Create Exquisite Focus Amidst Chaos

By Leo Babauta

I’ve worked with lots of incredible people who want to create something — whether it’s art, a book, a business, or some impact on the world.

One of the stories we often have when we want to create is that we’re too busy, pulled in too many direction, or need to clear out our lives before we can focus.

Basically, the story is that everything needs to be clear before I can focus and create.

But that never comes. We never clear everything else out, we never have a life without some chaos. And so if that’s our story — that we neeed to have pristine clearness before we focus — we’ll never create anything.

As I write this, I’m proving that story wrong. There’s chaos in my life, from things going on in my family to my uncertainty about my projects to a thousand demands on my time. And yet I’m finding some beautiful focus right this minute, to write. I’m not exceptional — we can all do this, if we commit to changing this story.

In this article, I’ll share some ways you might do that.

The Old Story

Before you can create a new story, it’s important to get present to your old story: that you need to clear out your life and have no chaos before you can have focus.

This story flies under the radar, unnoticed, but it can feel very true and control our actions. You just operate as if it’s the truth.

The way you might notice this is first to reflect on how things are going. Are you writing that book or launching that business you wanted to create? If not, what’s been getting in the way of that? It’s easy to blame external circumstances, but you might notice what story you have that makes those external circumstances a blocker.

Next, you might commit yourself to finding focus every day to create. Block off some time. Then see what shows up – are you able to actually focus, or do you tell yourself something that allows you to put it off?

You might also notice what this story protects you from. For me, it protects me from having to create something I feel shaky about, and fall flat on my face.

The New Story

Once you’ve gotten clear on the old story, and noticed it showing up, you can start to create a new one that’s more empowering. What new story would allow you to focus when there’s chaos, and what’s more, to feel lit up about it?

For me, part of my story is that I love a little oasis of calm and focus in the midst of my chaos. It’s peaceful, rejuvenating. I love moving something important forward, and feeling that incredible progress.

Another part of my story, even more important, is that this is a way for me to express my love for my readers. That’s important enough to create some space for.

But you don’t have to use my story: what would be empowering for you? Try three drafts, and pick one to practice. Then commit to focus blocks, and practice believing the new story during those blocks. It will feel a bit wrong, so you have to create structure to actually show up for the focus blocks — some accountability, for example.

Some Other Notes

What I’ve shared is the most important bit. But there are some other things that help me:

* Create space and commit to it. I will block off focus sessions and tell others that I’m going to do it, and hold myself accountable. This actually empowers my focus, rather than needing to feel like a burden.

* Clear the decks. It’s not bad to try to clear things — small tasks, emails, messages — before you focus. I give myself a limited time, like 20 minutes, to clear things out, before I start my focus session. My goal is not to clear my whole life out, and not have any chaos. It’s to clear things out a little, just to an extent that feels helpful, not to the extent that feels like avoidance of my focus.

* Use a single-tasking tool. I use various writing tools that don’t have distractions. As I write this, I’m using Ommwriter, which is an old one, but there are plenty of others. Block off your internet connection if you need to. Put your phone on airplane mode. Tell others you are focusing, if needed.

* Think things through a bit beforehand. For writing, I like to spend some time before the focus session thinking about what I want to write. I’ll go for a walk, or think about it in the shower. This helps me get the focus session going with a running start.

* Create a little ritual. If you think of the focus session as a ritual, it elevates it above the usual tasks you have to do. Think of it as sacred. You might create a little space for focus, or do your writing in one spot. You might play music, get some lovely tea, light a candle. Start with intention, and remind yourself of your new story. Close with gratitude.

* Relax in the chaos. In the focus session, and even before you start, you’ll feel the chaos swirling around within you, if you pay attention. This is the very feeling that has us feel like we need to clear out our lives first. It’s completely OK to feel! What if you could take a few deep breaths, and allow yourself to relax with the feeling of chaos? It doesn’t need to go away. It’s just a part of the experience of creating.

These help me. Are you willing to commit to giving them a try?

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