| image courtesy of dear sam |

Celebrating the Art of Focus

Multi-tasking became a common practice just as I was starting my career about 30 years ago.  In many ways, the concept served me as I was working, setting up house, juggling relationships, and having children.  One can’t do it all, but I did try hard. 

I recall reading a newspaper article in the early 1990s about productivity. I was looking for advice on how to be more productive in my work day so I could have more free time in the evenings.  Instead, the article focused on those few, empty moments in my day that I could devote to a task.  Dictate my grocery list while driving, keep my bills in my purse so I could pay them while in line at the grocery store, call my mom while I cleaned the kitchen.  And all this before I had a cell phone that connected me to everything and everyone all the time. The article made me feel panicked.  Yes, I could be more productive, as long as I never needed a moment to myself. 

woman laughing with glass of wine

Then in 2011, I traveled to France on my first sourcing trip with Elsie Green.  The French do not multi-task.  They sit with their cafés, they enjoy their lunches and when they are engaged in a conversation with you, they are concentrating on you.  On that first trip, I asked for a cafe créme to-go in a bistro and the server simply said “non.” Perhaps it was my French, but I think it was more that she rejected my lifestyle choice.  

It was in France that I re-discovered the  joy of a long walk, a long meal, or a long chat.  The magic to productivity was not multi-tasking, it was learning to do one thing at a time, very well, and if there’s not time to do the rest, fantastique!

That focus translated to other aspects of my life:  cooking with fewer, but better, ingredients, investing in fewer, but better, items in my wardrobe, committing to fewer, but harder, workouts and sometimes saying “non.”

man having coffee at flea market

And I learned to accept fewer invitations, and to be completely present at those events I attended.  I didn’t have a fear of missing out, I experienced a joy of missing out.  I learned to immerse myself in the locations, museums, sights and food when I was traveling rather than worrying about what I was missing at home. 

Now maybe I go a bit too far.  I’ve turned all the notifications off on my phone, I hide my phone in the closet while I sleep and I set timers when I want to focus on something for 20 minutes or an hour.  One of my daughters tried to call me the other morning and got a text instead -  “call you in 12 minutes?  I’m reading the news.”  But when my timer went off and I called her back in 12 minutes, she had my full attention. 

Like meditation, yoga or painting, focus is a lifelong practice.  If one is dedicated, one can always improve.  And the first step is in recognizing the value of the practice.  I think my friends and family members would all agree that I have a long way to go. 

But the transition from multi-tasking to doing one thing well has been transformative in many ways.  My cooking has improved immensely now that I’m not trying to fold laundry and get in a quick 60-second plank while my diced onions burn.  And I fill my calendar in thoughtful ways rather than just saying yes to everything and hoping it all works out.  Or saying no to everything because I'm overwhelmed.  I have brunch plans with my friend Pallavi next weekend and I am looking forward to enjoying a leisurely morning with her rather than squeezing it in between this and that.  

For more thoughts on quality time, read our post

Alone Time | Making Time and Reconnecting with Yourself

For more inspiration, take a peek at these posts > 

Grasshopper Summer | An Unexpected Reward

Advice to My 25 Year Old Self

Re-inventing Retirement

March 14, 2022 — Laurie Furber