Design Self Strategy

Focus is happiness – what I learned from Ikea

Ikea prides itself on “functional home furnishing products,” building a massive business and in-store experience in the United States since 1985. Some of its most successful products include storage systems that organize anything from office supplies to baby clothes into well-designed compartments, buckets, and racks.

But here’s the thing about well-conceived storage: you get the most ROI on your purchase when you need to organize and store many items. As useful as it may be, Ikea storage works at its highest capacity when its products are full or near-full.

Humans are different. We work best when there’s less storage, less clutter, and less stuff. Humans operate better when they focus.

Daddy issues

Since becoming a father less than a year ago, I’ve needed my share of Ikea storage to contain the explosion of toys that litter my living room. More significantly, I’ve certainly struggled with time management and focus.

Focus goes a long way in parenthood, too. Time spent with my daughter – when my responsibilities are solely to love and nurture her – results in her improved motor skills and increased smiles.

Similarly, when I spend time writing or designing at home, my best work is done when my wife is spending her quality time with our daughter. This allows me to concentrate on a single task for maximum output – even for a short period of time. No email, phone calls, or web surfing allowed. And, as delightful as it could be, no parenting interruptions.

Do what you love

Through my struggles with time management, I’ve learned that focus can be applied to big-picture thinking in addition to small, task-oriented activities. Rian van der Merwe, an expert in sociology and technology, explains the value of building a platform statement as a guiding proclamation. My first draft looks like this:

“I build digital experiences using art, design, and simplicity.”

If ever I’m off-track in my thinking or creating, I go back to my platform. It helps get rid of the clutter and doesn’t require any Swedish storage. The platform will change over the years, but the purpose won’t: to guide and focus my work beyond my current challenge, life situation, or job.

Rian sums it up best when he ditches old goals and moves on to new, focused ones:

“Just like we’ve moved on from the idea that the big office is a big deal, we have to let go of the idea that a big enough title is equal to a successful career. Much more important is that we figure out what it is that we want to spend our time and attention on — and then working at our craft to make that our platform.”

Encountering purpose

Now I’ve not only brought more focus into my life, but it’s slowly becoming a purpose – the reason for my life’s work. The platform helps push away the clutter and provide a clear path for success and happiness. From this, I learn to nurture not just my offspring, but my daily work. In Karen McGrane’s uniquely-titled post on A List Apart, she closes with a bit of advice in “Give a crap. Don’t give a f*ck:”

“Care deeply about your personal values and live them fully in this world. Don’t get caught up in worrying about other people’s checklists to tell you what good work means to you.”

In short, I concentrate on my values, goals, and work and what it means to me. I can see how this will result in better work, as well as increased success and happiness.

Just do it

So I’ve scheduled time, have a platform statement, and purpose for my work. How do I actually accomplish something? Now I arrive at commitment and concentration.

Christopher Penn, Vice President of Shift Communications, recently shared his thoughts in “How I get more stuff done:”

“Today, I manage almost exclusively by my calendar. I block off time for each task that needs doing, and during those times, I do those things and nothing else. Client work gets repeating windows as needed, and everything else gets time as needed. The secret is this: during those time periods, one and only one thing gets attention, nothing else.”

The big change here is in the workflow – Penn doesn’t allow his email to guide his day, but his calendar. During key time blocks, Penn’s attention and focus reside with one task which he is able to accomplish through commitment and concentration.

Chris Brogan, CEO & President of Human Business Works, shares a similar example to folks who need to get more done:

“Shutting out the craziness of other people’s lives for a while will empower my own choices. Knowing what matters to me and my day and also to those who I serve is a great first set of instructions to consider.”

The craziness that Brogan speaks of is that daily clutter – nonsensical and empty posts on social media, an unimportant clip on YouTube, or a pesky email clamoring for immediate help.

Get happy

Through understanding, planning, purpose, and commitment, we can all better focus and become more productive – and happier – human beings. By removing the junk from our lives, we don’t require all that Ikea storage – as beautiful as it is – to guide our purpose, values, and goals.

Clear your stuff, book some time, and crush your work. Your smile will thank you.

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