The fear that prevents us from focusing
I recently took a trip to Thailand for 3 weeks, and decided to backpack the trip. I bought one of those 70L bags, and started packing. I thought everything that went into it was important. I kept imagining these random scenarios and telling myself: "Yea I could see when I'd use this". Or "This is super important, can you imagine if X happened and I didn't have this??"
Several days into arriving, I immediately regretted all of these choices. Of everything I packed, there was really only about 75% of it that I truly needed. The extra 25% was killer -- that bag goes on your back, sometimes all day, and literally weighs you down. Shedding even just a few pounds would have made a huge difference.
That's what we do to ourselves all the time with our projects, and our work, and our lives in general. We tell ourselves these stories that everything is important. We are really fearful of getting rid of certain things, afraid of what might happen if some strange scenario comes up. We walk around with lots of weight on our minds. It slows us down, it keeps us tired, and it prevents progress.
If we had the courage to say no to projects we don't care about, and if we had the courage to prune and edit our task lists, and our commitments down to what we truly cared about, then we'd be more nimble. We'd be lighter. We'd move with ease through the craziness of life, not worrying so much about all those little things. We'd go farther, and we'd make more progress than ever before.
When you think about your personal heroes, are they people who are doing a million little things or are they people who are all in on one or two major things? At least for me, it's obvious: The people I admire most are those that give themselves fully to their craft, to their passion, and to their purpose. They don't let distractions come in and take away from what they're meant to do. They don't say yes to projects just to please others. They don't compromise what truly matters to them just because they're afraid of saying no.
The best way to start to focus is to start with honesty. Get rid of the fear that tells you to keep everything on your plate. Get rid of the fear that says people will be mad at you or hate you for saying no, or for taking yourself off something you aren't interested in. They might be mad at first, but as you begin to make meaningful progress on the things you do care about, you will start to shine. You and your work begin to meld together and it's obvious to anyone that sees you that you're going places.
Ask yourself honestly: What am I committed to today that my heart isn't really in? What did I say yes to only to please someone else, and not because it's helpful or meaningful to me? What can I get rid of, and it won't be the end of the world?
When I did this exercise a few months ago, I cut out a lot-- both physical items in my room that served no purpose anymore, and commitments that weren't really adding anything to my life. When I started to strip away these things, I felt a much stronger sense of focus and purpose in the morning. I woke up with a certainty of what I was going to do that day, without any worry of all those other minor things. I didn't have to ask myself: "What do I need to do today?". I just knew. I knew because I only had that one thing I needed to do that day, and I'd get up and do it. It was (and is) a beautiful thing.
Finding your focus means finding your why. I write about it all the time-- finding your why is ultimately finding your purpose. What is it that drives you? What is that you can't separate yourself from? What makes you, you?
It can be a tough question to answer because we have so many distractions and inputs from other places clouding the truth. We think we need to go meditate on a beach for 3 days to figure it out. There is a simpler way to arrive at the answer: Declutter your life. Reduce the distractions. Try to cut things that don't matter, and see how it feels. Keep cutting until you're down to one or two things that inspire you, that get you up in the morning excited to tackle the day.