Keep Calm and Panic

Last week was one of those weeks where distractions were abundant and multiplied like jackrabbits by the hour. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t focus on a couple of key things I needed to do. I had some insomnia and that played a role–but come on, focus man! I started lots of stuff and finished little. I had great intentions and weak actions.

I wasn’t distracted by wishing I was elsewhere. There was no daydreaming of golf courses or beaches. There was nowhere else I’d rather be. But, I was getting nowhere. All I could do was react to what was coming at me while the big things sat there. It was Stephen Covey’s worst nightmare. The Big Rocks sat while the pebbles bludgeoned my days to an aimless pulp.

By the time I was done reacting my focus was everywhere and my energy was spent. Those important things I needed to do had timers on them. I couldn’t miss the deadlines. So, I had no choice but to move to my emergency measures. The first is to just suck it up and get it done. We all have to do that sometimes. When that fails, however, there has always been one trick up my sleeve that has always helped me focus.


Panic has a way of focusing us like never before. Take the most ADD kid in the world on a walk through the forest and try to carry on a conversation. You’ll get nowhere. Then, encounter a Grizzly Bear. All of sudden…focus. I  realized a long time ago I do well under pressure. So, when I really need to focus, increasing the pressure often does the trick. Others have noticed pressure benefits them as well. Several time management techniques now build in some time pressure to motivate us to perform in an efficient way (think Pomodoro). I’m not talking about the panic resulting from procrastination. I’m talking about intentionally inducing necessary motivation.

Panic is best reserved for the big stuff, but it can work on almost anything–at least it does for me. Are you having a difficult time mustering the focus to finish the sermon? Are you avoiding making the difficult phone call or confronting a chronic gossiper in the church? Are you avoiding paying the bills, doing your taxes, or going to the gym? Try some panic.

How do we create positive pressure that helps us focus? Sometimes I’ll spend time thinking about what will happen if I don’t get it done. Other times, I’ll penalize myself if I don’t get x done by y time. Or, my personal favorite–create a scenario in which I must complete the task well and quickly–a sort of obstacle course or competition for a task. That may sound a little backward or stressful. But, I’ve found I prefer it to the backwardness and stressfulness of missed deadlines or poor preparation. When we have a hard time focusing, initiating productive panic can help in eliminating distractions. It’s not a great modus operandi, but it is a helpful tool in in tool belt.