Getting into the groove

Despite our best efforts to chill and be in the moment, it’s hard to rise above the noise and distractions that fill our days.

On holidays there are activities to organise, cupboards to clear, appointments to keep, plans to make.

Back at work and distraction lurks around every corner: emails to check, papers to review, news to catch up on.

It’s like a constant ‘mental traffic jam…in which it’s always rush hour’, sapping energy and focus.

But in January something unexpected happened that helped me clear that mental traffic jam.

We lost power. Total blackout. Twice.

All of a sudden, nothing. No computer, no Wi-Fi, no aircon, no music, no kettle…just plenty of choice expletives (I was on a deadline, both times) followed by that really loud silence totally devoid of any background electrical hum.

When everything whirred back to life several hours later, I zipped through the rest of my work with greater clarity and renewed focus.

Turns out hitting the pause button for while can actually be a good thing. That moment of stillness is a chance to recalibrate, reset or recharge.

In fact, jumping off the merry-go-round for a while can help us:

  • Work more efficiently—maybe it’s because of my background in journalism, but I find a looming deadline does wonders for de-faffing and getting on with the job.
  • Produce more polished work—after a pause (for a day, a few hours or even just long enough to make a cup of tea) we can see our work through fresh eyes, including mistakes and solutions to sticky problems.
  • Prioritise more effectively—according to Forbesprocrastination can be a form of prioritisation and a tool for time management, when we take the time to stop and think about what’s really more important on that long to do list, and then purposely defer the less important tasks to tackle those that take priority.
  • Be more creative—our brains quietly continue processing information and ideas subconsciously when we’re not actively working on something. That’s why ideas that stubbornly refuse to crystallise when we’re staring at a blank screen for an hour suddenly pop into our heads when walking the dog the next morning.
  • Get more done—John Perry, author of The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging, and Postponing (isn’t that a great title!) advocates ‘structured’ procrastination, when you put a task off but find other things to do in its place. He says: ‘If you go back through the history of human culture, and take away every invention that was made by someone who was supposed to be doing something else, I’m willing to bet there wouldn’t be a lot left’.

I guess the thing is to recognise the difference between purposeful pauses and pointless procrastination.

It’s timely to think about this now, when pondering resolutions and goals for the new year.

So (after a purposeful pause) I’ve decided my words for 2017 are:

  • Focus: I can do this. Multi-tasking be gone! I will breathe, pause, make that little pebble pyramid, be the lotus flower. Seriously though, I will find my focus (even if it’s a bit fuzzy around the edges sometimes). How? Well, on a day-to-day basis I’ll take a moment, more often, to refocus and get into the groove. For the bigger picture, I’ll remember my mission statement from when started my business 17 years ago: to help clients produce clear, meaningful and polished communication. I figure that’s still a good yardstick to guide me when I feel my focus slipping.
  • Fun: Confession—I’m a word junkie. I love working with words. I enjoy untangling them, crafting them, perfecting them. I even love that quiet clack of the keyboard as the words fill up the screen. Helping my clients communicate with the the people who matter to their business gives me a buzz. Working with great colleagues is fun too. So this year I’ll keep front of mind one of my business values: enthusiasm—approach all projects with genuine interest, energy and a sense of humour. And I’ll be grateful I can pay the bills by doing something I enjoy.
  • Flow: Reckon if I nail the first two, this one will just…well, flow.

And on those days when it just doesn’t come together, I’ll go eat chips…

Cartoon: Gemma Correll, for the BBC’s BodyPositive

If you’ve lost focus, just sit down and be still. Take the idea and rock it to and fro. Keep some of it and throw some away, and it will renew itself. You need do no more.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes


Cinden Lester has more than 25 years’ experience as a professional writer, editor and communications specialist. She worked as a broadcast journalist, in private sector marketing and public relations, and in government communications before establishing her own Canberra-based communications consultancy in 2000.

Contact Cinden if you’d like help with your communications.

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