As 17-time Emcee of the Maui Writers Conference, I had the opportunity to talk with Poet Laureate W. S. Merwin under a gentle night sky at the Presenters Reception of our first Maui Writers Conference.
The private reception was held on a white sand beach under a full moon. I had just written a book on Concentration and asked Merwin, (our opening keynoter),“How do you define concentration? How has it played a role in your life?”
He told me that understanding the importance of concentration prompted his pivotal decision to move to Hawaii. I’m paraphrasing here because I did not write down what he said (that’ll teach me …-)
The gist of his decision was that he and his wife Paula knew that continuing to live in NYC meant they would be surrounded by distractions and temptations that would pull him away from the work he was born to do.
As an in-demand winner of a National Book Award and two Pulitzer Prizes, every night brought invitations to readings, dinners and charity balls. Merwin realized it would be oh-so easy to become part of the “glitterati.”
Merwin concluded his work as a poet would suffer as a consequence, so he and Paula made a bold move to Maui to raise palm trees and live a simpler life so they could focus on their true priorities. As he so eloquently said:
“I love both the city and country.
But when I was in the city, I thought about the country all the time.
And when I was in the country, I thought about the city some of the time.
So, now, I live in the country … and go to the city sometimes.”
There’s a man who knows what is important to him. A man who intentionally created a life where he is freer to focus on his top priority. He removed himself from an environment that would pull him off track and intentionally sought out an environment that was congruent with being creatively productive.
I’ve come to believe this is one of the biggest challenges – and opportunities – we face as IDEApreneurs and entrepreneurs. Our environment helps us or hurts us when it comes to “taking our work seriously.” If we are in an environment that surrounds us with temptations and distractions, our SerenDestiny® project may get delayed and/or never get out the door.
What do I mean by SerenDestiny®? It is leading a life where the light is on in our eyes. It’s a result of doing what we love most and do best. It’s what happens when we take responsibility for sharing our creative gifts with the world.
Are you taking your creative career, SerenDestiny® project and legacy work seriously?
I’ve come to believe it is not selfish to sequester ourselves and become a less public person. If we truly believe our work will add value to the world, then it is up to us to stay focused on it instead of frittering away our time and talent on “lesser” activities that, in the long run, won’t contribute to the greater good.
This means setting boundaries and saying “No” to tempting requests for our time, attention and talent that won’t move our priority projects forward. You may be thinking, “I agree with this in theory, but it’s tough to do in practice.”
Agreed. Which is why I think each of us need to create clear, measurable policies about what we will and won’t commit to. Here are a few of my best-practice policies you can put into place to “Create A Cocoon of Concentration” to stay focused on what matters most so you FINISH it and get it out in the world.
1. REDUCE time online. Check your digital devices ONCE in the afternoon and AFTER you finish work instead of ALL DAY, EVERY DAY.
A recent study by MIT reveals we check our phone more than 100 times a day. That is a misuse of time that could and should be spent on completing higher-priority work that will add value in the world.
2. Devote the morning to your SerenDestiny® project. I call this WAKE AND WORK.
Wake and Work means exactly what you think it means. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. Don’t watch the news. Get up, walk the dog, grab your cup of coffee or tea … and then GET TO WORK.
Devoting your early-morning-energy to SerenDestiny® projects leverages that clarity that only comes when you’re not juggling multiple tasks. Tackle other tasks only after you have something tangible (two pages?) to show for your efforts. This sets up a feeling of accomplishment that makes you eager to come back and pick up where you left off.
3. Find Your Third Place.
The science of Ergonomics (the study of how our environment influences our effectiveness) states that your home is your First Place and your office is your Second Place. If you run a business out of your home, that’s your First and Second Place.
Ergonomic experts say it’s almost impossible to stay focused on creative projects in your First and Second Place because your environment keeps reminding you of the household chores or work tasks you customarily do in that space.
Your Third Place (i.e., a nearby coffee shop or a table in the back of your local library) is a public place where you get to work in private … in public. Instead of looking at a blank page and stalling because you have no energy, you get to piggy-back off the energy of others in the room. You’re more likely to achieve that sublime stream-of-conscious state of FLOW where you’re blissfully immersed in your project because you’re interruption and interference free.
Furthermore, does the name Pavlov ring a bell? If you commit to only working on your priority project in your Third Place; it sets up a ritualistic cocoon of concentration where you walk in, sit down and the faucet of flow opens up. The words will come out so fast, your fingers will hardly be able to keep up.
Many clients tell me their Third Place is their saving grace. It’s the only time they’re able to temporarily escape their other responsibilities and maketheirpersonal priority their top priority.
4. Announce an email sabbatical.
What are you here to do? Are you frittering time away on things that won’t matter in the long run?
Create an “Out of Office” response so people emailing you receive a friendly yet clear, “Thank you for getting in touch. I am working on my ( … fill in the blank …) this (Day? Week? Month?) and will be answering emails once a week each Monday. If this is an emergency or business communication, please contact my assistant who will happily help you. Thank you for understanding. I’m excited about finishing this (what project?) and look forward to launching it into the world. Your support is appreciated.”
5. Establish an across-the-board policy you won’t meet people for meals on weekdays. Or, offer to meet for a walk-talk in a park so you get outside, stay fit AND stay connected with friends.
You may worry you’re going to offend someone by taking yourself off the grid. You might want to ask yourself, “Am I supporting, everyone else’s priorities … at the cost of my own?” It is our responsibility to think big on our behalf … and to think long on our behalf.
What is the long-term cost of being available to other people 24/7? I am not suggesting we become a hermit. W.S. Merwin isn’t a hermit; he is simply selective about how often he takes time away from his work to be available to the public. He simply balances demands on his attention with his dedication to his poetry – which keeps the light on in his eyes and keeps him contributing at his highest level.
How about you? Is this the year you get your dream project out of your head and into the world where it can make a positive difference for others and a prosperous living for you?
My mom used to tell me, “A year from now, you’ll wish you had started today.” True dat.
You might want to print this out and post it where you’ll see it every day to remind yourself that the ball is in your court to focus on what matters most … today and every day, not someday.
Want these techniques taught to your employees or association members? You’re invited to contact my business manager Cheri Grimm at Cheri@intrigueAgency.com to discuss your group’s priorities and to arrange for Sam to speak at your conference.