(last updated on April 29, 2014)
A few days ago I was feeling grouchy about not being that productive, and wrote about two personal quirks that may have something to do with it:
- I have a high activation threshold for starting tasks. That is, it takes quite a lot of energy to actually get my butt moving. I seem to have the expectation that anything I do must meet a minimum level of return approaching 2x. I think of this as the two-fer (as in “two fer one”); if I can think of two or more things that will happen as the result of my action, I’m more likely to do it. The other form of activation energy comes from people; if I’m working with a good partner or working to a deadline for someone else, that gives me the energy to continuously create.
I am very impatient when it comes to waiting for results. I like to see results right away. If I can’t see results, I want to at least see something happening that is immediately useful to me. For many drawn out technical projects, I need to ensure that I have the necessary incoming people energy to stay motivated. I need to see things happening, or I lose interest.
p>So here’s the theory: for me to get focused, I need to take those two traits—high activation threshold and impatience—into account. To deal with my high activation threshold, I need to have people to work with and choose interesting projects with multiple applications.
Unfortunately, the work I have to do right now (which includes such exciting things like paying bills and cleaning my bedroom) have no such payoff implicit in them. There are ways around this, of course. I could make a game out of it. I could promise someone I’ll do them. Or I could actually figure out what focus is and do that.
How does one focus, anyway?
It occurs to me that while I understand the concept of focus, I have never really practiced it like I knew what I was doing. If I were a movie director, I’d know how I’d depict focus: steely eyes, intense yet detached, coolly fixated on the task at hand with dramatic tick-tock musical undertones. However, drama is no replacement for the real thing.
I’ve been reflecting a lot on how my ability to do certain things has been shaped by subconscious observation and passive experience. For example, I never learned directly how to socialize in large groups when I was a kid, and was intensely shy. For a long time I thought this was because I was just introverted by nature, but as I’ve learned to put together my own socializing methodology a competing theory has come to mind: I just never saw anyone I know do it in a language I understood. In other words, I never had a clear mental picture of what great socializing was. Likewise, I don’t think I have a role model for focused action.
So I really have no idea how people are focused, though I understand plenty of theory about what it is. There’s a big difference between the “being” and the “what” of something. Being, in my mind, is the integration of the principle into living action. The “what” is merely identification and categorization: essentially, it is labeling. Labeling by itself isn’t very useful. I remember seeing a CEO-type person lead a meeting once to figure out how to raise revenue targets. His solution was quite logical: revenue comes from sales. Therefore, we need more sales. Ergo, we need to hire more sales people. Problem solved…except it wasn’t. This act of executive leadership identified a “what” without the underlying methodology that would create the what in a meaningful way. If you don’t understand sales from the one-to-one perspective and integrate that with accounting practices, you are pretty much just leading your people bravely into nests of machine guns.
There are plenty of people who will tell me what to do to be focused, and that’s all well and good. But I need to discover what it means to “be” focused in addition to having the mechanics. I shall reflect upon that today.