Why Focus is Overrated (and what you should do instead to get more done)

Photo: Siora Photography

When I was getting started in my career as a freelance artist, I was often told to “specialize”. Find one area I wanted to focus on, throw my whole self into that, and block out everything else.

There are few pieces of advice I’ve received that have been as restrictive to me as that one.

Let me begin by saying that it has its place. If we are able to chose one pursuit and stick at it doggedly, we’re likely to get really good at it and thus excel in our chosen venture. Makes total sense, and I have nothing but admiration and intense jealousy for anybody who is able to focus on one thing, every day, forever. Truly.

For the rest of us mortals, choosing one thing is really hard. When there are so many things we could do, how do we know if we’re picking the right one? What if, heaven forbid, I pick poorly and wind up trapping myself in a venture that makes me miserable?

It is my opinion that the ability to focus and be happy doing so is a privilege and not something all of us get. It is also my opinion that success and fulfillment shouldn’t be reserved for just those people. Life is more beautiful when we embrace diversity. Why should this be any different in our careers?

Why Being Unable to Focus Rocks

I’m Rachel ”too-many-projects“ Bradley, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. By allowing myself a broad range of pursuits, I’m pretty much always inspired by something. With the exception of unavoidable responsibilities, I always work on whatever excites me most, and my work is stronger for it.

By accepting variety in my life, I’m experiencing and learning constantly and each of my endeavours supplement one-another. Much of what we learn is transferable. When you get stuck on a project, time away from it can be invaluable in figuring out how to move forward.

Pitfalls to Avoid

Obviously, there are drawbacks to this method. You might already be thinking of them. Let’s address some of those.

There’s no avoiding responsibility (sadly). Responsibility always comes first. Waiting for multiple ventures can be a slower journey than throwing all of your efforts into one venture. I believe that having multiple ongoing projects has the best long term potential for success and fulfillment, but it can be a hazardous approach if we have obligations or deadlines. If you feel this way, I would advise you to focus as best you can on your most promising venture and only begin to expand slowly.

It can be tempting to jump ship to other projects when things get tough. Obviously if we keep doing this we’ll be left with nothing but difficult tasks that make us want to give up all together. The freedom to explore multiple projects works best when we practice self-discipline and motivation, and force ourselves to face those difficult tasks rather than putting them off.

I think that, instead of choosing one venture and sticking with it, we should simply be more intentional with the projects we choose. Get better at saying no to the things that do not inspire us, but don’t be afraid of taking on multiple projects. Let’s keep our work fresh. And rather than trying (and not entirely succeeding) to be more like other people, let’s lean into what sets us apart and turn that into our strength.