Monday, May 12, 2014

Work and The Art of Focus

I studies martial arts for eight years when I was young.  I had the great fortune to train under Master Ju Hum Kim, a now 9th Dan Grand Master Tae Kwon Do Black Belt in Charlotte, North Carolina.  It has taken years for me to realize some of the things I learned.  Master Kim’s methods were very traditional and methodical.  Of the many things I learned during those classes, the one thing I have carried with me into my adulthood is Focus.

Focus is the ability to assign all of your mental energy and physical power on one singular thing or task.   During my martial arts training, focus was at the core of all the lessons.  A good example of this is how we practiced the front kick. Each class had the same regimen and we would always practice kicks. Each time you kick, you are instructed to think about exactly how your leg should be straight and toes curled back so you are striking with the ball of your foot.  Master Kim would walk through the ranks and look at your kick and then also look into your eyes as if he could read the amount of focus you had.

The repetition of this exercise also helped burn that pattern into your subconscious; performing the same task over and over again, and each time always thinking and focusing on that one thing.  The repetition is important, but how the mind focused on each and every kick is what really makes the connection in your mind to your body.

You think that after a few years and becoming more advanced you would move on from the simple front kick to something more advanced, but no.  Always and every day we would start with front kicks and it was always same exercise with no variation whatsoever.  I came to understand that it was less about practicing the front kick, but more about practicing the art of focus.  I believe it set our minds right to focus on other tasks and exercises in the class.

Today in my work life, I rely on my ability to focus so to accomplish the task at hand and to maximize my productivity.  I start my day by identifying the most important task that needs to get done.  Then, set myself in the a quiet, thoughtful state with minimal external distractions and begin to work on that task and that task alone.  The key to focus in the scenario is to avoid breaking that concentration.  Resist checking email, answering the phone, or posting to Facebook or Twitter.  If it is a small task I work until it is done.  If it is a larger task, I work purposefully toward a milestone and then stop.  

It sounds simple when I state in this way, but I am far more productive when I apply this level of focus to a task I am working on.  I will admit, entering that state of focus can be hard to do in most modern office layouts. The noisy cubical farm, or the team-sharing-pod layout seem to be counterproductive when all you want is a little quiet space to focus on your work.

As a Virtual Employee, I have the ability to control my environment for work. My office space at home is laid out in a way to encourage and support focused work.  I have a dedicated space, with a door that can be shut when I need to work.  But, I also have the option and freedom to work downtown in an office with other teammates as needed.  It is the type of flexibility that works very well for me and is a true virtue of being a modern Virtual Employee.