“...this [pointing to head] is my hard drive, and it only makes sense to put things in there that are useful—REALLY useful. Ordinary people fill their heads with all kinds of rubbish, and that makes it hard to get at the stuff that really matters. Do you see?” -Sherlock Holmes, S1E3 (2012)
“The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook.” - James Joyce
Yesterday, I asked what you want more than anything in 2019. Do you remember your answer?
Think about it for a moment. Since you’re here, I’m going to predict it was about strengthening a relationship you care about, or doing something that means more to you.
Here’s the thing about priorities. If everything is a priority, nothing is. We can only do so many things well. We can only love so many people well.
This is your opportunity to choose your three:
That’s right, I’m asking you to choose the three relationships and pursuits that are going to be your priority in the coming year. I know it’s difficult- and it should be. We shouldn’t take these choices lightly. Of course I understand that you might reconsider later- and that’s okay too, but I want you to try to think of this choice as one with some gravity.
To help you make this choice meaningful, I encourage you to think about what makes you value a relationship or a project. Choosing a priority is a statement that “I will spend my time and attention on these things and people first.”
Will you spend it on passive hobbies or active hobbies?
Will you spend it on creating or consuming?
Will you spend it investing in others or receiving from them? Or both?
In order to reclaim our attention, we must get ruthless with our inputs- our motivations to learn and pursue. Trust me, I know this is tough- input is one of my strengths on the StrengthsFinder assessment. Meaningless or excessive input is like hoarding- gathering to yourself not in service of something or somebody. Modern society gives us lots of options of things to pursue and very little guidance or feedback on how valuable they are or how to use them well.
Just as we reclaimed time yesterday, reclaiming attention will give us more to devote to those important things you chose. Start to reclaim your attention in these three steps:
Step One: Unfollow
I’m not going to lie. Unfollowing is a major time commitment. Social platforms are designed to make unfollowing painful, and following easy. The more time you spend needlessly scrolling through the posts of people you hardly know the more ads you see the more money the tech giants make. #moneymoneymoney
Here’s a good rubric to follow: if you don’t know the person or organization personally- if you haven’t met them directly, work for them or do business directly with them (I don’t mean buying stuff from them), unfollow.
The liberating feeling you get from reclaiming your time is worth it- and you’ll reclaim a lot.
The things we pay attention to gather neural strength. So, what are you paying attention to? Is it worth your attention? Who are the loudest voices? What are they saying? As you cull your list of people you follow on social media, reflect on these three statements:
I refuse to compare myself because I know…
I choose carefully what I read, see and listen to because I know…
I keep space for quiet and stillness because I know…
Step Two: Go Greyscale
Step Three: Keep Your Focus
Digital distractions are making us unhappy. We need look no further than here, here and here for proof. Our true joys are found in deep connections and deep work, but to get at them we need to find margin. That’s why you’re doing this hard work.
The cost of interrupted work is enormous. Research says it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back on task after an interruption — that translates into more speed and stress. Hurry and stress we don’t need.
Start setting 15 or 30-minute timers to block off focused time. If you’re studying, digital wellness app Flipd is a great option. I am also a big fan of Space, an app that short-circuits instant gratification by forcing you to pause and take a deep breath before opening an app.
Your smartphone timer or a little analog sand timer like this also serve well.
You’re also going to need to build a habit of telling friends and colleagues: “I’m slow to respond because I’m focusing on something important. Call me if it’s urgent.” If you are in senior leadership, like my friend Darian Kovacs, lead by example and model good digital habits for your team.
The steps we need to take to reclaim attention are a little different from reclaiming time, but you can probably already see they’re related- they’re about changing our actions from those directed by others (without our consent) or habits that we know don’t serve us into intentionality. But this isn’t just about breaking habits- it’s also about making deliberate decisions and taking responsibility for seeing them through. Contrary to what you might have heard, responsibility is a good thing- it makes us powerful. We don’t have power to create and change things we’re not responsible for- others are. The first step to responsibility is attending to something.
What do you choose to pay attention to?
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See you tomorrow. We’ll talk about the third step to experiencing JOMO in 2019: committing to life-giving activities.