Simplify your perspective

“with simple thinking, we can maximise our focus with minimum distractions.”

Many things influence our lives and decisions we make. The primary influences being the perceptions and most of the times, the mistakes of perception leads to our complex thinking. we get used to the complex processes, procedures and matters in our day-to-day tasks which in turn add to our complicated thinking. We acquire habits, possessions, relationships, needs, etc., which are part of richness and enjoyment of life — but also are the reason of the complexity of our thinking.

We get continually bullied by opportunities which seem to be attractive and get pressurised by them thereby making our lives more complex. Sometimes fear of boredom leads you into a complexity of temptations and pressures of ‘have to do things.’ This makes our thinking a complex process driving us to busyness, approval of others, anxiety, performance and control.

Some of this complexity is created by us and some we accept and take on as part of our daily lives. Having things to take care of, people to deal with or processes to attend to, our thoughts create clutter giving rise to complicated ideas and create confusion and disappointments. We get caught up in the day-to-day complex tasks we have to get done and often run out of time to do the things that really matter and those that are essential.

We get so comfortable things being familiar and certain way that we don’t want to find simpler way of doing things. Simplicity in thinking is something that is deliberate and intentional and should be a choice you make. By adopting to a ‘simple perspective’ in your thinking, you can free yourself from all the distractions and you can maximise your focus on that which is essential, can eliminate complexities, create effective solutions and can reach your objectives or goals much faster.

Simplicity makes it easier to do things. But finding a simpler way is usually not that simple.

The perspective of ‘simple thinking’

Complex is something which is hard to understand, explain, or deal with and leads to inefficiency, wastage of time, attention and mental energy in unnecessary things. But there is always a much simpler way of doing things. The perspective of ‘simple thinking’ and doing is always possible and is very important to improve efficiency and to reduce stress, anxiety and frustration. By identifying areas, matters and procedures which seem unnecessary and replacing them with simple processes, you can learn to take action much faster.

“When we begin pursuing a more simple, intentional life, we obtain a new perspective.”

Perspective of ‘simple thinking’ is a value, a habit and an attitude of mind as much as it is a process. You accept something complex because you are not looking for simple solutions and your outputs also tend to be complex. Simplicity will not happen unless you are prepared to work hard and make a real effort to achieve it. The emphasis needs to be on simple perspective at every moment of your decision-making process.

‘Is there a simpler way to do this?’

‘Is this really necessary?’

‘Does this add to simplicity or complexity?’

By having the intention of making something simple, you can prioritise your actions towards simple processes.

Ways to achieve a ‘simple perspective’

Many of us consider thinking as a complex process because we have never made any attempt to make it simpler. We tie ourselves up in complex rules when in reality, most of our practical thinking takes place in ‘simple perspective’ and is mostly based on self-organising system of brain. So, We can design simple tools for thinking to improve productivity in number of ways and for a more focused effort.

You need not always depend on major changes to make things simple. You can Make slight changes in small things to simplify your efforts of doing difficult things.

Here are some small changes that can be made to achieve ‘simple perspective’ in your efforts of achieving your tasks.

One thing at a time

We are capable of thinking many things at the same time. But if you find matters getting too complex, then it is always better to pay attention to only one thing at a time. It does not mean that you cannot do more than one thing at a time — but you choose not to for the moment.

Express in words

Complexity is difficult to cope with while it remains out of consciousness and you will find it difficult to arrive at decisions. When something seems complex and difficult, verbalise why you are making that choice, the reasons behind your decision. This can simplify and clarify your decision-making process.

Unbundle

Complexity arises when you are trying to deal with more than one matter at same time. If there are two separate issues, separate them out and deal with each one on its own. Analyse and break it down to deal with it one at a time.

Take small steps

If the task is complex, it can be broken down into tiny steps. Certain tasks may seem impossibly complex on the whole, but if broken down to small steps, each step can be simple and doable. It is simpler to focus on the next step than to focus on the entire task.

Use concepts

Concepts are a broad and general way of simplifying things. They simplify the action into stages. Making use of concepts in thinking can simplify your efforts. Once the concept is formed, the details of the concept will still need to be worked out but they set the direction of the action.

Think in stages

Always have a clear objective in mind and figure out how to reach the objective.

• The direction to reach your objective.

• The concepts that can be used in order to move in that direction.

