How I learned to focus on the task at hand

To-do list“Kara, tell me what you want me to work on right now.”

I took a deep breath in. The man was pissed.

“Holiday e-blast. Dynamic content for each market. Send at noon EST to all markets.”

Thank you.”

Certainly not the most genuine thank-you I’ve heard all week, but I’ll take it.

My coworker Andy is the cheese to my broccoli in all things marketing. Whether it’s blog, digital ads, or e-mail automation; we follow the same two-step process. I write, he implements. It’s a simple system. And it works like a mother f-ing dream.

Andy and I work well together because we have nothing in common. I would be bored to tears staring at Adwords all day. Andy would choose appendicitis over drafting a blog post.

Here’s another thing we do not share: Andy is a very methodical, step-by-step person. If you give him a project, here’s how he’ll tackle it:

  1. Address priorities
  2. Set a timeline
  3. Check off each task one-by-one

Now, if you give me the same project, I will:

  1. Address priorities
  2. Decide I hate my top priorities. I choose to work on priorities 4-5 over 1-2.
  3. Find out my team hit quota. Decide to make muffins for the office.

My car did not come with four-wheel drive, and my brain did not come wired with single-tasking. I jump from one project to the next, with a healthy dose of panic mixed in. [Read this to see what it’s like to be inside my head.] A few weeks ago, I summed up the root cause to this: I have no idea how to be present.

My aunt has her PhD in psychology, and I called her for tips on how to be more grounded. One day, I’ll summarize our entire conversation. For now, these were her basic instructions on how to be present.

Every time your mind wanders to past events, future events, or events that have never/will never happen; ask yourself these questions:

  1. Can I wiggle my toes? Can I feel my fingers?
  2. Can I feel my butt? How do my legs feel?
  3. Can I feel my breath? Where is my heart rate?

These questions bring us back to our present, physical state. Thus far, it hasn’t helped me one bit.

You know what has helped? Continually asking myself Andy’s key phrase, What is your job, right now?

The first time I asked myself that question, I was on the track. I was running intervals, and couldn’t stop thinking about my laundry, work, or making it to Trader Joes before the line wrapped around the store.

Then it hit me. All of those things were out of my reach. Even if I left the track immediately, it would be twenty minutes before I returned home. It would be another twenty before I could throw a load of clothes in the wash, open my laptop, or grab groceries.

That’s when a voice inside me said, “What is your job right now? Your job is not to do laundry. Your job is to run around this damn track.”

I finished my workout. I also felt just a tiny bit calmer.

That Monday, I was running late to work. Do I have a 9AM meeting today? Shit. I’m pretty sure I do.

I jumped in the shower, and heard that same voice. “Your job right now is not to worry about that meeting. Your job is to get ready as fast as humanly possible, and get your ass to work. If you don’t do that job first, you’ll never make that meeting.”

All things considered, I’m a pretty spastic person. I never learned to breathe in the universe and say Namaste. I can, however, say, “What am I working on right now?” followed by, “Great. That means I’ll deal with x-y-z next.” Even when my current task is an everyday behavior—blow-drying my hair, walking to work, pouring myself a coffee—I cannot tackle any of the 1,283 invading my mental capacity until it’s completed.

F is for focusing on the present.

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For All the F Words
You have flaws. You f-up on a daily basis. And that should be ok.