focus

April was quite a month. I sprinted from one point to another, rushed through crowds, always thinking of to-dos and deadlines. I multi-tasked through most of my day and usually ate in front of my screen while typing yet another e-mail. I spent 8 hours a week studying the GMAT (which in my case meant 8 hours doing maths!) and brainstormed the future of my blog. I pushed myself to study or read something useful in the evenings, before falling asleep a few hours before picking up the entire race again.

Hiking from Afur to Taganana, Tenerife (Spain)

I knew this wasn’t going to last – eventually, something had to change. And I knew the time to reevaluate my priorities had come when, at the end of the month, my body collapsed of weakness.

It’s not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?
Henry David Thoreau

I had been so busy with my career and ambitions that I forgot to take care of myself. I had forgotten about things as simple as eating well, drinking water and getting a good night sleep. Instead, I was constantly being hard on myself for not getting up earlier, for not making more hours to study, for not being more active and for not feeling inspired to write.

After my roadshow finished, I flew home for a long weekend. Soon after, I was hospitalised with severe anaemia – and what was meant to be a short break became a week-long recovery.

Terrazas del Sauzal, Tenerife (Spain)

This was my wake up call, so I hit snooze and reevaluated my priorities. When did I allow to get too busy to listen to what my own body is trying to tell me?

At some point in the last few months, I became someone who glorified busy. I thought of busy as a status symbol – one that represents productivity and ambition. But the truth is, there was no end to it. There were always more tasks to tick off the to-do lists, and most of those tasks were self-imposed.

That was my first realisation: I was in this by choice.

It was clear to me that the way I made my choices had to change.

Tulip Festival in Morges

Learn to say no (specially to the things I want to do)

It seems obvious that there comes a period in your life where you have to learn how to say no to things that you don’t want to do, but I think the biggest, trickiest lesson in holding onto the stalwart commitment to your creativity is learning how to say no to things you do want to do.”

Elizabeth Gilbert – The Intelligent Channel interview

I’m curious and enjoy acquired new knowledge and skills. Maybe my only hope to beat overwhelm is to limit what I am willing to get overwhelmed by. This will mean saying no to plenty of things I want to do, like a photography course, blogging 3 times a week or drinking that 3rd glass of wine on a Thursday evening.

Be more intentional about my choices and focus

Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed with choices, but by aligning my choices with my core values, the array of alternatives are narrowed to those that are in line with who I want to be.

My goal is to learn to pick more wisely. Instead of constantly adding new projects to my to-do list, I want to choose what I really want to do and focus on doing that one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is evil, seriously. You might think you are being productive, but you’re actually doing things half-heartedly without being really present and involved in any of them.

I’m starting to realise that I’d rather have a few meaningful projects than a stressful over-scheduled calendar that doesn’t allow time to recharge my batteries.

Unplugging more often

Today’s technology has allowed us to be available 24/7 – which means that we never really rest from work on any day of the week.

I am conscious about my dependency on electronic devices (specially smartphones) and feel uneasy and sort of naked when I don’t carry my phones with me – it’s like leaving the house without wearing shoes.

And while I’m already on the path of creating a habit of limiting my plugged in time, I’m still battling against the unconcious reflex of checking for new e-mails every few minutes.


Everyone I know is busy. So, tell me something – What do you do to stay healthy and focussed?

If you’re feeling inspired, why not hop over and read a bit more about the glorification of busy and intentional choices? Below are my favourites:


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Life rarely goes as planned

Swing dancers in Vila de Gracia, Barcelona

The day I quit my job in the finance to pursue a career in corporate communications and events, I knew it was going to be tough to adjust to my new lifestyle lifestyle. I knew I would have to climb down a few steps of the corporate ladder and adjust my expenses to a lower salary.

But what I did fail to think of back then was how hard it would be to get a job in a new industry in the first place.

Although I secured a 3 month internship to gain industry experience, I know that this is only temporary and soon, I’d be facing uncertainty again.

Do this, move there, give up or go home.

BCN2013

My worries had been blurring my vision. I wrote lists of options, pros and cons and juggled with my future. The easy choice was to quit London and move somewhere else. The more painful alternative was to stay in London and continue to send out numerous job applications hoping to get a response.

None of them felt quite right.

