focus

Focus

Fraser Doherty MBE is the founder of SuperJam – a 100% fruit jam company he started in Scotland at 14 using his Grandmother’s recipes. The company now supplies major retailers around the world and has won over 20 innovation and design awards. www.superjam.co.uk/ www.fraserdoherty.com

In this short blog, Fraser questions whether we have lost the ability to stop and think deeply about one thing at a time.

Our lives are so noisy. Noisier than they’ve ever been before. The average person checks Facebook more than twenty times a day. We take in information all day long from the TV, radio, newspapers, billboards, tweets, posts, YouTube videos, memes, FourSquare, text messages, phone calls, Skype, instant messenger, email, post and then somehow we even have some time left over for real life conversations with the people we live with, the people we work with and the people we love.

We seem to have lost the ability to stop and think deeply about one thing at a time. We take in hundreds of ideas from all over the place and instead of questioning each of them, we just take in the ones that fit and ignore the ones that don’t. We’re swamped with so much information that our brains are overloaded – we can barely think for ourselves anymore.

And it doesn’t appear that anyone has any desire to live in the moment either, the here and the now. Nobody picks up the phone and says, ‘hey, what are you doing, fancy a coffee right now?’. That would seem weird in the always-busy society that we have created. Collectively, we suffer from the illusion of having a plan. It is assumed that we’re all busy right now. The moment is already taken. Today is already booked. Tomorrow is already booked too, so the here and now better just wait until next week.

We’re constantly scanning hundreds of different information outlets, waiting for something to happen, waiting for our lives to happen, waiting for some stroke of luck that will make all of our dreams come true. 

In our work, we often tend to get to the end of the day not really knowing what we achieved – have you ever felt that sinking feeling you feel when you leave the office after sitting at your computer for ten hours and then ask yourself, “what the hell did I actually do today?”

I think we’ve completely lost the ability to focus all of our energy on doing one thing at a time. On doing a good job of one thing each day. Instead, we skim the surface of hundreds of ideas, hundreds of different tasks, not really doing the best we can at any of them and not fully achieving what we can with our lives. 

What’s worse, is that by not committing ourselves to any one thing, we don’t really live, we just wait. People go to dinner parties and check their phone every five minutes. They go to parties and are always busy finding out what’s happening someplace else. If they could just live in the moment a bit more, enjoy what they’re doing at that exact second, life could be a lot more fulfilling and a lot more fun.

Something amazing happens when you start giving all of your attention to one thing at a time. Whether it’s the conversations you’re having, the ideas you're working on or the time you’re spending with the people you love, if you give each moment your undivided attention, you get the best out of every situation and the best out of yourself.

Generally, we have so many options for how to spend our attention that we end up being completely scatter-brained. There are so many things that we can do with our careers, so many things that we can do with each day, that generally we just do nothing. Making a choice and a commitment to focus on one thing is often a step too far for us. Infinite choice has a paralysing affect on our minds; it’s easier to decide to do nothing than it is to pick from an infinite number of choices.

I feel like people tend to get very little work in amongst all of this and end up never truly fulfilling themselves. I meet a lot of people who have no idea what to do with their lives – paralysed by the limitless opportunities for work that our globalised, digitised world provides. There used to be a time when most decisions were made for you – you’d work in the local mill or factory and live the same life as your parents and the same life as everyone else around you. But now, the choice of what to do with your life is completely up to you – the choice of what to do every day is more or less up to you.

Why not try focusing all of your energy on working on one simple idea for two days? It’s amazing how much ground can be covered. If we remove the constant interruptions of phone calls and Facebook updates from our lives, we can begin to work on tasks more deeply, enjoy our lives more and have experiences with the people around us that are more meaningful. If you just devote all of your energy to a task that has a simple and clearly defined goal, you can achieve in days what you previously thought would take years.