If you’ve ever attended an inspiring conference, event, or talk, I’m willing to bet you’ve experienced the post-event paradox of feeling simultaneously inspired/raring to go and utterly overwhelmed/paralyzed.
Am I right?
On the one hand, you’ve had an incredible amount of top-level information poured into your brain. On the other, you’ve had an incredible amount of top-level information poured into your brain!
You see the problem? It’s too much.
This paradox was precisely what I wanted to talk about in the closing keynote I had been invited to give for the Graphic Artists Guild conference last week. I knew that after a full day of expert-delivered information, the last thing attendees needed was more information from me. What they needed was a way to hold space for all that information, decide what was relevant for them, and make good use of it.
They needed a process to focus their attention on what mattered to them in this moment.
As neuroscientist Dr. Amishi Jha says in her TEDTalk How to tame your wandering mind, our brain “suffers from a problem of information overload; there’s far too much in the environment than it can fully process.”
Luckily, evolution devised a solution, a system for focusing our attention. Dr. Jha describes attention as our brain's boss, and says, “Wherever your attention goes, your brain follows.” In another podcast interview, she asks us to imagine attention as a flashlight that can be directed to something specific, but can just as easily be pulled away by a distraction, say, a noise or thought.
What I love about this science-backed information is how it transforms our “lack” of focus and seeming inability to put things into practice “even though we have all the information” into exactly what it is. A brain thing. Not a moral failing on our part.
It turns out that the antidote to transforming this swirl of information, ideas, emotions, and feelings into some semblance of order and progress is not to do more or try harder, but to focus your attention.
Don’t you feel better already?
A person who is wired for high executive function will focus differently from a person who is neurodivergent. I am the former, my kid is the latter. Neither is right or wrong, it just what we get to work with. And when you know how to train your attention, you can stay out of overwhelm and make more consistent progress toward your goals.
If you’re interested in leaving the unkind self-talk behind and are ready to find your version of focus, read on for a 3-step process.
1) Get it all out of your head
That swirl of information and ideas? It’s the death knell to progress. Get it all out of your head, literally. Dump it out. And because simple is always best, I use the visual below to facilitate the process.
Here’s how you can do it:
· Draw the diagram below on a nice big piece of paper. Don’t get caught up making it look pretty (I see you, creative people!).
· Set a timer for 10 minutes.
· Grab a pen and in each section, scribble all the things you’d like to be, do, have, or achieve in that time frame.
· Trust your gut and circle the 3 things that would help you make measurable progress toward your goals. Just for kicks, let’s say those three things are: (1) raise my rates (2) create clear services (3) market my business.
2) Review and sift through the input
Now, cast your mind back over ALL that information you’ve received (in the case of a conference) or consumed (webinars, books, podcast interviews, etc.) on ONLY these topics.
What tangible advice or information can help you make progress on these goals? For example, if your goal is to raise your rates, you may want to retrieve the information on setting up your business entity (creating a space for all that lovely income to go), mindset (value-based vs. hourly rates), and creating your ideal client profiles (higher quality with bigger budgets).
3) Turn that information into teeny, tiny action steps
Meaning that they are specific, time-bound, and you can say you either did them or you didn’t. Let’s stick with the raising your rates example:
· Identify who your ideal clients are.
· Hire an accountant instead of doing it yourself on TurboTax. Ask your colleagues and friends for referrals and contact them for a free consultation.
· Educate yourself on finance with books such as Profit First (you can find more finance resources here). Pick one book and give yourself a deadline to read/listen to it.
· Research small-business-friendly software such as Honeybook or bookkeeping software such as FreshBooks to ensure your business looks super-pro and runs like a well-oiled machine (it matters!).
Learning how to focus our attention is a practice that involves a good amount of trial and error. What works for someone else might not work for you. But finding the process that supports you in finding and returning to your focus will have you feeling like Charlie when you find that golden ticket to the Chocolate Factory! With your process and tools, you can make progress on anything and everything.