10 tips for staying focused at work

It's been a struggle, but I'm learning to "go with the flow." It's become relatively easy to do at home, especially since I live alone and I work hard to manage my life with conscious intent. My home environment is like a slow-moving river. I control the direction and the pace of the flow.

However, it's much more difficult to follow the tide in the workplace, especially when it's moving in multiple directions and changing constantly. It's difficult for me to stay focused at work when phones and fax machines are ringing, other people are talking, several people are asking me to do things (often at the same time), client requests are coming in, priorities are changing, the boss is overflowing with ideas... you get the picture.

There is a price associated with losing focus at work, and it's more than reduced productivity. Losing focus also leads to unnecessary stress, anxiety, pressure and feeling lost, overwhelmed, unproductive and more. Like a sailboat that's lost it's compass, losing focus can often leave us feeling uncentered, ungrounded, and aimlessly going in whichever direction the wind blows - whether that's where we need to be headed or not.

Need help remembering to stay focused during the day? Here are some tips that help me (when I remember to use them):
  1. Uni-task. I used to think that the ability to multi-task was a virtue. During my many years as a single, working mother, it undoubtedly was a necessity. But things have changed and so have it. As I learned from my life coach, I'm more productive, and things go much smoother, when I "complete the circle" (finish one thing before starting another). This isn't always possible, but my compromise is to break the task into smaller pieces that can be completed in the time alloted.
  2. Keep a single to-do/action item list. One of the most useful, and most wasteful, inventions of all time has got to be Post-It Notes. They're great when they're used for their intended purpose - to leave a quick note without writing on a document or labeling a stack of papers. They are NOT helpful when dozens of them clutter your workspace, each with a different to do item or thought to remember. It's much more effective to keep a single to-do or action item list and if needed, another list (I use a small notebook) to record ideas as they come to mind.
  3. Break tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces. There's an old saying that the longest journey begins with a single step. That's true when it comes to projects at work too. No matter how huge the task at hand may appear, there's surely a way to break it up into smaller tasks. Doing so helps you be more organized, better prepared and less overwhelmed.
  4. Combine like tasks. It's counter-productive, and a total waste of time, to jump up to walk down the hall to the copier to make a single copy. Unless you need it right away, wait until you need to make several copies.
  5. Limit the number of times you stop to read and respond to e-mail. E-mail is great, but it's a huge time-waster. If you have one of those annoying little pop-up windows that alert you each time a new e-mail comes it, turn it off! If you're like me, it's nearly impossible to resist the urge to peek. When you do check your e-mail, remember that not every email is worth reading or responding to and it's not necessary to subscribe to (or continue to receive) every newsletter ever written. It's hard, but try to delete, respond and/or archive each e-mail as you read it to avoid a junky e-mail box and more time spent re-reading later.
  6. Take frequent breaks. Your brain, your eyes and your back deserve a break, regularly. Plan to take at least one short break each hour that you're working. Although it may seem as if that many breaks are wasting time, they're not. Believe me, you will feel much more refreshed, and productive, if you take care of yourself.
  7. Clear off your desk at the end of each day. Another hard one, but it makes a huge difference. There's nothing that provides a greater sense of accomplishment than ending the day with a clear desk and then starting the next day with the same.
  8. Keep mindful of what's truly important. A lot of things are "urgent", particularly to other people. But it's important to realize that not everything that's urgent is "important. " What IS important is knowing the difference and trying to stay focused on those things that are truly important.
  9. Become a creative problem-solver. Not all work processes are set in stone. Just because something's always been done a certain way doesn't mean that that's the most efficient or productive way to do it. Be on the look-out for ways to cut costs, to reduce energy consumption (electricity and human energy) and to save time.
  10. Pray throughout the day. Nothing helps maintain (or regain) focus like praying. And the best thing about prayer is that you can do it any time, any where.

The answer is there... you just have to listen

For the past week or so, I've been totally re-energized and itching to start writing again. Last week, I made the commitment to re-launch my book and start planning for the next one. At the moment I said "Yes", despite my fears and anxieties, confirmations have been coming faster than I can keep pace.

Today I found an e-mail message that's been sitting in my inbox unread for the past month. After following the link, I ended up at this post on the Art of Sensitive Living blog. The following sentences felt as if they'd been written just for me:

Do you ever feel a surge of positive energy about something, but then your mind quickly jumps in and says “That’s not for you,” or “Who do you think you are?”

We have glorious visions for ourselves and our lives. These visions come from our intuition. Our inner guidance KNOWS what it is we are here to do, share, and create, and who we are here to be.

Think about that book you’ve longing to write. That project you’ve been dreaming about. Or that business you’ve been wanting to start FOR-EV-ER. Your intuition is saying YES!

But your mind keeps saying No. Uh-uh.

This is the surest path to life dissatisfaction I have ever seen.

If you are called to write, you MUST write.

Well, I guess that settles it!

