Mental clarity - 3 Levels of Focus

Clarity and Focus are reached through working visually

Everybody is going crazy these times. Stressed out and 0% productive. It has shown to me that mental clarity and especially mental health are crucial success factors to perform the work we as visual facilitators do everyday. But this is not only about us. It's literally every knowledge worker out there. Why do I say "knowledge worker"? It's because we often work on things, that don't show up at the end of the day – lucky you if you've drawn something! Because without tasks to complete which require action to move, lift, turn or bend it is very difficult to keep your mind calm and not busy in the course of a day, right?

In an ever growing digital world, with exponential growth of the Internet, of clouds, of communication channels and an "always online"-culture it is becoming more and more difficult to stay focused on our work. Studies have shown, that we are always having an itch in the back of our brain. This itch is telling us that we might miss out on something really important right now. Shouldn't we check the emails? Or having a quick look on our social media streams? The fear of missing out is so strong that it will never go away ever. You heard right. Never ever. So we have to deal with it.
The phone calls, the emails keep piling up, instant messengers beeping their way to our consciousness. Everybody wants something from us. It's always urgent. Seldom important or even relevant to us. But their calls for help are pulling our concentration away from the work we originally wanted to do today.


Outer World demands

This leads to our modern multitasking behavior. Jumping back and forth between emails, invoices, calls, meetings, developing complex concepts, illustrations, designs and what ever. It is a never ending story of us acting as if we have everything under control. But do we really? Are we not just reacting to the request from foreigners?
It feels like we are slowing down even while we're working more. Which is the truth by the way. Multitasking is physically not possible until the time in place when we have quantum processors implanted in our heads (which could be...tomorrow. Let me google that for a second...)


Fear of missing out

Oh...where was I like....hours ago? :)

So we experience that priotization becomes a major task – with the fear of missing out an opportunity screaming into our ears. But we still try. Me too. And finally we see ourself doing so many things that are not at all creating the path to our personal vision. We actually just try to please those around us.
Hold on for a second. These are harsh words. And I'm exaggerating a bit. That's just for getting your whole attention, right? We can't call the world black and white neither you have to be fully represented by my words.

But we could agree that it feels funny. We do so much and create so little. Or better, we think that we create so little. This is a cause of stress and bad feelings. And this leads to poorer work results and lower quality of life.


Live time quality

With the three levels of focussing, I can counter this problem. The concept is based on the so-called "flow", which Mihály Csíkszentmihályi made famous at the time. I added only two more dimensions here, which might be interesting, especially for those who are not originally creative or think they wouldn't be creative at all.


3 levels of focus through workvisual and sketchnoting

The first level is "decrease speed". In this fast-paced world, there are incredibly many "slowness" trends. And this is another, just different. We all have already felt it. The fact that we take a pen in our hands and not only write it down, but also visualize it, makes us feel slower. Compared to this, pure thinking or speaking is still light years faster - but causes also much more leaps and bounds. The point here is to deliberately slow down. This does not only train your own patience. It sharpens the mind when you learn to hold on to things. You learn to follows a stream of thoughts instead of letting it go all the time.
If you are in a meeting with one or more persons you'll feel a strong resistance to the idea of slowing down. People are waiting for you to continue or they can't wait to get their own thoughts across (verbally) and getting impatient with you. Is that a familiar description?
In these kinds of situations I would buy myself some time. This is my default set of behaviors:
1. A short sentence like "oh wait, let me draw this out quickly"
That's how I get their attention as well as their patience for a few seconds.
2. When I have something drawn on the paper, perhaps a graph or a scribble of some team members I'll start talking about what I actually draw and think.
That's how I get the attention of my collaborateur and the chance that she is understanding what I wanted to tell her.

In case you do this just for you in your private conversation with your own thoughts this first level "decrease speed" helps you to just go slower. That's all you need anyway to be honest.

The second level I call "build trust". Perhaps you know this feeling: when you start to feel that the notes you make, free your mind from a little of its burden. The visual recording as such leads your thinking in this second level and therefor less space remains for the concern of missing out something else.
Even loose sketches and shivery lines will help us to build trust. Because it's not about good or professional drawings, it's just about moving our hands with a pen on the paper. And you're building trust when you actually do something. Like taking visual notes while thinking through a complex new idea.

The third level is "Reach the Zone" and is, in a transcendent sense, the state of the flow, but in this case purely related to the activity of visual recording. After "slowing down" and "building trust", you can feel the enlightening effect of working visually. Suddenly one sees connections that were not so clear before. The jigsaw pieces, which are otherwise floating freely in thought, now find fit to each other. It is easier to develop goals and have the way to these goals in mind.
The outside world becomes less important and also the fear of missing out on something. Biologically, this is understandable. Studies on the mode of action of the human brain have shown that we do not have enough energy to use all the functions of the brain at the same time. For example, it is extremely difficult to be creative at the same time, to work visually and to talk, or to think about something other than the sheet in front of you. In this case, this means that we can hide all the things we previously identified as stressors in the third level of focus. For so-called "knowledge workers" as we are, there is increased productivity. Concepts and ideas can be developed better and not lastly at the end of the day is clearly "visible" what we have done and managed.

In this way, visualizing like a professional not only makes us more professional. It also helps us to achieve a clear mind and ultimately more satisfaction.



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Mental clarity - 3 Levels of Focus