Finding your focus in challenging times

Finding your focus in challenging times

Accepting the wobble, finding some grace

I want to share an idea that really struck a chord as I’ve been struggling to find my own focus in recent days:

“Now more than ever, we must abandon the performative and embrace the authentic. Our essential mental shifts require humility and patience. Focus on real internal change. These human transformations will be honest, raw, ugly, hopeful, frustrated, beautiful, and divine…. Be slow. Let this distract you. Let it change how you think and how you see the world. Because the world is our work. And so, may this tragedy tear down all our faulty assumptions and give us the courage of bold new ideas.”

~ Aisha S. Ahmad (from Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure)

While Ahmad is addressing educators, her insights feel relevant on a broad scale.

Here’s a small-scale personal example. I’ve been thinking about the B.Y.O.Project Virtual Work Parties I’m hosting in April, and I’ve been feeling a little ambivalent. I don’t want to be lumped into ‘business-as-usual’ performative productivity. For sure, my aim isn’t ignore-the-massive-disruptions-around-you-and-get-to-work. It’s more about maybe-you’re-feeling-deeply-unsettled-and-yet-there-are-some-meaningful-things-that-you-need-to-do-so-let’s-get-together-on-that. Among those things that might need your attention? A high-priority email to your staff. Or an outreach plan for your donor community. A quick walk outside while the sun is out. Or maybe a thorough reimagining of how you approach your to-do list.

When we talk about FOCUS, let’s frame it so that it invites the complexity of what we’re holding. Focus can be about:
  • Acknowledging uncertainty: Certainty is mostly an illusion, but I sure do like it. And for many of us, uncertainty is deeply uncomfortable. Maybe you find satisfaction in having expertise, finding the solutions, and seeing the path. Or maybe you’re someone whom people look to for reassurance and direction. If you’re feeling wobbly right now, you’re definitely not alone. If you can be gentle with that experience, and let it co-exist with an awareness of your strengths and your skills, you might notice new opportunities to connect with your team (and with your loved ones), along with greater clarity about what’s really most important right now. There are seeds of empathy, courage, and grace in that swirl of uncertainty.
  • Slowing down and paring away: What expectations need to be adapted? What priorities need to be reconsidered?
  • Making imperfect choices: In the midst of multiple competing demands, what’s the wisest part of you know about where your attention needs to be? If you had 60 minutes to focus on one thing, what would be most meaningful, or most stress-relieving, or most satisfying? Trust that imperfect decision for an hour. See what happens, learn from it, and readjust.
  • Remembering the re-energizing power of breaks: This is not a time for powering through to-do lists with punishing determination and unrealistic expectations. Give yourself joyful permission to take breaks. Move your body. Mix it up. If you’ve been at your computer for awhile, map out the next thing on your whiteboard or in a notebook. Get outside. Play a couple of your favorite songs. Make a 10″ “postcard call” to a beloved friend. Find what works for you.
If that sounds like a useful approach to the Great Work-From-Home Experiment, you’d be most welcome to join me and some other lovely folks for: 
  • B.Y.O.P. Virtual Work Parties in April:

    • If you’re having a hard time focusing these days, you’re not alone. And yet, you probably have some things that you need to take care of and/or you’ll feel better when they’re done.
    • HERE’S THE GENERAL PLAN: We’ll open with a brief grounding practice. You’ll have a few minutes to gather your thoughts and verify your priorities for the session. Then we’ll work together in parallel. We’ll take a break mid-way through to stretch and get re-focused. We’ll dive back in, and we’ll end with a few minutes to write down the ‘What’s Next’ step(s) on our respective projects.
      • Thursdays in April, 10:30am – noon, PST (April 9, 16, and 23)
And if you have a hankering for a low-key, creative coffee break on Tuesdays, in between other things that you’re focused on, check out:
    • WHAT: Lightly-facilitated, fun drawing exercises to give yourself a creative break and bridge the Work-From-Home isolation. Inspired by the fabulous work of Lynda Barry.
    • WHO: Suitable for solo attendance, skills not required. And feel free to bring your ‘drawing associate’. (Can they write their name and draw a credible stick figure? Are you already sharing serving utensils and boxes of antibacterial wipes with them? They’re qualified for the job!)
    • WHEN: Four Tuesdays in April, 10:30am PST. (April 7, 14, 21, 28)
    • Free. Space is limited. Register HERE.
Some other useful resources + creative offerings:

Some of these are specific to a certain region (and might only be useful as a model for how your community could weave itself together during the challenges ahead). Obviously, this isn’t comprehensive, just a handful of examples of people rallying together, pooling their energy, creativity, and knowledge to pitch in during this challenging time.

  • Support the Shorts. When the City of Austin had to cancel this year’s SXSW festival, hundreds of filmmakers lost the opportunity for their work to be seen. SXSW has long been a champion of independent filmmakers, and premiering a short film at the festival is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for creators to share their vision with the world. Mailchimp and Oscilloscope Laboratories created a digital home for this incredible slate of short films, so you can watch them from wherever you are, during a time when we could all use a little more connection.
  • The Intentionalist’s Gift Certificate Marketplace. The Intentionalist is an online guide to intentional spending that supports small businesses and diverse local communities, and they make it easy for you to find local restaurants, bars, gyms, shops, and more owned by women, people of color, veterans, LGBTQ, families, and differently abled people. “So many people want to support local businesses, but it’s hard when it isn’t possible to buy their gift certificates online” said Intentionalist CEO, Laura Clise. “This is a one-stop-shop where community members can support a variety of local small businesses today, and then look forward to using the gift certificates for future purchases.”
  • Island Song Dedication Hour. Radio host Tara Morgan and the folks at Voice of Vashon public radio are hosting another Island Song Dedication Hour on Wed, 4/8, from 11am-noon. Last week’s show was such a lovely window into a community rallying together. Thoughtful dedications to local postal workers, grocery clerks, pet shelter volunteers, senior center staff, high school sports teams, and beyond. Even if you don’t know a soul on Vashon Island (WA), you’ll enjoy the heartfelt gratitude, the eclectic playlist, and a joyful example of embracing our interdependence. Tune in here on Wed, 4/8, from 11am – noon.
  • Centering in Times of Uncertainty: Breathing and centering practices led by fantastic colleagues and facilitators Annie Von Essen and Erika Murcia of the Room Next Door. Thursday, 4/9 @ 2pm PST.
Please stay in touch:
  • I’d love to see you at any/all of the virtual gatherings that strike your fancy. (And if you have ideas for other topics/formats/etc, please let me know.)
  • If you’d like a sounding board for whatever leadership challenges you’re navigating, please reach out and let me know what’s on your mind.

Big thanks, more soon, and take care of yourself and each other.


Sara Lawson is a consultant, coach, facilitator, and the creator of Gauge Leadership Lab (Bellingham Series starts October 9th, 2020; London series starts Oct 20, 2020; Seattle series starts on March 5, 2021). She is passionate about the role that mission-inspired companies and organizations have in strengthening communities. She also knows that leadership can be fulfilling AND frustrating, even for dedicated, skilled, and creative people. You can reach Sara HERE.

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