Concentration in Times of Crisis

5 tips to sustain focus and drive while working from home

Businesswoman with a lot of work to do meditating in office

If you don’t normally – or ever – work from home, the “shelter-in-place” mandate can pose a serious disruption to your daily or weekly workflow. With all this extra time on your hands, you might have thought you were going to get more done, yet you likely feel even more distracted and busier than before. 

That’s understandable: Your daily rhythms and rituals have been upended, your work and home life have collided, and we’re all waiting with bated breath to see what the news holds each morning. You may feel adrift, anxious, or paralyzed. But rather than letting ourselves become disillusioned or enraged, we have the opportunity to be more open and engaged: in our work, our relationships, and our daily rhythms.

Both high-bandwidth work (that requires deep thought, analysis, strategy, multiple steps, imagination) and personal reflection often get pushed aside during crises. Instead of focusing on our professional and personal growth when we need our inner strength most, it’s easy to immerse ourselves in other peoples’ emergencies – imagined or real – and reward ourselves with the ephemeral dopamine rush of easily accomplished tasks. Emails checked, yes! Client questions answered, yes! Big projects? A shift in priorities? A new virtual service? No.

While we must acknowledge the severity of this pandemic and do our part to flatten the curve, research shows that actively seeking experiences that spark joy, curiosity, and gratitude can broaden our awareness to help us become creative problem solvers and put things – including our own emergencies – in perspective. 

The question then is, how do we find the focus and drive to pursue these experiences or endeavors amidst these anxious and uncertain times?

Here are a few grounding tips to help you take the first steps toward fostering creativity – rather than reactivity – amidst this pandemic, so you can open yourself to creative possibilities and focus on your most meaningful work.


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How We Can Do It Together in a Digital World

Group of people on peak mountain climbing helping team work , travel trekking success business concept

The abundance of food, toilet paper, and other essentials that we take for granted has seemingly evaporated overnight. Our carefully laid plans for spring vacations and second-quarter growth have been thrown out the window. Our futures are uncertain. We’re in an age of not-knowing. 

You may be asking yourselves, as I am:

How is my business going to survive a shutdown let alone a recession?

Should schools close?

Should I buy provisions before your panicking neighbors beat you to the punch?

When should I get my child tested?

In the words of Socrates, “Not-knowing is the beginning of true knowledge.” Before we rush to offer opinions and advice based on unchecked prejudices, preformed assumptions, and dubious information, maybe we could raise more questions, investigate different sources and points of view, and share ideas, resources, and possibilities. 

Let us fertilize our collective confusion to generate novel ideas and creative solutions. Together. But how can we do so under self-quarantine?


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Wonder: Your Mental Skill for Surprising Innovation

Every day our brains process billions of data points, from the temperature of the room to the tone of someone’s voice. To make our lives easier – and avoid complete information overload – our brains find patterns in the chaos and establish routines or habits in order to make room in our busy brains. We build cognitive walls to categorize our thoughts and sensations into Mind Rooms that help us shape our mental space and interpret the world around us. 

While these walls help us navigate our daily lives more fluidly, they can also lock us into unconscious patterns that prevent us from leading a creative life of meaning and mastery over the long-term. Fortunately, new research shows that the brain is more like a muscle than we think. By flexing cognitive skills like a muscle, you can occasionally break through your cognitive walls or biases to innovate novel, useful solutions in your life and in your work.

In my decades of consulting and teaching – based in part on assimilating research in positive psychology, neuropsychology, creativity, Zen Buddhism, and Yogic skillful means -the single most effective cognitive skill to break down these mental walls is wonder.

Yes, wonder- what one anthropologist calls “the hallmark of the human species.”

How can you foster wonder to dissolve these cognitive walls?


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The Dark Side of Curiosity for the Creative Mind (and How Wonder Can Help)

The other day I was onboarding a new client. Her client load is full, her team is growing, but she has ambitions to grow and expand her platform and ultimately scale her intellectual property. She has boundless ideas for new projects and strategies to do so, but none of them are gaining traction. This impasse leads her to believe that she lacks the smarts, business savvy, or leadership skills to succeed, but that’s hardly the case. 

