I’ve always admired Martin Guitar Company where products are still assembled on a bench top, not spit out by a line of robotic equipment. Truly handcrafted, each guitar has subtle touches that define it as uniquely Martin. The guitars are beautiful and only get better with age. And while I’ll never have the woodworking skills of the guitar makers (luthiers) that work at the Martin factory in Nazareth, PA, I have attempted in recent years to build a few acoustic guitars of my own in my weekend hours. It’s been a nice break from all the emails and continual distractions that are all too common in business today.
One of the things I like about this hobby is that it forces me to focus on one thing intently, making sure I don’t mess up and, say, rout an ugly groove right across the sitka spruce top that I so carefully glued up. In guitar building, there is a sequence to be maintained. One piece is made before the next can begin. And even though we’re talking about woodworking here, not metalworking, the dimensional tolerances are surprisingly tight. Each piece must be pretty close to correct or it can’t be used, even with duct tape. If I were to allow my mind to wander, maybe texting while routing, the result would be, well, some nice new kindling for my fireplace.
In today’s digital world, maintaining mental focus is becoming next to impossible. At least, it seems to be under siege. We seem proud to say that we are good at multitasking, an important skill. To make matters worse, distraction actually feels good. But it has a downside, as explained in the Entrepeneur article “How to Train Your Brain to Stay Focused.” Our brains really don’t process more than one thing at a time as we’d like to believe, but instead, jump between all of the inputs. You begin a task such as writing, then give in quickly to distractions such as checking your email, responding to an instant message, or generally letting your mind wander.
The article warns that when multitasking is the norm, your brain adapts and you lose the ability to focus as “distraction becomes a habit.” You can counter this by resetting your email browser so it doesn’t constantly “ping” you, turning off your smart phone alerts, letting voice mail take that sales call and letting others know that certain times of your day are “do not disturb” times. You can also do some simple exercises to train your mind like a muscle, practicing concentration by turning off the distractions and committing your attention to a single task. The article suggests starting small, maybe just five minutes per day and work up to larger chunks of time. If your mind begins to drift, just get back to the task.
Among habits of effective people, maintaining sharp mental focus is high on the list. Well, anyway, I better check my emails – there are 20 unopened since I started this preachy article.