• The ideas that can be used to put those concepts into action.

Thinking in this kind of framework helps you arrive at possible action alternatives to achieve your complex tasks.

Do things slowly

If your mind is minimally occupied, as in doing things slowly, it will be more able to have new ideas. This also helps the mind to clarify or simplify things and requires discipline and concentration.

Shedding

Things which were needed at one time may be no longer needed. Shedding approach simply involves throwing things out and putting nothing in their place. Sometimes things are ‘unnecessary’ or ‘redundant’. If these things add to clarity they should be retained, but if they add to the complexity of the situation, they should be shredded and thrown out.

Clarify

Clarity and simplicity go together. What is the situation? What do we really need to do? What is going on? Questions of this sort can clarify and provide thorough understanding of the situation or process. The perspective of simple thinking comes from thorough understanding.

Set routines

As a self-organising information system, our brain allows incoming information to organise itself into routine patterns. Once we identify with these patterns, we flow along with them without much effort. Setting up routines can simplify your perception and action.

Finally,

Be determined to seek simplicity.

When things are highly complicated we do often wish for simple perspective. But when things are not complicated we rarely strive to make something simple. Always find simpler ways of doing things. Make the ‘simple perspective’ as part of your normal thinking process to free up time, reduce stress and to make better decisions.

Put yourself in ‘simple perspective’

• Be determined to make an active effort to make things more simple.

• Be motivated and creative to arrive at a possible simple, effective and practical solution to a problem.

• Have the willingness to simplify process instead of coping with complexity.

• Look for simple alternatives and be willing to invest time and effort in that search.

• Spell out in words what you are seeking to achieve. This creates a path to move in defined direction thereby avoiding unnecessary.

• Design the ideal simple process and then seek to work incrementally step by step.

• Consider all the things you are busy with right now and consider how few of these are really necessary.

• Take notice of your habits and cut back on clutter, distractions and focus on the essentials.

“Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” – Steve Jobs

Disconnect from distractions

The ability to produce quality work and the ability to quickly master hard things is an important requisite in today’s work environments. The process of using rapidly changing technologies requires that you hone the ability to learn increasingly complex set of relevant skills. To be able to transform these skills into valuable results, your attention needs to be focused without any distractions. But in today’s technologically advanced world, producing quality work at an optimal rate has become a difficult task as we embrace distractions at various levels and this decreases our ability to do high quality and meaningful work. The main culprit being the culture of connectivity where one is expected to respond quickly to a mail or to a message. Checking mail and social networking sites, surfing the web, and visual mediums have become major obstacles in cultivating a deep work habit.

Here are certain behaviours that distract you from quality work.

Multitasking

Trying to accomplish multiple tasks simultaneously, your attention remains divided. There will be a residue of your attention that remains when you switch from one task to another. Those who experience attention residue after switching tasks are more prone to distractions.

Constant need for connectivity

Workplaces with trends like active presence on social media might create more opportunities to collaborate but they do so at the cost of many distractions. We increasingly becoming the victims of online distractions. They fragment our time and reduce our ability to concentrate. They tend to pull your attention thereby weaken your willpower to focus on important things.

Unstructured thinking

Without any built-in goals, rules and challenges you cannot produce work of real value. When you lack planning and cannot figure out what you should be working on and for how long results in shallow work and short-term gains.

Busyness

By sending and answering mails at all hours, scheduling and attending meetings constantly, instant messaging within seconds when someone poses a query —all these behaviours make you seem busy but do not always result in high value work.

Lack of priority

Our dependence on connectivity results in paying attention to irrelevant things. When you lose focus on really important things, your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong instead of what’s right giving into frustration,stress and triviality. These shallow concerns take up most of your time thereby keeping you away from doing quality work.

Many of us assume that we can transform our working life from distracted to focused overnight and that we can switch between a state of distraction and one of concentration as needed, but once you are wired for distraction, you begin to crave it and it becomes difficult to bring your focus back with one time decision to think or work deeper. Your brain becomes accustomed to on-demand distraction and is hard to change the habit even when you want to concentrate. You will struggle to achieve higher levels of concentration unless you disconnect yourself from these distractions.

You have to make your deep work a priority to meet your personal and professional goals. By integrating the habit of doing high quality and meaningful work into your schedule and supporting it with routines and rituals, you will be able to achieve your concentration ability.