No, one real problem is that she – like so many of us– suffers from the dark side of curiosity. We become infatuated with the glimmer of potential in one idea, then another, and yet another, until our limited focus and capacity to execute ideas are spread so thin that we don’t have the energy to forward any one of them. We create in order to sate our inquisitive minds and in so doing, we often lose touch with the audience our work is meant to serve. 

Our curiosity running rampant, we can lose track of the sense of wonder that inspired our work in the first place.

Whereas curiosity is an essential quality for any leader, entrepreneur, or creative-minded worker to foster, it can still lead us astray if left unchecked. That’s where wonder comes in.

Wonder is the wire tripper that can get us back on track. But first, what’s the difference between curiosity and wonder anyway?


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4 Threads of Deep Purpose

To inspire your work and enrich your life

Closeup of hands making cat’s cradle

People who feel a sense of purpose, according to recent studies, are more productive and happier in their work. According to a recent Deloitte survey, 90% of Millennials want their work to contribute to social good while 50% said they would take a paycut to work with a company that aligned with their values. They want their work to serve some social good, build a sense of community, and encourage their personal growth. They want to do work that matters with companies and brands that make a difference. 

That;’s noble, but there’s a problem some journalists have identified in our current pursuit of purpose in work. Many Millennials – and they are not the only ones – over-value their work as their sole source of purpose. Why? In some ways, the workplace has become many people’s last outpost for community connection. With the crisis of faith in American institutions and declining membership in community organizations, work has become the only outlet for meaning-making. But you are not your work.

Deep purpose is more than the title we hold, or the work we produce. Deep purpose is the unifying force that infuses our work, life, and creative activity with meaning. Without it, we can drift. A job or a business or a personal brand is a chore. Few moments stick in our memory. Days blur. We wake up to realize we’ve been sleeping through our work, relationships, and lives for months.

In this Age of Distraction, it can be difficult to find the time to do the deep work of self-reflection required to find your purpose and pursue your ideas. I’ve studied the ways in which people who feel fulfilled over several years and decades pursue purpose. These people are both exemplary innovators and everyday geniuses. What they hold in common is that they do not place purpose solely in one category – such as work, family, relationships, or creative projects alone. Instead, they consistently seek meaning through four threads of deep purpose. You also can strengthen these threads to deepen your work and enrich your life.


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3 Tips to Make the Most Out of Your Retreat

A colleague I recently had dinner with heads up leadership development at a major corporation while testing the waters with her own private consulting. She admitted that it had just dawned on her that there are only 168 hours in a week.

No wonder she felt exhausted.

Between work responsibilities, deadlines, family obligations, and screens vying for our attention, it seems that there aren’t enough hours in the day. There is no more free time, only unscheduled time that we wind up filling with the white noise of social media scrolling or Netflix binging to decompress from our frenetic lives. Our precious time is eaten up and our focus diffused before we even realize it. 

Our attention is perhaps our greatest asset and one of the determining factors of truly fulfilling work. Yet, in what some experts call the “attention economy,” attention is a rapidly dwindling resource. 

The danger here is that, without consciously shaping our days and focusing our attention, we can quickly slip into a reactionary mindset that leads to overwork, underperformance, and burnout. Despite your best efforts or grit, your productivity or multitasking mentality, you may find yourself lacking the time, energy, or focus to pursue meaningful and nurture truly innovative ideas. 

So, what does it take to redirect our focus to the projects that really matter and feel fulfilled?


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Wonder Interventions at Work

In his decades of research on the psychology of flow, Mihaly Cskiszentmihalyi has studied people who like to do things that they enjoy. He has studied athletes, artists, religious mystics, scientists, chess players, rock climbers, and ordinary working people. What keeps these creatives jazzed about what they do is not money, fame, or fancy titles but rather, how they feel while doing what they enjoy. 

