I’m not sure the makers of Pixar’s Up envisioned the “Squirrel!” comment by the dogs becoming a cultural phenomenon, but that one word now sums up the idea of distraction for our generation.
We live in a “Squirrel!” age—an age of distraction. While the tools at our fingertips make us powerful, they can also make us unproductive. We live in a focus deficit. We multitask, a word that is often a synonym for unfocused, unproductive hyperactivity.
How do we maintain focus in a time when distraction is easier? How do we sidestep distraction so we can accomplish the work we’re called to do? How do we stay productive with the work we need to do?
As I think about focus, I’m drawn to the words Paul wrote to one of his churches, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
How much of our time is taken up by things that not only are absent from this list but are directly the opposite of what is on this list?
If we aspire to be productive and focused in an age when our fear of boredom and quiet leads us to constant distraction, these verses give us some specific steps to take.
Stay out of the drama
When it comes to Twitter-beefs, Facebook drama, and Insta-jealousy, they’re simply not worth our time. Before you share something online, review Paul’s list of “whatevers” and ask if it is true, honorable, commendable, and so on. If it’s not, move on and let others get bogged down in the garbage.
Filter negative voices
The ABCs of distraction are anger, bitterness, and cynicism. Even more than social media alerts on your iPhone, these three attitudes can sidetrack your focus and sideline your productivity. If people around you encourage anger, bitterness, and cynicism in you, then work to limit or eliminate their voices in your life. Remember, the voices we listen to shape the people we become.
It’s no longer about how smart you are; it’s how smart your network is. Learn from people and build friendships. The church at Philippi was repeatedly praised because they put into practice what they “learned, received, heard and saw in Paul.” In every area of your life, find someone who knows more or has experienced more than you. Befriend them, pursue them, and most of all, listen to them.
Get better every day
Sustained improvement is the key to lifelong success. Paul said “whatever is excellent…think about such things.” We should do things well, but great skills are not developed overnight. Use this season in your life to experiment, risk, try new things, make mistakes, pursue opportunities, and gets gobs of feedback. I’m reminded of a truism I’ve heard from Bill Gates, Craig Groeschel, and Mark Batterson: “We over-estimate what we can accomplish in one year and under-estimate what we can accomplish in ten years.” Take the long view and work with the goal of peaking at age sixty-five, not twenty-five.
I’ve also learned some other steps from sources beyond Philippians 4. These three have been huge for me!
—Develop an ideal schedule. Many of us struggle with focus because we act reactively rather than proactively. One of the most successful changes I’ve made in the last year was developing an ideal weekly schedule. (I learned about this process from Michael Hyatt.) Certain days and times are allotted for certain projects or appointments, so I do what is most important when I am at my best.
—Establish a system to track tasks. I use Evernote for storing all of the information I need to do my work. It’s my digital brain. I use Wunderlist to track my individual tasks and action items. I recently started using Asana for collaborative projects where I’m partnering with others. Whether you use an app or a handwritten to-do list, establish a system and stick to it. You cannot be productive if you’re constantly forgetting important steps.
—Limit interruptions. We waste far too much time checking email, social media, and other alerts on our phones. Does it really matter that the photo of your lunch got another like or comment? Check out my recent post on communication tips for more ideas in this area. I’m not sure who said it first, but life is truly what happens when you put down your phone.
Recently, this video filled my Twitter feed as people like me couldn’t stop watching this woman painfully experience this truth. We laugh and say “ouch!” simultaneously! While we have no idea what they were looking at, we do know they missed a really important moment in the game they came to see. While the tools we have today are amazing, multitasking with them often distracts us with serious consequences.
Focus on what matters most.