A Fallacy of Focus

From Eddie Smith:

Most people probably think of focus as uni-tasking, or the act of singling out one thing. That’s true. But equivalently, focus is about ignoring the other 99.9 percent that doesn’t matter.

For some (read: me) uni-tasking is a fallacy. Inevitable endless distractions overwhelm the filters. ADHD wins every single time. You can try and you can structure, but your nature is always there and unless you work with it, it will win. Eventually, after you’ve tried everything to focus and fail, you change course and realize that you have to go a different route. Because focus will never work for you.

Because focus is the word you’ve heard your whole bloody life, the thing that every teacher would return to in every parent-teacher conference. Focus is the word they would tell you, but not only did it fall on deaf ears, it fell on uncomprehending ones. The word meant nothing, you had no frame of reference. And while you manage to cope and learn to conquer it over time, it will always be the demon you’ll battle. It will always be your war.

It’s an affirmation of the common sense fact that I can’t focus on any one thing until I first choose to ignore everything else.

In this one sentence, Eddie hits the nail on the head, especially for those of us who find ourselves pulled in more directions than we can fathom. For the organized, the filtering process happens upfront, and while the rest of us will try, it just as often needs to happen on the fly. We will always encounter tangents, distractions and shiny objects along the way, things that others naturally dismiss, yet manage to derail us time and time again.

For us it’s not about the ignoring, it’s not about the filtering, it’s about dismissing. It’s about examining the things that pull at your mind, capturing or eliminating them and returning back to your work. And the faster you learn to do this, the more likely you are to get where you want to go.

Focus is hard when ignoring is hard.

Stop going against the grain. Know your shortcomings and plan accordingly. Work to improve, but accept who you are. If you’re likely to stray from your goals, focus your energy on getting back on track rather than forcing yourself to rigidly and unrealistically stay the course. If you can’t ignore, if you can’t hyper-focus, if you can’t uni-task, don’t. Just seek out the workarounds that help you deal with this reality, fight through and get you where you want to go.

Eddie’s thoughts on focus born of crisis way out of context, but they inspired the post, so roll with it…Note: I took

5 Responses to A Fallacy of Focus

  1. Thank you for sharing these thoughtful ideas. I have struggled with ADD (or as I call it – “Attentional Inconsistency Condition” – because I have been known to sit and focus on something for hours) for years and now that I am working from home again it is a bigger challenge. Recently I took a page from Jonathan Fields’ book (literally, it’s called “Uncertainty”) and started working in 90-minute bursts, then a 30-minute break. I have found that as long as I properly schedule the tasks and activities for each burst that they are tremendously effective.

    • Too true, especially when you really, really want to do something, t focus always manages to appear. That said, the distractions are always a war. Over time I’ve found ways and tried systems to combat them. Haven’t had much luck with the work, break, work, break, but I’m looking forward to getting around to Fields book! 

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