Addition speed drill time. I watch the teacher take her timer while my classmates dig for their pencils. There’s a scurry of activity as everyone gets ready. Then the teacher counts, “3-2-1- GO!” The sound of pencils scratching over the paper fills the classroom. I squint at Lily, who sits next to me. She’s already done three problems. And I…
I blink and grab my pencil. 4 + 6. That’s 10! But before I write it, someone behind me sneezes. I whip my head around just in time to see Bobby reach for a tissue. After he resumes his math practice, I slowly turn back to my paper. 4 + 6. How much is that? I count on my fingers. Ah, yes. Ten.
Lily is already done with one of the three columns. How can she add so fast?!? I lean back in my desk and gaze at her writing furiously. Just like that, she’s done with the second column.
The teacher softly says my name and I reluctantly tear my attention from Lily’s flying fingers to my paper. 5+3. I almost have it figured out when Jack yells, “I’m done!” I watch as he pulls out a picture from his desk and begins colouring with his pencil crayons. He wants to colour the clouds blue, but his blue crayon is broken. I dive into my desk and emerge with my blue crayon. “Here,” I hiss, “You can use mine, Jack.”
Suddenly the teacher calls, “Your addition time is over. If you didn’t finish your paper, you’ll have to finish it during recess time.” I blink and stare at the three measly answers on my sheet. I’m not happy. And at the end of the week, I won’t be much happier. Because that’s when our report cards get sent home. And I have an uneasy hunch that I won’t have a A in Diligence.
Focus. It’s something I’ve struggled with all my life. While the above little story isn’t intended to be me, it very well could’ve been. I’m still appalled at the amount of time I’ve wasted in school, particularly during middle and high school. Instead of learning about atoms and science stuff like that, I wrote notebooks and notebooks of stories. My algebra workbooks looked more like a cartoonist’s sketchbook than like the serious math books they were intended to be. It was all fun and games until test time. That’s when I bitterly regretted not waiting till art class to hone my sketching skills.
And part of that unfocused student still resides in me. I’m still tempted to stray from my task at hand to do more… interesting stuff. And I give in to the other stuff too often. I’ll go online to look up the meaning of a word or to find the exact words of a quote I want to use and five minutes later I’ll find myself looking at a tutorial on cake decorating. (And that’s not something I’m even interested in!) And I’ll tell myself, “Jeanette, I raised you better than this. Get back to writing.”
You know what makes it tough? The “other” stuff isn’t inherently bad stuff. Offering blue pencil crayons to my friends isn’t bad. Drawing cartoons and writing lame poetry and a thousand little novellas wasn’t necessarily wrong. (In fact, I firmly believe that the fine arts are vital to our existence, but that’s a rant for another time.) But anyway, neither are my current distractions inherently evil. But when they distract us from our primary goal, our priorities, then they become wrong. Steve Jobs says it well, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
So how can we say no to those other things? How can we stay focused on our goal? There’s lots of ways but here’s some things that work for me.
- Create a battle plan. I’m generally not a list person, but I admit they do wonders.
- Stick to the plan. Refuse to do anything else until all items listed are checked off.
- Reward yourself. If you finish this stack of grading before 5:30, you can eat that chocolate.
- Turn off electronics. Or at least, mute your notifications. Focusing becomes easier without constant vibrating and without that blinking light on your screen.
- Listen to music. While you might have different preferences, I tend to listen to soft “boring” instrumental music while doing mental work like writing. I turn up my upbeat playlists for physical work like mopping the floor.
- Be accountable to someone. If your friend has the same goal, help each other out. Make it competitive and fun.
- Ask God to give you a focused mind. God is a God of order. He wants order in the minds of his children. Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts. I John 5:21 NLT
Now, after you’re done with your list or have accomplished your goal, you can do all that other good stuff you said ‘no’ to. And I promise you’ll have more fun doing it, knowing your important stuff is taken care off.
Thanks for reading! I guess this marks the end of 2016 and my resolution to write about my word of the month. It has been challenging, but I’m glad I did it. Thank you so much for reading, subscribing, and encouraging me. I wish all of you a great start to 2017 and God’s blessings as you keep serving him. 🙂