on fighting for focus
Posted on May 11, 2017
11 May 2017
Start time: 10:29am
I attended a panel event for women in tech last night, and one of the topics that came up was feedback. Feedback is hard to give, hard to receive and a generally uncomfortable process all around, but it’s necessary for personal and professional growth. Like many young, ambitious (read: stubborn, perfectionist) professionals, I don’t take feedback very well. One of the hardest comments I had to hear from my former boss was that I had trouble with focus.
Of course I had trouble with focus. A very small part of my job was social media, but naturally, I got sucked into it for long periods of time. I was always being pinged about something or other on email or Slack, and I pondered what to order the team for lunch (another very small part of my job). My job was to write, often whatever I wanted, which seemed a dream, but I was unable to consistently produce quality writing, because I could not or would not focus.
It’s been a few months since that conversation with my former boss, and I’ve been thinking about focus on a daily basis. To be totally honest, I’ve struggled with it on a daily basis. This is the first time I’ve sat down to write this week, despite having been for three runs. I’ve been busy distracting myself, which is all too easy to do. One of the things I’ve observed working in the tech world is that the most successful tech workers avoid technology as much as possible. My former boss, the CEO of a small startup, came to our most detailed and difficult meetings with pages ripped out of a yellow legal pad. A friend who founded a company codes about fifteen hours a day but is scared to death of social media. One of the most popular weekend activities in the Bay Area is camping, otherwise known as the complete antithesis of technological progress. A popular success metric for software is engagement. An engaging app is helpful and efficient and addictive, and those who understand this intent put limits on their own interactions with it.
Focus, or lack thereof, affects running deeply. Running can be a meditative practice, but only if you are vigilant about repeatedly bringing your focus back to the task at hand. When you are running to think through problems at home or work, or looking forward to a hearty meal afterwards, you are not meditating. You are not focused. That’s OK. We all run for different reasons. However, I do think the most mental benefits to be gained from running come from a calm place. By focusing on one thing at a time, you are maximizing your ability to do that one thing. You are able to relax. Focus and relaxation are intertwined in a way that seems incongruous with a fast-paced profession or multifaceted goal. But if you are able to quiet the nonsensical chatter within and without, and meet your thing (whatever it is) at eye level, you can say, “I am here.” Which is one step closer than you were before.