focusing on focus

Yesterday I responded to a journal prompt, and I decided my response wasn’t too embarrassing to share here on my blog:

The word I want to focus on in 2019 is “focus.” (How very meta.) I’m almost always thinking about the next thing I’m going to do. My work suffers from this, my walk with God does too, and certainly so do my relationships with other people. I don’t even go to the bathroom anymore without taking my phone. But those short tasks (brushing teeth, etc.) are great opportunities to practice mindfulness. I’m not wasting my mind when I think about brushing my teeth; I’m letting it be quiet and rest.

I know that focusing on whatever I’m presently doing is a habit of mind that comes from practice and prayer (another thing that’s hard to focus on), but there are adjustments I can make to get my life to be more conducive to focus, and one of them is to do fewer things. One reason why I was so eager to hit “reset” on my life by moving to Michigan is that I felt like I was doing many things and doing okay at them, but I wanted to do a few things really well (and joyfully). True, I’m doing fewer things than I was before, but I keep coming up with new things to make me busy so I can avoid focusing on important things. This appears masochistic when I really consider it.

My flexible work schedule is both a blessing and a curse. I’m so thankful I don’t have to be in my office 40 hours a week. But that doesn’t mean that those few hours when I’m teaching are the only hours I owe to my job. I know there are ways I can enjoy my flexibility while still working productively (e.g. checking email in a coffee shop, reading for class in a park, having online “office hours” for 1-2 hours on weekends). By spreading out my work this way and priming myself to enjoy it (and I really do enjoy most of the actual work), I can avoid that rush to get things done at the last minute and come to class better prepared.

I want to experience “flow,” that state that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote about, when I don’t feel like I need to look at my watch or daydream about what I’m going to eat later or obsessively replay conversations in my head. I want to enjoy Tuesday instead of wishing it were Friday. I want to enjoy February instead of wishing it were May. I don’t ever want people to hear in my voice or see in my eyes that I’ve stopped listening to them and started thinking about something else, because that feels really crappy. I want to do whatever I’m presently doing with no shame or dread about what I “should” be doing instead.

I want other people to see me as an integrated person, not necessarily a busy person. I want to stop treating busyness as a virtue. I want to model self-care for my students by having boundaries and letting them know I’m not always working, but I also want it to be evident to them that I respect them enough to prepare for class, reply thoughtfully to their emails, and really read their written work. I don’t want my default response to be “Oh, I forgot you asked me about that” or “What page are we on?” Being an absent-minded professor isn’t cute; it’s lazy (for me).

This year, I want to really learn to focus. I’m tired of making false starts on this. I want to write in December about how much more focused I became in 2019.