Focus

Last week I resolved to put aside my efforts in trying to build a consultancy and focus a little more heavily on The Meteor Chef. For the past few months I’ve been trying to juggle both, struggling to produce any meaningful results for either. Some stuff was getting done, but far from what I’d like. This week was a total reverse.

In cycling, there’s a term used to describe the rate at which a cyclist is rotating the pedals on their bike: cadence. In writing, too, the same term is used to describe the pace or rhythm of language. When a cyclist—or piece of writing—has good cadence, they are looked at as being in a state of flow. Their work seems effortless, with existing momentum powering the bulk of their stride. When I consider my own work, I like to think about the cadence it’s being done at.

Whenever I try to juggle a handful of tasks, my cadence is off. Instead of flowing between tasks, I have to stop in between like a cyclist pumping their brakes before an intersection. Only after the light changes (read: I collect my thoughts) can they keep going. Though seemingly harmless, the stop and start nature of buzzing between different tasks (and topics), no matter how related, is a serious drain on productivity.

With my sole focus being The Meteor Chef this week, I found days whooshing by. I’d sit down to work at 8am, only to look up hours later. Huge swaths of work were accomplished. Why? Focus. Because my energy was targeted at a solitary task, my thinking developed a nice cadence. Early in the day some effort was required to get up and going, but by the end of the day, I was in fluid motion.

This isn’t some profound thought. It’s been proven again and again that unbridled focus always results in increased productivity and better results. Conversely, it’s that desire to multi-task that thwarts our efforts. Like a horse without blinders, we amble about the track, bumping into competitors and flirting with our wild instincts.

In taming those instincts, though, we can find that we end up getting what we want much faster. Instead of keeping our email or chat open all day, we check it once at the start and finish of the day. Instead of being non-committal to ideas, we can make a decision and just dive into what means the most to us (or would help us get closer to our goal). An incredible amount of time and energy can be reserved simply by deciding. Forgo that fear that keeps our hands in so many things—running our brains like a television with picture-in-picture—and just say “fuck it.”

It makes sense. In the book Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger, author Peter Bevelin suggests:

It is impossible for our brain to think too many things at the same time and expect to do well. Shifting our mental attention between tasks costs time and comprehension […] Actions and decisions are simpler when we focus on one thing at a time.

It’s incredibly simple, but we always trick ourselves into thinking otherwise. When we find ourselves failing to produce those results we so deeply desire, we should consider our focus. If we’re juggling too many things at once, it’s best to stop, reprioritize, and start again with a single focus.

It helps.