Friday, May 03, 2013


My blogs have been few since my husband died. I haven't had time, I've been busy. I've been unable to focus. I haven't felt the need to write. There are a hundred reasons, but I decided this subject of FOCUS was worth writing about.

I have a friend on Facebook who lives a distance away. We chat often and have both been through significant bereavements in the past year. We talked this week about the difficulty we both experienced in being unable to focus. We have a task to do and can't seem to get our minds around it, even though it may not be all that complex.

I thought I was just being mentally undisciplined. It was just so hard to focus. My mind was a blur. Like my vision without my glasses. Was I procrastinating? (Not really, I was simply busy). Or was it that I didn't like working on my task alone? (Unhelpful. Can't change that). Was my declining eyesight making me more tired? (Turns out, after a visit to the optometrist, my eyesight is unchanged). Or I am getting older and my mental acuity is slipping? (A brief tour around a brain training website showed this not to be the case). Was it the grieving process. (Of course that's part of it).

There were any number of possible reasons but no real answers for why I couldn't complete some of the more mundane thinking, sorting, processing tasks. I took some intentional steps to solve this problem but it was only now that I've been begun to articulate how. Maybe my experience will help someone else.

Today, by accident, I stumbled upon a video excerpt of a Q&A session from 1996 with the late Steve Jobs of Apple. He had one short statement that puts this issue of  focus into perfect clarity. Whatever you may think of Steve Jobs as a person, he was still a very brilliant man and I believe we can learn from brilliant people. (I believe we can learn from anyone, but that's a different blog post).  Here's a little quote from Steve:
"Focusing is about saying no. And when you say no, you piss off people."
I don't like to make people angry. There's too much relational fall-out when we do that. I like to be nice. I initially said "Yes" to every invitation I received, even though I desperately needed to stay home and take care of my paperwork and my dog and laundry and groceries and cleaning and fitness and nutrition and sleep. So when it came to the hard work of collecting documents and processing paperwork by myself, it was even harder to focus because I had the added pressure of time - the stress of needing it to be done yesterday.

Well, as you can imagine, this didn't go over well. I was depleted and frustrated and unable to focus and I knew something had to change. Instinctively, I knew I either needed more help or I needed more time.

Help! It's hard to ask for help. You're completely vulnerable and face the very real possibility of not getting what you need. The one time I truly needed help - someone watch my dog while I went to visit my son - I asked at least a dozen people before I found someone willing. That was an eye opener. Lots of people wanted to have coffee and lots of people offered "If you need anything, just ask", but when I did ask, I quickly learned that "anything" was somewhat completely subjective. I don't blame them. They are busy and have to say "No" too. If that's your issue, then be more conservative about what you offer in the emotion of the moment.

I continued to be overloaded and distracted and unable to focus. I had more work than ever but there was only one of me. I no longer had a partner to share the load. I was alone. I had a brief cry about that and wrote a not-so-brief and not-so-sweet journal entry about it, too. But then I blew my nose and dried my eyes and put on my make-up, because there's nothing to be done except accept my circumstances and find a way through.

Time! There is never enough time, yet we all have the same amount. So. Does it really come down to time management? I started praying about it. It seemed, almost immediately, I realized the only way to free up time was to start saying "No" to whatever was not essential.
The only way to free up time is to say "No" to whatever is not essential.
I considered quitting my job. My son and my financial adviser suggested it would be better not to take such a drastic step. Besides, in normal circumstances, my job is okay. I like I like the people I serve and I like my colleagues. It gets me out of bed, gives me a sense of accomplishment and contributes to the greater good of a faith community. It provides sufficient income for current expenses. After mulling this over and looking at several different scenarios, I decided to temporarily reduce my hours of work from 32 to 24 - just for two months. Just until I could get a handle on the backlog for taxes and get my head back in the game. I made the arrangements for someone to fill in and got the approvals (and that is a whole 'nother blog post but I'm not going to go there).

Then I tackled my evening and weekend commitments and realized singing in choir is optional. There's one whole night per week that could be opened up. This was a pretty big deal because you've likely heard me say numerous times, "Singing is where I feel most alive". I was strangely quite fine with letting go of that weekly commitment so that I could get my head above water elsewhere. There were a number of people in choir that may have been disappointed, a few even expressed it kindly to me, but they understand and they sound just fine without me.

Then I said "No" to my personal expectations for my own high performance. I gave myself a break. I looked at the most pressing pile of paperwork. I decided that it was okay to not include medical expenses as a deduction on my 2012 tax return. The time it would take for me to get the information organized far outweighed the financial benefit. Nobody reacts to that except me. I had to let go of my high expectations. Once I chose to be okay with that, it relieved a lot of pressure.

Psychologist Barry Schwartz, in his TED talk and book, "The Paradox of Choice" explains why more is less and why the secret to happiness is having low expectations.
I increase my focus on the essentials by lowering my expectations in the non-essentials.
Then I started saying "No" to invitations. If it came from someone who hadn't invited me to do anything in a long while (or ever, in a couple cases), I decided they could wait a little longer. And you know, if any of them were angry or hurt, they didn't let on. Most of them were really fine with this. Quite gracious. Relieved, even. The friends who really wanted to be a support for me were there in ways for which I will never be able to express sufficient gratitude.

So, if you want better focus, free up time and mental pressure by saying "No" to everything but the most essential. Then lower your expectations. Learn to say, "That's good enough." Practice that with me. Say it out loud:
That's good enough.
Now, go away and practice saying that at least three times a day in your daily routines. "That's good enough." Truly it is. Give yourself permission to say "No." You'll be surprised what a relief it is.

My name is Joyce. I am a recovering perfectionist and I approve this message. It's good enough.


  1. I really enjoyed this and perhaps its a place to start for a retreat?? I will be in Airdrie helping Beth out fromthe 8th to the 15th. If we can get together then let me know okay?

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Joyce. It's a really helpful reminder, and something all of us have to face into. We don't say "no" for the sake of saying "no." We say "no" to say "yes" to something that matters more to us.

    Grace and peace to you in your ongoing journey.