Just as we sit down to write this article on focus, we lose focus ourselves. It happens all the time. Whether it’s the environmental distractions (people, internet, chores, errands, etc.) or your own wandering mind, focus is a skill worth practicing because it will come in handy in your professional career. Students, with only a few weeks left on this year’s academic calendar, the stress of school must be getting the best of you. We know the feeling. We are all juggling multiple layers of life: professional, social, and personal. Our schedules get booked up way in advance, and we lose sight of what’s important now. As the end of school semester looms ahead, completing assignments on time should be your immediate priority right this moment, but with multiple projects due at the same time, it is easy to fall into panic mode. Don’t. What you should do instead is…
Focus On One Task At A Time
We realize that this idea may sound crazy in a world where multitasking is believed to be a strength. To the contrary, multitasking is the best focus-killer. It takes more time and more brainpower to juggle between a few tasks than it does to block off time needed to complete one task and then move on to the next. Whether at school, home or on the job, focusing on one task at a time will yield better results than trying to handle several simultaneously.
Break It Down
There will always be multiple ongoing projects and responsibilities. You may be enrolled in three classes, have a part time job, a husband and a child, and run a book club in your spare time. Every one of these layers of life can be broken into smaller pieces needing your attention.
Break down the undone tasks into a clear and prioritized to-do list. Do you have to do research before writing a sociology paper” How about doing interviews as part of research” Do you have to order material samples before you can complete a design board for a project” Do you have to select light fixtures before you can finalize the reflective ceiling plan”
There is always an order in which tasks should be done. So think about that order, prioritize and plan. Doing this will help you understand the scope of work and calm your nerves so you don’t miss a step or overlook a detail. Maybe even engage a family member or a roommate to help you prioritize. Sometimes it’s best to let the outsider assess the situation and help you put a plan of action together.
Do The Work
Lastly, you must do the work. With all the mixed emotions at play (stress, anxiety, and just feeling overwhelmed) it may seem impossible to produce creative work. Not so if you train your mind to sit and do.
A change of environment or a pair of headphones may help. Unplugging all unnecessary electronics and applications (especially email) can also help keep your thoughts on the task at hand. Whatever it is that motivates you, use it to do the work that needs to get done.
We do practice what we preach. We both are very familiar with those anxious and overwhelming feelings that can consume you. But we have a support system (each other, families, friends) that lends a hand when they are most needed.
In the end, if a deadline is missed, though the consequences can vary (lower grade, disappointed client, etc.), it is what it is. The world will still be here and life will go on. Do what you can and be realistic about the outcomes. Even at its most complicated moments, life can be tackled best when you keep it simple. Focus: Prioritize -> Plan -> Do.
Aga Artka, Allied ASID, LEED AP, and Jenny Schrank, Allied ASID, work together to educate and motivate young design professionals to take charge of their lives and build careers of their dreams. They started a career building newsletter and are working on a career development publication, which is planned to be released in 2014.
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