Divide Your Attention – Your Life Requires Attention

by Randy Murray on October 20, 2010

While many of us who seek to be more productive focus on work or our creative aspirations, a large part of our lives, the most significant part, is everything other than our work. It’s our time with friends and loved ones. It’s the time we think, meditate, and dream. It’s our rest and relaxation.

And it deserves as much, if not more, attention than your focus on work.

It is so easy to get completely wrapped up in your work and to neglect the vital parts of your life. You don’t need me to tell you that a life spent buried in work is a dry and bitter thing. So you must learn to divide your attention so you can live.

It is a very difficult thing to do, but it is possible. The key strategy is unchanged: decide what you want. You can decide to work hard, but when the work is done for the day, you put it aside and your focus remains on who you are with or the non-work thing you are doing. Resist the urge to just check in. The work will still be there tomorrow.

But why do so many of us feel guilty for all the time we spend away from work? I believe it comes from not having clear pictures of what we want in life and having a completely screwed up attitude informed by the Puritan work ethic. If what you want most in life is to be judged successful by others, then you better stick to work. If what you most want is to build a happy family and community and to exercise your talents and interests, then work itself cannot contain your full energies.

Your family doesn’t want your sacrifices. They want you. Your children won’t remember how hard you worked for them; they’ll remember the missed vacations, your absence from events, and your distraction and exhaustion. And they’ll remember how much time you spent in their presence staring at a pile of papers or a glowing screen. They want and need your attention as much as your work does.

And you deserve your attention, too. You are less valuable, less capable, if you don’t provide yourself with rest, if you don’t exercise your body and mind, and if you don’t feed your spirit. If you don’t give yourself the attention you require on a daily basis you can’t do your best work or give the other aspects of your work and life the attention and focus you need.

Obsession is locked-in focus to the exclusion of all else. That’s not what we want, beyond a few hours at a time. Most of us want to be productive and skilled. And all that requires is our attention for short periods of time. In any given day you have about 16 waking hours. You’d do well to sit down and think about how you’ll divide up your attention so you don’t neglect any part of your life.

The Divide Your Attention – Your Life Requires Attention by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mari October 20, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Your convincing post reminds me of this quote:
“At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.” – Buddha


2 Randy Murray October 21, 2010 at 7:32 am

This is true.

I think that most people struggle with this because they think they have to come up with cosmic, unchanging answers. But the truth is this: find out what you want NOW. What you want can change and it’s not only OK, it’s a good thing. There’s no pressure in deciding what you want.


3 Ann Janzen October 20, 2010 at 2:20 pm

And, I recall an ad campaign on PBS that stated “The greatest gift you can give to anyone is your time.” I try to remember that when my son asks me to listen to something that he wants to share with me (He’s a musician). He very often has a lot to share and I want to say “Not now, I’m busy”… but I’ve learned over the years that my time is what he wants… not the money I make by being away from his exhuberance of sharing something new with me.


4 Randy Murray October 21, 2010 at 7:31 am

Well put, Ann. I’ve discovered that my daughters don’t want me to teach them, they just want me to be with them. That’s a more difficult thing to learn than you’d expect for a parent, but when I stop trying offer criticism and advice and just show up, they relax and seem to enjoy having me around more.


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