I’ve got to get focused on this project.
I set down my pen.
What usually works isn’t working right now.
I lean back in my chair.
And that’s okay.
This situation is different.
Several major projects are all due at the same time, and every single one is now or never.
I could say “no” to some of them.
Honestly, though, I don’t want to. I don’t want to miss out on any of these exciting opportunities.
I want to move forward with every single one.
When You Just Can’t Find Your Focus
Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation: You’re trying to make progress, but your brain can’t focus because it’s going in a dozen different directions at the same time.
In my situation, I had pushed myself to do the work—even though I really wanted to do anything but this type of work in the moment.
I went through all the usual techniques that typically help me focus:
- I took a walk.
- I turned off all distractions.
- I set a timer.
But all of my fail-safe strategies failed.
The harder I tried, the muddier my mind became. I couldn’t make myself make progress.
Or even get started.
Which was crazy. These were projects I really wanted to accomplish, and I was grateful for the opportunities.
At the same time, they were demanding tasks for me. Each project involved writing. And not just ordinary writing, but the most challenging kind of writing where every word mattered.
I needed a new strategy.
What Made the Difference
Here’s what worked for me:
- I used pen-and-paper, which forced me to slow down.
- I limited my work to what would fit on one page, which narrowed my focus.
- I quickly skipped over anything that wasn’t the best fit, which gave me momentum.
- I saved ill-fitting ideas for later projects, which kept me from getting bogged down.
What made the difference?
My mind stayed focused on one task at a time without getting distracted by “Shiny Object Syndrome.”
This may be a challenge for you, too.
Combining strategies you don’t typically put together will help you find your focus.
How to find what helps you focus
Learning to combine old strategies in new ways is a valuable skill.
You already do this in the kitchen when you tweak a recipe — trying a little of this, a little of that, until the flavors blend together just so.
Here’s how to combine strategies to help you quickly find focus:
1) Make a list of the typical strategies that help you focus.
(For ideas, download your free “5 Simple Ways to Quickly Find Your Focus” checklist.)
2) Check any strategies that usually work for you.
3) Circle any new strategies that intrigue you.
4) Combine several different strategies into a new “recipe.”
5) Now, experiment with it.
How will you know that you’ve found the right combination of strategies?
You’ll start to feel unstuck. You’ll get going again.
As you gain momentum, you’ll make great progress.
All because you finally found your focus.
Question: What’s one strategy that helps you find your focus?
Mary Lou Caskey trains Christian coaches and communicators to influence hearts through the power of story. If you want to become a transformative storyteller, connect with Mary Lou and get her free quiz, “Is It the Best Time to Share a Personal Story?”
Do you feel mental overload? Do you wonder if you’ll ever get your home or office organized? Maybe you think if you just work overtime, or if your kids could stay at Grandma’s for a week, you could finally get it together.
What if I told you working harder or having a child-free home isn’t the solution?
I’ll venture to say 75% or more of our clutter problems aren’t because we don’t work hard enough, or that our homes are too small or our children are messy. Most of our problems start because we can’t think through what needs to be done. We can’t get our minds under control. We can’t make decisions. We are on mental overload.
Do you know that feeling?
How to deal with mental overload
For years, I lived with an ongoing sense that I should be doing something all the time. It ate at me. Even when I focused on something important, there was a latent unease about what else I should be doing. It was an underlying anxiety that hung around, even when there was no pressing deadline or responsibility.
It caused stress and lack of sleep.
It wasn’t until I read David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, that I discovered a reason for this tension. It seems our brains aren’t designed to store and manage all of the information, deadlines and demands that swirl around us at all times.
Allen writes, “The big problem is that your mind keeps reminding you of things when you can’t do anything about them. It has no sense of past or future. That means that as soon as you tell yourself that you need to do something, and store it in your RAM (your mind), there’s a part of you that thinks you should be doing that something all the time.”
It was a head-slapping moment when I read those words. That was it! Allen goes on to explain that the first step to finding a solution is to get everything out of your mind and store it somewhere safe. Not the “safe” place you stored an important document at home, and now can’t find. But somewhere close at hand.
The right to-do list
I realized my mind tried to manage more stuff than it could hold. One to-do list wasn’t the answer because it wasn’t keeping things in safe places.