Free software for peace of mind

Why waste precious brain cells trying to remember all those pesky passwords? And worse, trying to create and remember different passwords for different sites? KeePass is an open source FREE software that incredibly simple to use. Download a copy, create a master password, then save all of your passwords in a secure file. You can even cut and paste your passwords from your database to the URL.

Imagine how much more brainpower you'll have for fun stuff once you let go of all those passwords! Enjoy.

The way we spend our days

Have you noticed that there never seems to be enough time to do everything on your to do list? I have, and it frustrates me. However, yesterday I had an "ah-ha" moment. I realized that the answer is not to figure out how to cram more activities into my days. Instead, the answer lies in removing things from my to do list that don't really need to be there. The operative word here is "really", and it's up to me to decide what that's going to mean moving forward.

The writer Annie Dillard is quoted to have said that "the way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives." Wow. When I think about it that way, it really changes my perspective on what's important. I don't want to spend the second half of my life doing things that aren't important or that don't bring joy to me or to someone else. So, it's time to take a long, hard look at what's truly important to me, and the to re-evaluate the way I'm spending my days. Making the conscious choice to align the way I spend my time with my core values (key roles) will not only remove a lot of busywork or OPW (Other People's Work), but will also give me much more time and energy to focus on my ultimate goals.

(t0 be continued)

Pennies from Heaven

It's time for me to get serious about replenishing my savings account and preparing for retirement. I took the first major step in 2008 - eliminating all of my debt. What a relief! And now I'm always looking for creative ways to reduce costs and save money.

One of my first steps was to sign up for Bank of America's Keep the Change program. I'm sure there are other banks that provide this service, and it's also possible to do it on your own. But, since I'm already a BoA customer and it's a mindless way to save, I decided to do it. In a nutshell, whenever I make a purchase with a debit card (which represents 100% of my expenses other than rent and utilities), the purchase amount is rounded up to the next dollar, and the additional amount is transferred into my savings account. In additiona, BoA matches 10% of my Keep the Change deposits each year (up to an annual total of $250).

Welcome to my blog

Living a life of "soulful abundance" has become a major life goal for me. In fact, after my decision to become a Christian, it's probably the next most important lifestyle choice I've ever made. I've been on this journey for about two years and the results have been profound. I've been thinking about sharing the strategies and insights I'm learning for quite some time, and finally decided to take the plunge and start this blog. I hope you find it useful and meaningful and I invite you to share the journey with me.

What exactly is "soulful abundance?" Dictionary.com defines these two words as follows:

soulful: full of or expressing deep feelings; profoundly emotional.

abundance: an extremely plentiful or oversufficient quantity or supply; an overflowing fullness; wealth.

The concept of abundance is not new. It's mentioned often in the Bible and it's been gaining popularity lately in its current incarnation, known as The Law of Attraction. The concept first began to take hold for me when I read Simple Abundance. In it, Sarah Ban Breathnacht, defines simple abundance as "an inner journey, a spiritual and practical course in creative living, a tapestry of contentment."

That simple definition contains so much insight. It's an inner journey, meaning that it is ours and ours alone, a journey of our choosing, it comes from within us and is not predicated on external events. We can embark on this inner journey regardless of our external circumstances. We don't need to wait until the bills are paid, the kids are grown, we get married (or divorced), we buy that new house, or we get that new job. We can embark on this journey NOW.

It's both spiritual and practical. It's interesting that both words are included here. So often people focus on spirituality, but they forget that it's faith and love in action that matters. We're talking about a lifestyle, not an abstract theory here.

I love the word creative. As a self-proclained artist (in the very broadest sense of the word), anything that involves creativity definitely has my attention. But what's great about that word in this context is that not only does it inspire me to live my dream of filling my life and home with "art", made by me and by others, but it also reminds me that God and I together are the artists of my life as well. God has given me the opportunity, the resources and the desire to create a life that is pleasing both to Him and to me.

Here's what Sarah has to say about Simple Abundance:

At the heart of Simple Abundance is an authentic awakening, one that resonates within your soul; you already possess all you need to be genuinely happy. The way you reach that awareness is through an inner journey that brings about an emotional, psychological, and spiritual transformation. A deep inner shift in your reality occurs, aligning you with the creative energy of the Universe. Such change is possible when you invite Spirit to open up the eyes of your awareness to the abundance that is already yours.

With all due respect to Ms. Ban Breathnacht, while simplicity is goal and ultimately a by-product, the process is not "simple". It requires a conscious commitment to changing the way we think about our lives, our relationships and our environment. It is a paradigm shift that challenges the choices we make and the motivations behind them. For me, it's been a central theme in my spiritual development, and has also been profoundly emotional - hence my personal preference for the term "soulful abundance."

In upcoming posts, I'll expand more on my thoughts about soulful abundance. I'll also be sharing practical suggestions on how to create more soulful abundance in your life. I'm also planning to develop a set of links in the far right-hand sidebar of online resources and books in print that you may find helpful.

Thanks for visiting and please come back. I invite you to share this exciting journey with me.