Focus Means Saying No

My wife Ashley loves ideas. She is an idea machine! Especially when it comes to crafty things. She’s taken up needle felting, sewing, sand blasting, home organization, photography, and more. It’s fantastic, and I really enjoy watching her enthusiasm when embarking on a new project.

It’s also hard to watch sometimes. She watches YouTube videos, reads books, follows patterns and recipes, but often seems a little discouraged at the final result. Doing anything for the first time is difficult. The muscle memory and finesse required to create exactly what was imagined just isn’t there yet.

And unfortunately there are no shortcuts. There is no easy way to become a skilled seamstress or photographer. These are abilities that must be practiced and honed.

Opportunity Cost

Spending the required time to become talented at a craft can be difficult to swallow. I know Ashley wants to be good at everything she tries. There is just no end of things to try. She has so many ideas that most crafts are tried a couple times and then a new amazing idea is at hand!

Focusing on only one idea for a period of time means giving up on other amazing ideas that come to light. This is opportunity cost. Focus costs time and the time spent can’t be spent on something else.

I struggle with this so much that I end up paralyzed more often than not. I have so many personal projects I want to accomplish that I can’t make a decision on any one of them. Code projects, home improvement projects, writing projects, you name it. It’s likely I’ve thought of trying to accomplish something in that realm at one point or another.

There are WordPress plugins half written that I really would like to get on this site, but they have sat untouched for months. Another opportunity comes along, and at the time it seems more important.

Saying no is boring

New things are exciting. For Ashley the prospect of building something new excites and motivates. I feel the same way and the excitement spurs me to work hard. For a time.

Sometimes there is an urgent need, other times it’s another shiny new toy, I move on to the next thing. I feel like I’ll miss out if I don’t say yes and try to capitalize on the moment. By doing so, however, the opportunity cost to me is finishing my current project, or continuing to develop a new skill.

Focus becomes a bit of a grind because the new things coming along seem so much more exhilarating. But without focus, I have ended up with a slew of half completed projects.

Focus over time

Building a new skill works on a logarithmic scale. When Ashley was working on felted wool critters, she created a rather haggard looking bunny. Then she created a second bunny. The second one was vastly improved over her first attempt.

The first few steps in a new field often provide rapid forward movement. Each step forward, though, is a little bit more difficult and it becomes tempting to stop focusing. Because something else might be easier.

What I fail to remember more often than not is that by continuing to work at it I am gaining valuable experience. Both for the task at hand and for other areas my life.

Focusing on what’s important

I have been encouraging Ashley to try to choose one of her crafts and focus on it for a while. She should really get to know the look of properly needle felted wool, or the feel of sand blasting rocks. It’s good advice, the problem is choosing which craft gets the attention is still very difficult.

I don’t want to choose between working really hard on writing, or creating cool plugins for the site, reading, listening to podcasts, but the truth is I have to decide. What is most important to me?

Right now I feel like it’s writing. Being consistent with crafting sentences and telling stories. The question is can I stay focused enough? I want to say the answer is yes, but I’ve been here a few times before and I do well for a few days, then slowly start allowing other opportunities to take center stage. Only time will tell if I am able to say no to them this time around and stay focused on building this skill and this site.

Ashley is currently working on a focused plan mixing her photographic and design skills. I am really looking forward to the fruit that her focus yields. It is inspiring to watch, and seeing success only helps me keep my determination to succeed in my own goals.

What are you focusing on? Are you able look beyond new exciting opportunities in order to accomplish what you’ve started? Additionally, are you able to realize when you should give up on a goal for a new one?

2 Comments

  1. What a great way to keep track of what you are doing these days! I love it. I welcome the chance to get to know you better as well. Take care.

  2. I feel exactly the same and I’m in the middle of the same situation – a ton of unfinished stuff laying around. This cycle of excitement-switching seems to never end. 🙂

    I have been thinking hard about this lately, and have been saying ‘No’ to many things. I’ve narrowed my focus down to two different but complementary projects. I hope I will see them done one day. 🙂

    Thanks for writing this – great reminder.

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