When I was a kid, my dad was really into photography. He even had a darkroom for a while. The cameras were all manual then, so you could really learn about how different settings changed the picture.
And one that made a big difference was the depth of field.
Say you wanted to take a photo of your adorable 2-year-old in a field of wildflowers. You could choose to focus on everything – make the flowers and your child equally important by widening the depth of focus to the entire shot. Or, you could narrow the depth of focus to just around your child and let the rest blur out a bit.
If you narrowed the focus to your child, everyone who looked at the picture would be immediately drawn to your child’s cherubic face (even though you know what a terror he can be). The flowers take a back seat. Clearly, how you focus matters.
I was thinking about this as I researched and recorded Episode 063 – Deep Work. I said I was going to limit my YouTube consumption to specific break times. And I was going to practice being bored at tedious meetings. Let myself feel the boredom, and find ways to engage. And wouldn’t you know?!? Just this week I had the opportunity to practice this skill.
The meeting dragged. People speaking in a monotone, slogging through a list of system requirements. I couldn’t imagine what could be less interesting – except maybe someone talking about their most recent surgery. No. Wait. I think even that’s more interesting.
About every 15 minutes I reached for my phone – completely out of reflex. I started to pick it up, remembered my goal, and put it back down. I was then tempted to check my work email and start the cycle I described in the podcast. Somehow I managed to resist that too.
It went on like this for 2 hours. Pick up phone, don’t look at it, put it down. Click my mouse to email, click away. Finally, I put my phone in my purse and my purse back in my desk drawer. (I usually have it on my desk so I can keep it fully charged.) I did check my work email once or twice, but it was a lot less than normal.
How did I get this to work? I reduced my depth of field. The only thing I allowed myself to focus on was the meeting, no matter what it was like. I focused on what I could learn from the material, how not to run a meeting, and how to successfully fight temptation.
It was good practice in proper focusing technique. And it was eye-opening to see how hard it was to keep that focus. How far I’ve strayed from good Deep Work technique.
It’s clear that I need more “photography” lessons. How about you? How’s your focus these days? Want to join me?
What are you going to do this week to narrow your focus? What do you want to focus on and why? Let’s start a conversation in the comments.