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The Best Present You Can Give Yourself is Focus

As I look at my calendar for December, I see quite a few to-dos. Buying presents. Sending holiday cards. Tracking year-end expenses. Finalizing my syllabus for the upcoming semester. And the last of my travel and teaching for 2022.

See what I did there? I took what’s supposed to be the most wonderful and joyous time of the year and turned it into a series of tasks. And, unfortunately, the list keeps growing. While I find myself constantly busy, I don’t seem to make a dent in that list.

Are you doing this, too? Getting distracted by an ever-growing list of tasks but not tying up important loose ends?

Busy doesn’t mean productive

When there’s a lot on your plate, you can easily get side-tracked. You see your goals off in the distance, but taking action might feel overwhelming and daunting. Not to mention that after a hard year, you might feel burnt out.

So rather than taking steps to accomplish your goal, you concentrate on small items you can easily finish. You get busy, but you haven’t addressed the most critical tasks—the ones you should have prioritized. I hate to tell you, but being busy doesn’t mean being productive!

There’s another word to describe this phenomenon: procrastination.

Remember in school when you were assigned a long research paper or had a big test coming up? Were you working on the assignment or studying regularly? Or did you put off starting until a few days—or, worse yet, the night before—the due date? Focusing on other activities, like watching TV, socializing, or even less onerous schoolwork was much easier than facing reality.

Procrastination is a strategy that rarely works. In addition to delaying the inevitable, the stress of procrastinating means sacrificing your well-being as you furiously try to cram something into one night that should have taken consistent, daily effort over several weeks.

Some people procrastinate by multi-tasking, but that doesn’t work either. You keep yourself occupied with several small to-dos, avoiding what really needs your attention and becoming more anxious about the weight of your work in the process. Then you try to take on too much at once until you’re running in place because you can’t focus and finish anything!

What's perplexing is procrastination and multi-tasking aren’t one-time phenomenons. This type of avoidant behavior can happen repeatedly throughout your life, preventing you from succeeding at the level you would like.

Diminishing distractions

Distractions are part of life. Whether your attention is diverted by projects at work, chores at home, or a hobby you enjoy, sometimes quickly achievable goals take precedence over big life goals.

The key to reaching the objectives that are important to you is prioritization. What do you need to get off your plate so you can take a break? What will unburden you? What can wait?

Decide what you should pay attention to and make room in your life for it. Take tangible steps to eliminate what’s not going to help you move forward so you can be more mindful of what you want to do today. You have the power to focus, and you can diminish distractions to achieve your goals! Just be judicious about your time because it’s a dwindling asset.

Whatever is pulling your attention away from what you want to accomplish isn’t going anywhere. If relaxing and watching your favorite Netflix series is what you need to do, do it. But if not, your show isn't going anywhere. If getting organized and cleaning out your closet for a Goodwill run is your primary objective, start making piles. Otherwise, your closet can wait! If closing out the year with your expenses organized is a must-have, get started! At the same time, it will all be there when you’re ready for it.

Prioritizing what you really want means having the clarity to put less important tasks aside and being more mindful of what really matters to you right now. You may find how much easier it is to check things off your list. You may be even less busy!

Invest in you

We recognize that time is a finite resource. So how can you get more of it? By prioritizing what matters. You get much-needed relief and give yourself permission to enjoy the reward of time.

Just like time, your well-being is a finite resource. You deserve to relax and bask in the joy of the season, and restoration will come if you give yourself a well-deserved break. Allow your unique holiday rituals to feed your soul and renew you for the year ahead. You’ll enter 2023 with inspiration and feel better equipped to navigate the year.

Stick with the multi-tasking, indulge in distraction, keep running from one errand to the next, and you’re bound to regret the time lost, relationships distanced, and opportunities to connect missed. That’s not the way to start a new year.

As we’re in the midst of the holiday season, the priority should be spending quality time with loved ones—even if that loved one is you. You can replace many things in this life, but time spent isn’t one of them. Your reward for focusing and completing what you really need to get done can be a peaceful holiday.

However you choose to spend this festive season, don’t be afraid to create boundaries around your plans. Don’t let anything stand in the way of what you want and need right now, whether that’s spending time with family, taking time for yourself, or a little bit of both.

Focus on what matters most to you. Trust me, your to-do list will still be there in 2023.

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