I’ve always enjoyed photography. But it wasn’t until I came to understand the power of focus that I loved taking pictures. Focus helps you tell the story that you see in the picture. Whether your focus is on what’s close to the camera:
Or what’s in the background:
Or on the minute, microscopic details:
Each aspect gives us a different story in the same picture.
Our careers in publishing are like that, too. There’s so much involved in what we do—big picture, little picture, microscopic picture–and we need to understand it all. But here’s the thing, we don’t need to make every aspect the primary focus every day! Trying to do that too often leaves us befuddled and confused. For example, how many of your days have started like this:
I need to write. No…wait…
First I need to update my Facebook status. Oh, and tweet. Dang! I haven’t tweeted in hours! What was I thinking? I know, I’ll tweet about that women’s retreat I’m leading this weeken–
Oh shoot! I still have to contact my webmaster about updating my travel dates on my website so people can come hear me and meet me. Where is his number? I know it’s here somewhere…
Okay, I’ll just email him. [open email program] 400 emails?? How did I get 400 emails in the last three hours?? That’s not possible. Who are these people—
Oops. That one’s from my agent. Seriously? She wants me to send her the list of publishers I’m most interested in? I know she asked me for that two weeks ago, but who has—Oh, and she’s asking about my website and if I’ve updated the travel schedule. I need to contact my webmaster—
Oh, yeah. That’s what I was doing…but I still haven’t tweeted! Maybe I’ll tweet that I’m thinking about tweeting. Does that count?
Friends, if you’ve had days like this, you are not alone! Many of us struggle with trying to do it all, to write and market and strategize and on and on and on. But I’m coming to realize that, while I can do all these things, I can’t do them all at the same time.
Enter the beauty of focus.
As with the pictures above, when you consider your career, and your day-to-day tasks, you can focus on the big picture, or on close picture, or the micro picture. But what you can’t do is focus on them all at once. Focus just doesn’t work that way.
So over the next few weeks, we’ll be talking about the different kinds of focus and how you can put them to work for you, how they can be the tools that help you take your career, step-by-step, to the place you want it. Here are the kinds of focus we’ll consider:
Mountain Focus—this is where you stand on the mountaintop and look out over all you can see. The big picture focus, surveying from a distance and looking ahead to where you’re headed. With Mountain Focus, you see the overall picture, but you miss a lot of finer details.
Valley Focus: In the valley you see what’s on ground level. What’s right in front of you. Yes, you can see the mountains all around you, but they’re hazy. Out there, you’re aware of them, but your reality in this focus is what’s in front of you.
Ground Focus: Some people might call this navel gazing. I prefer to call it the macro focus: looking at the small details, the minute issues I need to track, accomplish, consider. This is where people say they feel like they’re being nibbled to death by mice. (Ewww! Okay, bad example…) But you don’t have to feel that way! You can learn to use this focus in constructive, even exciting ways!
For today, though, here’s my question: which one of the different kinds of focus is easiest for you? And why?
So have at it!
I guess I’m a mountain man. I can visualize and see what I have to do to achieve long term goals. My co-worker laughed at me last week because I was talking about what I had to get in order before retirement. He laughed because I’m only 46. But that’s how I think. If I know what I’m trying to achieve and can pinpoint the milestones to get there, it’s like a stress relief for me. As far as my writing career, it also allows me to be patient. I work full-time and have a part time marketing\writing job as well. Obviously, my fiction writing is going to be a slow process. But if I stand on top of the mountain and can see where I’m heading, assign milestones to get there, and take one step at a time, I’m okay with it. Great post again, Karen. I may need to hire you as my life coach.
I’ve been reading recently, Karen, that multi-tasking isn’t really possible. Our brains simply cannot do multiple things at the same time. What we do is hop from one thing to another in quick sequence. Obviously, that reduces productivity.
I think I function mostly in valley focus, and that could be due to my six children, every one of which always seems to have a pressing need. 🙂 I make it a point to get up to the mountain every now and then, though, and that helps me pick and choose my priorities when I’m in the valley. Looking forward to the coming posts!
Karen, I really liked this post, and I love how you used your pictures to show the different kinds of focus. I’ve been thinking about how to be better at focusing on the most important things in my life, in each day, so I’m really looking forward to your upcoming posts.
Valley Focus seems to be my strength. I can set goals, and then get down in the valley and get them done. I can be a macro-focuser too. Definitely working on the mountain focus. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!
This post was fantastic and refreshing. It reminded me of my strengths and my struggles. I, like Meghan, have a brood of little ones requiring my valley focus. At night, though, I zoom out, set goals for the long term, and work steadily at making them happen. That’s probably why I love Psalm 84:6-7 so much. “Passing through the valley of Baca they make it a spring…they go from strength to strength.” Those times of mountain focus refresh me and renew my determination to focus on whatever God give me to do, whether it’s writing or raising kids. Or one of the other hundred things that presses on my heart.
Thanks for the encouragement!
Bethany, this is one of my all time favorite passages. I love your application of it.
Karen, I love the way you separate these. It makes so much sense when you put it this way. I think what strikes me in what you’ve written is the fact that each one of these is important. We can’t always stay in the valley, neither can we always stay on the mountain. I’m a valley thinker–one task at a time. I’ve never been good at multi-tasking (and I agree with Meghan above that multi-tasking isn’t really possible). I like to do one task at a time, then check it off my list. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work that way, and sometimes I flit from activity to activity like a hummingbird at a trumpet vine. My favorite place is that mountain-top view, but I find very little work gets done with tall those beautiful vistas to look at.
Wow, Karen, you really nailed this one! I can so relate and am encouraged to be reminded I’m not alone. Based on your definitions, I work best in the valley. Once I know my goal, I’m on it…until I start second-guessing the goal (mountain: what’s my brand…what’s my message?) or get frustrated when I realize I’m neglecting the details (ground: you need to pin, tweet, post, link, blog…scream, cry, oh, never mind; that’s something else 😉
Bless you for your encouragement! 🙂
Erin Taylor Young
I love this, Karen!
April W Gardner
Oh my, Karen, you just described my brain! I’m all over the place. No idea what kind of focus I’m most comfortable and/or productive in, but I’m going to give this some serious thought!
I’m pretty scattered, perhaps dwelling more in the valley, taking care of the immediates, but getting lost in the haze. Focus is a definite need. Wonderful post.
I don’t pretend to be good at it, but right now my focus is in the valley. I’m editing my ms to send out on query. Looking at the mountains is a bit unnerving because I don’t know what will happen up there when I launch my proposal.
I’ll climb to the lookout tower and scan the horizon. I’ll wait to see what God says… Habakkuk 2:1 (MSG)
Karen, what a great use of pictures to illustrate your point. Well done!
The mountaintop is where I start, then head to the valley to work on the “vision”. In between there’s lots of praying. Great post and looking forward to the “rest of the story”. Thanks, Karen.