It’s way too easy to get distracted these days. Very few situations (and people) are immune from the ubiquitous lure of the web, social media, texting or mobile phoning. Everybody these days seems to be a multitasker; always in a hurry, never enough time. Their attention shifts back and forth, in and out of conversations and devices, the real world and the virtual. The downside, in my opinion, is that people are losing the ability to communicate clearly and to express a complete thought. I have to bite my tongue sometimes when engaged with the multitasker. My mind is saying ‘yes, yes, yes I hear you talking, but please focus and get to the point.’
Simplify. I have become attuned to the beauty of the simple, single clearly expressed idea. People sometimes tell me that I seem very organized. I don’t really think of myself that way. In fact I dislike lists, project management, planning and spreadsheets. But I have developed an ability to focus on the task at hand, to see the goal, and put the future and the past out of my mind.
Writing provides a great way to practice your skills in developing a singular focus. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing an email, article, blog post, or even a love letter. Wlliam Zinsser, in On Writing Well, says all writing is ultimately a question of solving a problem. “It may be a problem of where to obtain the facts, or how the organize the material. It may be a problem of approach or attitude, tone or style. Whatever it is, it has to be confronted and solved,” he says.
Consider problem-solving that’s not writing. If you were going to change a flat tire, there are certain steps you would take – jack up the car, remove the flat, put on the spare, lower the jack, etc. When focused on these tasks, you don’t really need to worry about changing the radio station or checking the oil.
Think of your writing the same way. Choose a topic (problem), obtain your facts, and plow ahead with developing the material. Always be aware of points that don’t connect or advance the story, secondary issues that are interesting but unrelated, or other distractions that don’t really help solve the problem. Weed them out.
Never believe that you are done after writing one draft. Editing should be a part of every written document you produce. Personally I find it very satisfying to prune the clutter out of a document. Examine each element of content to see if it is necessary or a distraction, or if it can be expressed in a simpler way.
Do this over and over and soon you may find that all your communications are becoming clearer, simpler and more to the point. And maybe you will become a better multitasker in the process.