And then I realised there was a third alternative. I reached out to my network – friends, alumni, family. If I could get one more experience in the industry, I would, hopefully, be fit for London’s competitive job market. Soon after I started, things began to fall into place – I got in touch with someone I knew from Uni who had also changed career paths and had landed a job in a small events agency in Barcelona. A few calls later, I got a temporary contract to work at the 15th FINA World Swimming Championships!

So, what’s next?

Cadaqués, Costa Brava (Spain)

For the next four months, I’ll be living and working in Barcelona. Sure, at the moments it’s something temporary – but it’s also the invaluable industry experience I am currently short of. It’s 4 months in a city I had never visited before, so I’m surely covering my need of travel and adventure as well. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that this city happens to be in the Mediterranean coast side and offer some of my favourite dishes in every corner bar (pincho de tortilla, anyone?).

It’s funny how life continuously tests your limits.

Most of us were told that if we studied hard, we would get the job we expected; and yet, when it comes to today’s work life, nothing really seems to go as planned.

Hiking from Seaford to Eastbourne, UK

Each time I start to feel a certain confidence and security, the ground begins to move again, reminding me that I live in a World that is not predictable anymore.

A degree no longer leads to a job. An MBA no longer guarantees a generous salary increase. And a career in banking is no longer a stable choice.

This is really not how I was told it was going to be.

Chamonix, France

I’m a devoted planner. I began working on a 2, 5 and 10 year goal a few years back, when I was going to graduate from University. These goals from back then haven’t changed significantly, but my strategy has taken a U-Turn. Instead of working backwards from my perfect job, I choose a direction I like and work on it. There’s no guarantee my perfect job will still exist 10 years from now – but a direction never will. There will always be the need for a planner. A leader. A negotiator.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to accept that you’re vulnerable to future developments. That you can’t plan and control your way into your dream job anymore. There’s no straight line to becoming who you want to be, but instead, a rocky path full of strong curves without warning signs.

These rocky paths are part of the adventure. But staring at the strong curve without seeing its end makes me nervous and unsettled.

My old self would have a plan lined up. My new self, though, wants to test my sense of adventure.

Walking on Lava, Tenerife (Canary Islands, Spain)

Am I capable of walking the entire curve while enjoying the path, without worrying about what’s at the end of it?

Back at IE Business School, I learned about how psychology could explain the effects and anomalies of the stock market, which, in extreme cases, can lead to bubbles and market crashes.

Sunset from the Empire State, New York

Some of these investor biases show up on my daily life. If something goes well, I’ll feel overconfident and float on a puffy cloud. Usually, I start paying less attention to small details and, as soon as there’s a turn of events, I crash. After a few falls, I’ll feel more averse to taking up new challenges and risks – After all, nobody likes to fail and get hurt, right?

Right. But wrong.

Studies show that positive and negative information of the same importance do not have the same weight in our minds. They don’t balance each other out – instead, we’ll feel worse than neutral. Naturally, our mind tends to give more weight to the negative experience than to the positive one (this is called Negativity bias). For example: if someone has given us a bad first impression, this one is more resistant to disconfirmation than a first good impression.

Those who know me, know I have occasionally been an emotional roller-coaster. I may have started the day bright and with a smile, but if something goes wrong, everything just feels like it has crumbled into pieces. Every evening, I used to evaluate the day on my way home:

  • The bus came on time: + 5 points
  • It started to rain: -5 points
  • I forgot my umbrella at home: -10 points
  • I got positive feedback at work: + 10 points
  • I lost my Oyster card with 50 GBP on it: – 50 points

At the end of the day, I felt mediocre and deflated – even though the day, as an overall, hadn’t been that bad! Was I aiming for perfection all the time? Maybe. Maybe I was being too harsh with myself and maybe I was just being ridiculous monitoring each day’s performance.

The truth is: putting more weight on negative experiences than on positive ones is exhausting. I continuously tried to improve the day, and when the overall outcome was below zero (or neutral), I felt like it had been a bad day overall. Instead of trying to change every day’s score, I have decided to change the way I evaluate the day. I will be grateful for the good things that happen throughout the day and hold on longer to these positive experiences than to the negative ones.

Do you tend to cling to negative thoughts too long?