The following strategies can help you maximise your personal ability to produce quality work. By adapting to some personal work habits, you can take more effective action towards your goal of achieving real results.

Schedule your work

Scheduling eliminates shallow obligations by having a highly valued professional or personal goal. By dedicating some clearly defined stretches of time to vital tasks, you can leave the time for not so important ones. By developing routines, by making sure little bit gets done on a regular basis, you can fit deep work habit whenever you can into your schedule. To make most of your time, build rituals of the same level of strictness.

Focus on your ‘priorities’

Your work should be aimed at small number of important goals. Simplifying and focusing on priorities will improve your intensity to get valuable results. Identify a small number of outcomes to pursue with your quality work hours. Spending more time doing quality work may not generate lot of enthusiasm. Instead have a specific goal that would return tangible benefits.

Work on the ‘lead measures’

Lag measures describe the thing you are trying to improve and lead measures are the hours spent working on your important goals. Lag measures cannot immediately generate a noticeable change in your ability to reach your goal. You cannot change your behaviour as the performance that driven them is already in the past. Lead measures on the other hand, turn your attention to improving the behaviours you directly control in the near future and will have a positive impact on your long-term goals.

Keep a scoreboard

By recording and tracking the hours spent doing quality work or your lead measure, creates a sense of competence and drives you to focus on these measures even when there are distractions. Keeping track of quality work hours with simple tally of tick marks maximises your motivation. Your scoreboard can help you understand what leads to bad days of work and most important, to figure out how to ensure a good score for the days ahead. This way, you can disconnect with your distractions to keep a compelling scoreboard and can create a pattern of accountability.

Set deadlines

Set expected time of completion for your important tasks on your priority list. You can motivate yourself by setting a countdown and can work with greater intensity and with no distractions. You can plan on taking occasional break from focus to give into distractions. By providing interval training for the attention centres of brain, you can minimise the number of times you give into distractions.

Apply the ‘law of vital few’

Many different activities can contribute to you achieving your goals. According to the law of vital few, only twenty percent of theses activities provide the bulk of the benefit. By listing some of your distinct and beneficial activities for each of your life goals, the top two or three such activities only make most of the difference in whether or not you succeed. Try to list only those which are specific to your goal.

Structure your ‘leisure time’

Don’t use networking tools for entertainment when it comes relaxation as they weaken your mind’s general ability to resist distraction thereby making it difficult for you to concentrate later when you really want to. Structure your leisure time by filling your free time with something of more quality than instead of allowing your mind to be lost in unstructured web surfing and other distractions. If you give your mind a quality alternative, you’ll end the day more fulfilled and can begin the next day more relaxed.

Finally,

strengthen your distraction-resistant muscle by practicing productive meditation. You can do this when you are occupied physically but not mentally by focusing on a single well-defined professional or personal problem or a hard task. When faced with hard tasks, your mind will attempt to avoid them by looping over and over again on what you already know. By structuring your thinking, you will be able to redirect your attention to the next step and will be able to set a specific target for your attention. This way, you can strengthen your distraction-resistance and sharpen your concentration.

Conclusion

Distraction remains a destroyer of deep and meaningful work. Try and optimise your efforts and keep them structured by following above mentioned strategies.

Take back the control of your time and attention from the many distractions that attempt to steal them by making your deep goal a mental priority.

Participate in the process of listening

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know, but if you listen, you may learn something new.”

– Dalai Lama

Conversations are fundamental aspects of our everyday lives and work environments. Most of us engage in different conversations with friends, co-workers and family members. But most of the time we fail to give them our complete attention and thereby fail to listen to what other person is saying. Just hearing the other person and being fully present in the moment are not the same. Hearing is a physical, natural and passive process as compared to listening which is mental, active, and learned process.

People are often selective listeners. They focus on few key words and ignore most of the other communication. They get distracted by external factors like noises or random sounds, and internal factors like self-talk or thoughts or emotions. By passively absorbing, you cannot remember the context of what someone is sharing. The more vocal you are at meetings, at public functions or even social gatherings, the greater your perceived value as a keen-minded person and same holds true with listening. In expressing yourself verbally, you perforce have to take an “either or” position. In our zeal to be seen as being either “pro” or “anti” something, we often lose the sight of the larger picture. This larger picture can be seen only by engaging yourself in active listening.

