himself how many things she/he can do at one time.

Lisa, I agree it's hard to accept that we can't do everything at once. Although I've never been good at multitasking, yet I've tried to do it most of my life. I've finally accepted that I'm not effective when I'm trying to do several things at once...yet it's hard to break the habit.

Steve, I'm not surprised to learn you are a proponent of Zen habits--I've seen traces of it in your blog postings. Good for you.

C.S., I think all of us can use some Zen practice. I hope to achieve the serenity that so many find through Zen.

Lana Gramlich said...

Reminds me of an old, pagan adage; where attention goes, energy flows.