Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Finding focus

Firstly, Selamat Hari Raya to all our Muslim teachers! I hope all of you are having a good day of celebrations with your family and loved ones!

I took home a pack of compositions and I was marking them at my desk earlier. Sad, I know, but such is the life of a teacher, unfortunately. I do my work at home occasionally though, because it's quieter and I have easy access to drinks, snacks and TV should I get tired, oops, hehe.

Importantly though, is that because I'm more relaxed at home, especially on a weekend or holiday, I find myself being able to pay more attention to their work. For example, since I'm marking compositions, I am more able to pick out their mistakes and think of constructive comments to write on their paper.

Then it struck me: Why is it that I'm only able to do this on a public holiday, which is supposedly a day of rest? Why am I not able to even write proper comments during normal workdays?

The answer that came most readily to me was stress. All around my work desk are various reminders of everything I have to do in a limited time. Worksheets I have to mark. Deadlines I have to meet. Parents I have to call. Emails I have to answer. Post-its with To-Do lists written on them. Ironically, while I need these post-its to remind me of what I have to do, it also places an additional layer of subconscious stress. I'm constantly being reminded that I have tons to do. Sometimes, to take a supposed break during marking, I would stop halfway and do some other menial task, like answer a parent's email.

Faced with all the things I have to do, how is it possible to truly focus on your work? Even when I stopped marking for a while, I would be faced with all the glaring reminders to be more productive and accomplish all this before I go home to cook dinner for the family and spend quality time. Is this really possible???

I know there are plenty of people who can thrive like this, who can whizz through their marking, plan next week's lesson plan and still have time to cook 4 dishes for dinner and teach their children their homework. (Oh you people, you make it hard for the rest of us...)

However, it seems research would back me up when I say I'm only human and I can't always keep up with everything. Plenty of articles, including this one by will attest to the dangers of multitasking. Similarly, even a normal Google search for 'focus on what is important' will give you plenty of reasons on how better focus will lead to better productivity. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People also asks us to make a distinction between 'urgent and not important' and 'not urgent but important'.

That's probably why I find marking at home on a public holiday easier. More focus and a more leisurely environment allowing me to focus on what is truly important, namely my students' development, rather than their parents' worries or my heads' projects.

I wish I could have this everyday that I was at work, but for one, life doesn't always give us what we want, and two, sometimes we have to make the best for ourselves. Like bringing work home and working in a comfortable study. ;)

If you want to read up on some stuff to improve your focus, I can recommend:

- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The chapters on priorities in life and the distinction between urgent and important is one that has really stuck with me. You can read a short preview of the 7 Habits here but I would recommend you read the book for more details.

- Psychologies magazine has a good feature on finding your focus in life and work. I like this magazine because it comes with a monthly feature that has good tips on improving your life. I think you can still find the issue on Focus at Kinokuniya bookstores.  You can check out their content at their website here.