Scattered to Focused. Or should it be the other way around…?

cutcasterA good Hollywood story, according to industry experts, relies among other things on a thorough exposition, rich character arcs, progressive thickening of action, increasing speed of events and funneling of subplots and character motives towards a common middle that ends in a climax. Such flow looks a lot like a vortex, in fact it is a term that is often used.

I use the vortex as a metaphor for getting things done. Any project begins with a slowly swirling cloud of ideas and culminates in a peak point of accomplishment. The process works well whether I’m writing an email, a business plan or a novel. It’s a good technology to use when moving from a nebulous state of mind to a sharp point of concentration. It is a state of mind highly valued in workplace, in school, in the western society focused on trying to stay focused.

But is it possible to remain in that state of attentiveness all the time? I’m afraid not. I’m afraid there is a huge trade off in trying to remain anchored near the peak of the cone. I’m afraid it is not healthy. I’m afraid it leads to tunnel vision, weight gain and uncontrollable anger outbursts, not to mention brain fog and mistakes that chip away at net profit.

Researching best ways to reach that coveted focused state, and I swear I do these things for fun [wink, wink…], I find plethora of advice. Most articles pair focus with organization, as in making more to do lists, learning how to prioritize, dividing the day into cubical compartments – setting dams to slice and dice the river of time. Makes sense. Doing so is paramount to meeting deadlines and goals. However, there is a trade off. If you take a closer look, these articles and “Top Ten” lists often include stress relief as one, usually the last, point of advice. Why is that? Because prolonged narrowing of attention is a not a natural thing and will be sure to cause stress. It leads to exhaustion, adrenal fatigue and writer’s blocks. Our addition to stimulants such as caffeine and the preoccupation with eradicating ADHD only further the point I’m trying to make. We are obsessed with productivity.

Following on the Greek theme from my last post, I dare to draw parallels between slowing down, health, and creativity. The ancient Greeks understood the value of communing with nature and modern Greeks know how to balance work and life to the point when it is sometimes hard to tell one from the other! That may result in a lower GDP compared with Switzerland, but it also results in a much higher life expectancy. It was contemplating nature that revealed to the early seekers our first mathematical laws. It was in the environment where sea, wine and time flowed abundantly, where our early western philosophies were born. It is not through madly rushing towards the end of the journey or the peak of the mountain that we meet inspired ideas. They exist in the depths of the sea, in the sound of the rain and in the fragrance of the herb infused summer air. Meeting the muses requires first we slow down the pace and notice.

It was in Greece that I realized that most of my life I’ve been running. But running where? When I was looking at a blank page without a single to do item listed on it, it was then that my mind was finally free to let in something grander. I am not advocating dropping tasks and watching the world crumble into dust. But I am adamant about one thing – the focused state of mind will yield its benefits as long as it is balanced by the freedom of swimming in the cloud of thoughts that are not necessarily in order. What our society needs more, in my opinion, is the room and permission to get scattered. Only then our creative potential can reach new levels and our perspectives can broaden.


For more on the art of doing less to accomplish more – let’s go to Italy: Dolce Far Niente

Photo credit: cutcaster

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