With that in mind, I’m going to ask you to do something painful. Not as painful as stepping on a scale, but close. I want you to take a personal assessment of all your responsibilities, projects, priorities and tasks. Everything. Get it out of your mind and onto one document. This could be a paper notebook or digital file, it doesn’t matter. If you have multiple to-do lists, combine them into this one list. Leave this list where you can see it morning, noon and night for a few days.
On this list write down everything you need to get done. You might start with your home and add repairs, cleaning projects or laundry.
Put down things you need to do for your family, such as make a dentist appointment, write a letter to a teacher or take clothes to the dry cleaning.
Then move on to other areas of your life: church, community involvement, sports teams, etc. Include big projects and little things, like errands and emails that need to be sent. Nothing is too small to include.
You might want to dedicate one page for future projects, such as planning this summer’s vacation or researching colleges with your daughter. Another page might contain things you want to do years from now, but you don’t want to forget.
This process will take you days. If it helps, you can organize this list however you see fit if it helps you remember things. Or just write things down as they come to mind. Whatever works for you.
It’s okay if there is no order to it. Actually trying to organize it now might hinder you if you are a perfectionist. You might not leave yourself enough room in a certain category and then you’ll be frustrated.
For now, capture it all. Don’t be surprised if you feel a bit panicky at how much you have to do. Just take a deep breath and ask for God’s peace.
I promise you feel a sense of relief soon because finally, maybe for the first time in your life, you have everything in one place.
There are many things you can do with this master list. You can organize it in to tasks (one action) and projects (more than one action). You can organize it by area of your life or deadlines. You can sort it by things that need to be done today, this week, next month, in six months, etc.
Hold on to that list. Add to it. Next month, I’ll share how to create a project management planner.
If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy Glynnis’ 15-Minute Morning Refuel.
Today, decide where you will create your master list and list five action items on it to help you deal with your mental overload.
Our time is limited, and if you spend your quiet time bouncing up and down to find all the things you want and need, this one’s for you. It’s time to protect your quiet time!
Sometimes it truly is the simplest things that make life easier, and this one will help you carve out peaceful time with Jesus.
Protect your quiet time
Protect your quiet time by being prepared with this one tool to save you from the ups and downs!
How will you protect your quiet time?
When the situations of life don’t “feel” positive, it’s often hard to think positive. But fortunately, it’s not impossible.
Being a positive thinker doesn’t mean living with a Pollyanna/rose-colored glasses mentality. It simply means choosing to intentionally look for the best in things, and find reasons to be positive, rather than intentionally, or even inadvertently, focusing on the negative aspects of people, life and situations.
We can’t control our circumstances, but we can always control our thoughts about them. And when we change the way we think, we in turn change the way feel and live. Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” (NKJV) Our thoughts determine who we are and how we live our life.
If you have found yourself becoming a negative or pessimistic thinker lately, even if you have lots of reasons to justify that type of attitude, or if you feel like you’ve always been a negative person and think it’s impossible to change, might you consider incorporating a few of these tips into your everyday routines?
6 things positive people do every day
When you invite God to start helping you change the way you think, you’ll notice your perspective and outlook and the way you feel inside will begin changing too. A happier life with more peace, joy and happiness – despite the adversities life – could be as close as one positive thought away.
- Express gratitude. Ask God to help you live with an awareness of your blessings. Notice the little things that bring a flutter of joy to your heart – a butterfly, a streak of warm sunshine, the laughter of your child, the hug from a loved one. Try to focus on the things you have, rather than the things don’t have.
- Look for beauty. Life can be ugly, and at times we get so caught “seeing” the ugly, we neglect to notice the beauty around us. Take time to really look out the window as you drive today. Notice the blue sky, the green trees, the bunny hopping across the field. Smell the flowers, savor the aroma of dinner on the stove, and feel the softness of your baby’s hair. Beauty is all around us in a million different forms, if only we choose to not overlook it and miss out.
- Don’t compare anything to anyone else because doing so not only feeds your insecurities, but because comparison is the thief of joy. You are you, and God made you unique in every way; gifted with abilities, traits and talents that nobody else has. Rather than focusing on how you don’t feel you measure up in some way, most likely against some standard you were never meant to meet, focus on your positive attributes alone.
