Site icon Creative Pause

The Lost Art of Undivided Attention: Three steps to see whether you have any hope in finding it again.

Spinning plates on sticks with motion blur. XXXLarge file.

Hello and welcome! This is my third post in three weeks – I’m right on plan. It feels so good to get into blog-writing mode again. That said, it is still a struggle getting my thoughts on paper. Crazy as that sounds for a working creative like me, this shit’s real, and I need to dig into my professional ‘bag o’ tricks (a.k.a my practice) to get to the other side of this often paralyzing hurdle.

I thought the easiest way to get back into it would be to look at my last post from 2019 before my Creative Pause ‘pause’ and get the proverbial juices flowing, and keep this nascent narrative on track.

So I did, and man was it a great spark to re-ignite my creative flow! Thank you Paul Keefe for this insightful article on Medium: Thoughts on How to Create A Meaningful Life Through Meaningful Work. It was bang on! Even if I had no recollection of it. I have to laugh at myself. Pleas tell me this happens to you: as I look back at stuff I’ve read or even written in the past, and no matter how relevant it is, I have NO recollection of it! Ah, the beauty of a maturing brain…

SIDEBAR: Here’s my theory on memory loss after the age of, say, 45…

No, I’m not losing my mind, I actually believe I’m protecting it. I see it as working something like iCloud with your hard drive. My brain automatically ‘mirrors’ onto a cloud as soon as it gets full, then all that remains in my conscious brain is a token that instantly makes storage space available. Then when that ‘mirrored’ memory is required, it is retrieved from said cloud storage, and I then remember how brilliant I was all over again.

See, I’m not losing my mind at all. Terrified? Next topic, please.

Now where was I… Oh yes – the article from last February.

The premise is this: we can raise the quality, hence the value, of our work by seeing it as meaningful and investing in it through our undivided attention.

The author refers to this state of being fully attentive to our work as “deep work“. A term that sticks with me as it triggers distant memories of those far-too-seldom occasions when we are completely in the creative “zone”. A zone that manifests in a variety of ways for me. Whether I’m writing, researching, designing, or even playing with spreadsheets to better track and maximize my billable time… it is pure bliss, and the epitome of productivity.

Keefe writes, “Producing meaningful work takes deliberate awareness, effort, and time.”

Is that so much to ask? Unfortunately for many, it seems so. Who has time these days, right? Well, there’s the problem: ZERO TIME or said perception. If this is true (and honestly believe it’s not) then we must conclude that meaningful work is not even a viable option. And if you are OK with this conclusion, you should probably go back to that less-than-meaningful task you absolutely need to get to. My apologies for keeping you. (Facetious tone intended).

However, if slamming the door on putting your efforts and talent to something meaningful to you is as absurd as it sounds, read on. There’s still hope.

My key takeaway is that he offers a simple structure I can appreciate and see working for me: Two hours. That’s 120 minutes. Not one hour, not 30 nor even 15 minutes. (15-minute timeslots? Really people?!) Two hours with zero distractions. Yup. Biggest hurdle taken care of up front. Two hours to focus on one thing – anything – that has no pressure on what the outcome is. Are you up for it? Sure you are!

The author of the article also talks about other practices, but this is the one I’m focusing on: Carving out a considerable-yet-achieveable timeslot in a place where I cannot be disturbed, can remain focused while I observe, appreciate and recognize the flow of my thoughts. Not only for the planned outcome, but for the sake of trying a new and better way of ‘doing’ something while ‘paying attention’. So here’s my new-found process.

Three steps to finding your meaningful

I created and am applying these three steps as a way to put a new practice in place for myself. FYI, The results of this are already paying off. Give it a try!

Step 1 – THINKING: No need to save the world, start with saving yourself

To paraphrase, ask not what you can do for your country, but what you can do for YOU, and then see what happens.

Putting ourselves lower on the list of priorities is how we sometimes (mistakenly) perceive what doing something meaningful is. Perhaps it was my Catholic upbringing, but after a lifetime of thinking that way, I learned the hard way – more than once – that this is a flawed approach where nobody benefits.

I often use the metaphor of the Airplane Safety Pamphlet. In order to save your child, you must put your oxygen mask first. Or, when I was learning to be a lifeguard, the first thing they taught us when you saw a swimmer in distress was to NOT jump in or get within reach of them unless absolutely necessary. Because when others desperately need your help, they will take you down. Then what good are you when to anyone if you’ve drowned… get my point?

Save yourself before trying to save others. You’re much more useful that way. Think about that, give it a go, and see what comes next.

Step 2 – PLANNING: Start taking back a wee bit o’ time

Find two hours in the next week to ‘take back’, and see how you fare. You are the banker and the customer here, so negotiate as you need to. And if the banker tells you you’re broke, well… I’ll say it again, if your hurdle is having no time to spare, go back to step one – or go away. You’re not ready to change yourself let alone the world. And good luck!

That’s it. Nothing more. Identifying that time is your goal. Attainable? I think so.

Step 3 – DOING: Commit to and experience that time and see where it takes you.

Sound too easy? Try it. That’s the goal – Easy. No more pressure than that.

And you’re done! Then regroup, rinse and repeat.

My Initial Results: For one, this brilliant post you’re reading right now, but also some motivation I’ve been lacking to get going on this blog, my personal endeavour:

To wrap up, I wanted to share this excerpt from the article that sparked this post:

Deliberate practice, the kind of practice that builds champions and masters — requires your undivided attention. 

Paul Keefe

What I love about this is that it brings to light the value of the practice over the value of the time itself. Time is merely the currency required to even begin. That one’s mine. I know, not too shabby, huh.

Now off you go. And have fun!

Until next time.

SP Wiseguy

Exit mobile version