Active listening is important to collaborate, to increase productivity and to fuel your creative thinking. It focuses on understanding the speaker beyond his/ her words and takes into account the feelings, emotions and beliefs underlying the speech. Active listening creates a safe, comfortable atmosphere to discuss and exchange thoughts and ideas.

What is Active listening?

It is a way of being attentive, fully present in the moment, concentrating, engaging in the conversation and absorbing what the other person is saying to you. The emphasis is on listening and involves being attentive and respectful to the speaker. This allows understanding, and builds rapport and trust with the person in conversation. It paves way for learning by expanding the conversation and provides a wider perspective of looking at things rather than in a limited context.

Most of the times we don’t actively listen to the information and ideas being shared by others as we are too eager to share our personal ideas. By actively engaging in listening to what is being shared helps you to know and acknowledge work-related or personal issues of other people.

When you fail at listening you are sending out an armada of negative messages. You are saying:

• I don’t care about you.

• I don’t understand you.

• You are wrong.

• You are wasting time.

Active listening is an important skill that needs to be developed and can be honed into a habit with practice. Here are certain ways to develop the habit.

Respond, Don’t react.

Do not give instinctive responses without proper understanding. Listen to the content of the speech by focusing on the specific words that are being used. Understand the context. Share feedback by responding to what is being shared.

Wait, Don’t interrupt.

Do not break the speaker’s flow no matter how important and relevant your input is. Wait until you are sure the person has completed what he or she had to say and then offer your inputs. Exercise patience, short periods of pause should be expected.

Encourage, Don’t ask close-ended questions.

Encourage the speaker with open-ended questions that begin with why, who, what, where, and how. Open-ended questions enable more descriptive answers and show that you are taking keen interest. Ask questions to understand things better and not in a bid to demonstrate your intelligence or superiority.

Focus, Don’t distract.

Distracting thoughts can pose a serious barrier to active listening. Become aware of your self-talk. Thoughts like ‘I think this person is just wasting my time’ can distract your active listening. Convert such self-talk into positive statements such as “There’s always something to learn from others.” Focusing on what is being said makes you a better listener.

Provide affirmations, Don’t be defensive.

Include words such as ‘sure’ or “that’s interesting.” Don’t let your emotions get in the way. Adopt a pragmatic approach as a listener. Instead of offering a counter argument, try to understand the other speakers’s point of view and try to see things from their perspective. Paraphrasing can eliminate misunderstandings and increases empathy and rapport. Paraphrased statements begin with “Are you saying that…” or “ What I understand is…”

How does Active listening help?

Learning how to be an active listener is very beneficial. In a professional context, active listening can help shape you into a better leader and co-worker. In a personal context, when you give your attention to people expressing thoughts and sharing their experiences, your ability to understand improves your perceived value.

Here are few ways in which being an active listener can help you overcome obstacles.

Provides optimal solutions.

Workplaces are often fuelled by stress and pressure that requires you to handle multiple situations and people. This can be often demanding and you have to make sure that all the tasks are tackled and addressed. Being an active listener —whether by asking questions or summarising to ensure clear and better understanding — helps you to quickly assess the problems and subsequently helps you arrive with accurate and optimal solutions and can resolve them in a timely manner. Without active listening, you would find gaps in your knowledge and you may not be able to offer a solution.

Provides fresh points of view.

Active listening makes you better focused at the new ideas presented at your work place or in your daily life. Active listening improves your ability to analyse and recognise the difference between facts and opinions. You can uncover the assumptions and be open to new ideas and relate to old ones. You will be better equipped to take useful notes and fresh points of view. This can further bring positive outcomes.

Builds trust and collaboration.

Encouraging your coworkers to freely reach out with their concerns makes you supportive person at work place. Knowing and acknowledging work-related or personal issues that they are dealing with will make you feel valued. Active listening forms the basis for lasting relationships and building trust whether between partners or workplace or parents and children and friends.

Children and adults who have been actively listened to are more emotionally mature, more open to sharing their experiences, less defensive and more cooperative.

Finally, Active listening strengthens interpersonal relationships and breaks down barriers. Always maintain eye contact and avoid distractions by muting cell phones and moving away from other electronic devices when you engage yourself in conversations with others.

Practicing active listening will help you become a better student, more efficient in your job, develop patience and send positive messages.

“We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.”

Zeno of Citium