- Don’t overthink problems. The more we overthink a problem – letting our imaginations run wild with worry and fear and stress – the bigger those problems become. Instead of thinking the worst, try to think the best. Instead of focusing on the negatives of a situation, try to think of some positives that might come out of it. If you’re prone to overthink be overly positive. A little too much optimism never hurt anyone.
- Change the way you typically think by asking God to help you begin recognizing each negative thought that pops into your mind. Reject that thought, and then think of a more positive true thought instead. Simply put, cultivate optimism in your patterns of thinking. Instead of seeing the glass half empty, intentionally tell yourself to see the glass half full. If you tend to think the worst when a problem arises, intentionally decide you are not going to do that, and try to think of the best case potential scenario instead. Making these practices a habit in your everyday life helps foster an amazing transformation in your brain and thought patterns.
- Invite God to be a part of your day, your life and your mind makeover transformation. When we ask for His intervention in our hearts and minds, we open the door for Him to begin an work in us that we could never accomplish on our own. Through His strength and perseverance, we overcome the pull towards negative thinking and retrain our minds to think optimistic, instead of pessimistic. After a few weeks of implementing practical thought control and intentional efforts to be positive, new habits will form are good for us and our lives!
If you want to be a more positive person and live a more positive life, consider trying to do each of these tips every single day. Think positive, be positive, live positive. It’s a lifestyle that’s possible for everyone which always ushers in more peace, more joy, and more happiness!
To intentionally make positive living a reality in your life, and to begin experiencing a total life makeover through the transforming and renewing of your mind, consider purchasing Tracie’s newest book, Unsinkable Faith: God-Filled Strategies for Transforming the Way You Think, Feel and Live. You can also purchase a Companion Study Guide & Journal and other valuable, faith fueling resources on Tracie’s blog at www.traciemiles.com.
Sign up for Tracie’s free 5 Day Optimist Challenge. Visit her blog for more information at www.traciemiles.com.
Tracie Miles is a national Speaker and Author with the internationally known Proverbs 31 Ministries and has spent the last eleven years inspiring women to live intentionally for Christ In addition to Unsinkable Faith, she is also the author of two best selling books, Your Life Still Counts: How God Uses Your Past To Create A Beautiful Future(2014) and Stressed Less Living: Finding God’s Peace In Your Chaotic World (2012). She is also a contributing author to the popular Zondervan NIV Women’s Devotional Bible, and the Proverbs 31 Encouragement for Today Daily Devotional Book.
Tracie is a monthly contributing writer for the Proverbs 31 Ministries Encouragement for Today daily devotions, which reach nearly one million people per day around the world with encouragement from God’s Word. Tracie has three children and lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.
But all things should be done decently and in order.” 1 Corinthians 14:40
Ever felt frustrated or overwhelmed in your work efforts due to clutter around you?
You tell yourself you will get to it . . . eventually.
You don’t have time to declutter because your workload is pressing in on you.
Frustration turns into condemnation, so now working is made more difficult by the mental energy you must utilize just to do work. Deadlines are missed. Papers cannot be found. And the demands of life around you make it seemingly impossible to focus.
I get it. As a mom of five in a crazy busy life, sometimes I have felt like managing all the work around me, along with everyone else’s work (because moms are evidently supposed to manage everything), is overwhelming.
Our work environment matters.
Like a hamster, we keep running on our wheel thinking our work will be different, but the cluttered area surrounding us keeps us hampered and confined.
We could do so much more, but we continue to operate in the same manner, hoping we will still get the work done. Sounds kind of like that definition of insanity . . . doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Seems like a hopeless situation. But the very thing we tell ourselves we can’t make the time to do will actually give us the space to be able to work in a more effective manner.
We accomplish more when we have space and organization to work.
There is a misconception behind work clutter that needs to be debunked. It is not necessarily the amount of work that is the problem – it is how we work that does.
I have found that having more responsibilities requires me to be more organized. When every task has its place in space and time in my life, then I am not overwhelmed by tasks that seem to be too much.
Creating a clutter-free work zone is done physically, mentally and spiritually.
- What is it that is in our space that we don’t regularly use for work? Is there a space in our home where we can do some of our work that frees us up to think? Perhaps taking a laptop and working on the back porch for some projects will rejuvenate our vision for work and not make you feel trapped in between 4 walls.
