Focus, A Guest Post by Ben Smith

A note from Jeff: A few months ago I said that I wanted to write more about social media. That never panned out. Thankfully, Ben Smith has succeeded where I've have failed. Read on...


It doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing; if I have my phone or my computer at hand, I am a danger to myself and my companions. It just takes a spark. The person with whom I’m eating will excuse himself for a moment. The presenter will go off on a tangent. The book I am reading will start describing what happened before the main story took place.

Immediately, I am on Facebook or Twitter telling others about what I’m doing, in addition to registering my displeasure at my inclination to procrastinate or get distracted. Occasionally, in rare moments of self-awareness, I will also complain that my life is not more interesting and that I need to be more disciplined.

When you see this farce written down, it’s pretty easy to see the hypocrisy of my actions and how things should be different. But we all know by now, having developed a few, that habits die hard. (I have actually done three or four different things throughout the course of writing this post. My focus is at an all-time low after recently switching out of student mode.)

Having realized my problem, I must remember that the dreams and plans I have for my life – shorterm and longterm – are not aided by mentally knocking myself off course dozens of times a day, especially for something that’s as immediately self-serving and pointless as checking the little red “1” in my Facebook notifications tab. I want to sit and finish good books, and let their messages sink in. I want to enjoy conversations with my wife, and get to know her better. I want to sit in the sunshine and let my thoughts wander where they may, without bells and whistles going off every ten minutes.

Is your problem like mine, where your distractions are temporary but mind-shaking escapes? Or are you uncertain about your goals and dreams, and your distractions are more permanent, becoming more routine? I would encourage you to think about the ways your time and your focus are being removed from you on a daily basis. Name these ways. Count up the time you spend each day on things you wouldn’t be proud of telling someone who just trained for and finished a marathon. When you add it all up, the numbers will probably surprise you.

What are we doing that just isn’t worth our time, or at least as much of our time as we give over to it? There are so many distractions that don’t produce anything tangible or worthwhile. For a lot of us, our free time is spent on the Internet. For others, there are video games, movies, TV shows, etc. etc. Are we sharing “Call Me Maybe” with our friends for the fifteenth time, or are we on Facebook for an hour straight because we’re just plain bored? Is there anything useful in the celebrity articles we just read, or anything to be gained from getting a few more coins in Draw Something?

If you are in your twenties or thirties, like me, you’ve seen a few years go by. You’ve seen marriage, birth, separation, death, and if you know anything so far, it is this: we only get one life on this Earth. And these are the years that form us and determine who we will be as human beings. You’re on the big stage now. Know thyself. Determine the way you should go. What you do with your five extra minutes shapes what you will do with the rest of your life. Start walking in a better direction today.