An old friend used to say, “You get on base, then you get off base, then you get on base, then you get off base.” This can apply to so many things besides baseball: Professional growth, personal relationships, physical or mental health—pretty much anywhere you might be seeking equilibrium. Nobody is perfect, and progress often comes in fits and starts.

For a lot of us in this distracted world, getting and keeping focus is an elusive goal. (I have already responded to two emails and caught up on rugby news since beginning this post.) Focus is one of my favorite topics, along with work-life balance and a very specific rugby team.

When there are too many balls in the air, maintaining focus is a big challenge. I have an employee who sometimes sends me emails full of multi-colored font and highlighting, with some words in bold and some words in italics—she seems to think it will help me pay better attention to what she’s written.

Nowadays it’s hard to turn around without running into an article or a study debunking the myth that multitasking makes us more effective and productive. Unfortunately, knowing this doesn’t necessarily help resist the siren call of the incoming message notification. Yet the evidence continues to stack up. By trying to make better use of our time, we are losing the capacity to go deep.

The oft-cited New York Times article “Read This Story Without Distraction (Can You?)” quotes Manoush Zomorodi, host of the Note to Self podcast: “As much as people would like to believe otherwise, humans have finite neural resources that are depleted every time we switch between tasks . . .”

This is a good reminder for all of us, myself included, and we can hardly afford to ignore it. The good news is there are many (and more) distraction-blocking tools available. If you prefer a low-tech option, the Ivy Lee Method is simple and elegant. And of course, there’s always meditation, which has been earning five-star reviews for thousands of years.

Achieving laser-like focus isn’t easy, and there is no magic formula to make it a one-and-done task to tick off our list. Most of us have to make it a daily goal, but it’s definitely worth striving for.

Have you tried any productivity tricks or apps that have helped? Leave a comment and let me know what works for you.

photo credit: quinet 1846 telescope via photopin (license)