- Maybe shelving units or a closet can also store work items (not thrown in the closet – too many skeletons in there) so we do not feel encumbered or stressed by a lot of “stuff” around us.
- Utilizing tools like Evernote to track “to do’s” that infringe on brain capacity takes the mental energy out of busy work lives.
- We don’t have to allow our “to do” list to rule us. Make changes as needed.
- Having a specific time for projects frees us up to do the work at hand, knowing we have time to do the other projects, too.
- God is a God of order and having structure glorifies Him. When we are not hindered by our environment, we are better able to glorify God in our work and all we do.
Maybe it is the work itself that you dread. This article on The Hope in Work is motivation to keep pressing on in the work God has given us to do. Every task matters when it is offered as service to the King of kings.
Ultimately, we determine where and when we will work. Let the truth behind this power free you to set up your work space in the way that works best for you. Doing so will increase your productivity and help you to create a place in which God can use you mightily. Don’t have time to do it, you say? You don’t have time not to.
Look up from your work and around your work space and take five minutes each day to make your space more enjoyable to work in. What distracts you in your work space? How can you be creative with the space you have allocated?
Denise Pass is an author, speaker and CCM worship leader from Fredericksburg, VA, where she lives with her amazing husband and 5 children. Denise is passionate about writing devotions and music that foster unshakable hope and healing in the face of seemingly insurmountable circumstances. Her ministry umbrella, Seeing Deep in a Shallow World seeks to be a compass grounded in Scripture and a place where real problems meet real, transparent faith and needed answers in Scripture.
You can read more about Denise’s ministry, read and hear her talks, blog and original music over at www.denisepass.com or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
I shoo the dog from the cramped kitchen, greet new arrivals, and point to the bottle opener’s location — “The next drawer over. No, other side. There, in the front” — sticky sauce splatters the stovetop. Breathe.
“What can I do to help?” she asks.
I feign casual confidence: “I’ve got it under control” — and change the subject to her family’s most recent adventure.
The truth is, I don’t know what needs to be done. Or how to articulate it. So I might as well do it myself.
Avoid the stress of hosting?
Does this happen to you? Last-minute details keep you from enjoying time with your guests. And when someone offers to help, you’re so busy doing that you can’t think if there’s anything someone else could do.
Summer’s around the corner and, with it, the opportunity to host year-end celebrations, picnics, and potlucks. But can you host a meal, and truly enjoy your friends, without all the stress?
Is There a Better Way?
It began unintentionally.
My head throbs. But I’m unwilling to cancel tonight’s social event.
I can always excuse myself early; there’s no reason others can’t have fun!
Knowing my middle-aged brain is more compromised than usual, I list all the menu items and tasks to perform on our kitchen whiteboard.
I work my way down the list, erasing items as I complete them. When guests arrive, I hear the familiar question: “What can I do to help?”
“I’ve got it under control …”
I stop, look at the whiteboard, and say, “Could you finish the deviled eggs?”
Ahhh … My headache begins to fade.
Other guests offer to help. I ask one to cut strawberries. Another wipes down the picnic table.
Peals of laughter and conversation fill the air as we prepare the meal together.
Reduce the Stress in Your Celebrations
We’ve since perfected this dinnertime ritual:
- Line the countertop with the necessary serving dishes
- On a sticky note in each dish, provide simple instructions (e.g., fruit salad — strawberries, blueberries, banana, grapes).
- Hang a list of non-food instructions on the fridge (e.g., bring chairs from the garage)
Now you can enjoy your guests from the moment they arrive rather than ushering them into the living room with drinks.
Or tripping over them as you attempt to balance food prep and conversation.
You’ll create a welcoming atmosphere and your guests will feel at home — nothing says “you’re family” like being asked to set the table!
You may even avoid scrubbing sticky sauce from your stovetop.
Need more ideas for focusing on fun and fellowship instead of stressing out about shindigs? Stop by my blog to grab your free copy of Helpful Hospitality Hints: How to Host a Meal Without Losing Your Mind.
Kendra Burrows delights in encouraging others to see God’s grace in the everyday — when she isn’t chasing the animals (and boys!) out of her kitchen. She’s still learning hospitality requires we share it all, not do it all. Connect with her at www.kendraburrows.com.