When The Ability To Focus Isn’t Just A Positive
Generally, the ability to focus in a certain task is perceived as a wholly positive thing. So many of us struggle to put our minds to work on one task and maintain focus on it until it’s completed. Therefore, a person being able to still everything else going on around them and in their mind, and have complete focus on one specific thing is seen as a great skill.
To some extent, I disagree with the above. While being able to maintain focus on the task at hand is super important, getting so lost in that specific task that you lose track of time and fall out of sync with yourself is not good at all.
I remember one day at my old office job, my co-worker who was sitting across from me that day (in our office, we hot-desked) suddenly caught my attention by saying my name. I looked up and smiled, expecting a question about work or just some regular chit-chat. My co-worker said, ‘Do you know that you’ve been sitting entirely still in that chair for over 4 hours now? No stretching, no talking, no bathroom breaks, nothing?’ He told me he didn’t understand how I was able to sit so still and concentrate for so long. Over the course of those few hours, he had stood up to stretch several times, and had taken breaks to get a drink or go to the bathroom.
In that moment, I was taken aback — I’d been entirely lost to the world around me because I’d been so focused on my work. It was true that I hadn’t got up or moved in those hours, because I’d simply been so engrossed in the tasks in front of me that I neglected to pay attention to my body and myself. Now that my co-worker had pointed it out and I’d been called out of my focus, I noticed how stiff my shoulders felt, how tired my eyes were, and how sluggish I felt. I noticed how I desperately needed to get up and walk around, visit the restroom, get some fresh air and a refill of water — but I hadn’t been aware of the need before someone else pointed out how static and focused I’d been.
That little moment with my co-worker has stuck with me ever since. I’m grateful that I’m able to focus like that, but I’ve also needed to recognise that since that’s my work pattern, I need to constantly remind myself to check in with my mind and body while I’m working. Human beings are not designed to sit still, hunched over a desk for hours on end. We’re supposed to be moving around, using our bodies in various ways.
With the knowledge of this challenge I face when it comes to my working habits, I’ve had to develop the ability to pause my focus every now and again, to check in with myself and feel what I need. Generally, we’re supposed to stand up once per hour and move around a little — getting a refill of water, visiting the restroom, grabbing a snack, anything that’ll get us up and about for a few minutes. We’re also supposed to shift our eyes away from the computer screen every 20 minutes or so, and let our eyes rest on something in the middle distance to give them a break from the hard work of staring at a harmful screen all day long.
Having an understanding of yourself and the way you work, your strengths and the challenges you face, will help you a lot in your daily life. For me, one of these challenges is to make sure I don’t over-focus on a task and lose sight of when my body or mind needs a break — and this is something that can be turned into a strength by having an awareness of it and making sure you work with it, not against it.
Make sure you take those breaks. I bet you’ve earned it.
This blog post first appeared on my website.