We often hear the message that we work hard so we can play hard, but what if hard work can (and should) be playful? According to Cskiszentmihalyi, in order to find our flow and engage in deep work, we should seek out “risky and difficult activities” that stretch our imaginations, challenge our perceptions, and involve an element of novelty to breathe fresh life into our labors. In other words, discovery, delight, and wonder are key elements of meaningful and fulfilling work.

So, how can you increase your fulfillment at work and lead an excellent life?

Practice these three Wonder Interventions to bring more delight and emotional reward into your work and inspire creative action:


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Wondrous Insights from Quest2020

Hello Questers and Wonder Trackers!

December has flown by and we find ourselves in the last week of Quest2020. For those of you who aren’t participating in our annual reflective journey called Quest, our community of change-makers from around the globe have been examining how they can shed old habits that no longer serve them so they can design a year with more purpose, openness, and curiosity in four areas: LIFE | WORK | MAKE | LOVE.

We have been impressed by the insightful and inspiring posts from the Quest community this year. To celebrate all we’ve accomplished so far, I wanted to highlight some of the ideas and reflections from this year’s Questers.


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What kind of Wonder Tracker are you?

The holiday season is upon us. That means the New Year (and the resolutions that come with it) are right around the corner.

While we make our resolutions with the best of intentions, too often December arrives and we find ourselves no closer to our goals than one year ago. We can feel confused, uninspired, or directionless. So how can we reignite our passions and reinvigorate our commitment to pursuing them? You guessed it: wonder.

A sense of true wonder is the one human experience that dissolves our habitual ways of perceiving problems—in work, relationships, and life—so we can conceive radically new solutions. Beyond grit, focus, and 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, wonder is the surprising advantage of the people who describe themselves as fulfilled and living with purpose.

Find out how much curiosity, openness, and wonder you have in your life.

Take the Wonder Quiz here:

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If you’re looking for a collaborative pack to share ideas with, a community to lift you up, offer feedback and help you step into doing your best work, I invite you to join our Tracking Wonder Quest2020 Experience.

Quest2020 is a free, month-long online experience designed to help you plan for a year of delight, wonder, curiosity, and creativity. 

As a Quester, you’ll gain access to exclusive conversations between Jeffrey and top influential Quest Visionaries on how to design your life, work, creative projects, and contributions to our culture at large for a year of purpose, wonder, and radical openness. Plus, you’ll be part of a smart-hearted community where you will receive the perspective, encouragement, and accountability to help you create more positive habits and reach your goals.

Ready to join the Quest? Take the pledge and we’ll follow up with more information shortly.

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5 Ways to Rebrand with Integrity

Businesses can get off-track. They can make a bad marketing move, have a product backfire, lose customers, form clunky partnerships. If you’re a small business or personal brand, getting off-track might be similar yet on a smaller scale. You’ll feel it if your business is losing customers, clients, community members. If that’s the case, it might be time for a rebrand. 

Rebranding is tricky, and the process can look different for everyone. Yet over the years, I’ve developed a few strategies that hold true no matter the approach. I’ve gathered tips to guide you, but first I recommend you assess whether it is the right time for you to rebrand. If it is, then I suggest you sit in a quiet place, find a pen and a notebook, and outline your rebranding roadmap with these practices and questions:


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10 Tips to Shape an Excellent, Authentic Life

Photo by Swapnil Dwivedi. Unsplash.

In his foreword for Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude, best-selling author and business advisor Jim Collins writes, “If leadership begins not with what you do but who you are, then when and how do you escape the noise [of our times] to find your purpose and summon the strength to pursue it?”

In today’s tech-fueled culture, this question is perhaps more poignant than ever. Each day digital distractions, 60-plus-hour work weeks (many of those in front of screens), and a barrage of daily news subtly warp our own point of view. It can be profoundly challenging to hear ourselves think, let alone carve out our own distinct identity. Self-knowledge can give you the courage to forge ahead with your most impactful work, the confidence to persist, the discipline to master your self and the skills to shape your days with intention. 

The hardest part of this work seems to be finding the time to get to know your self. Yet to excel at our work and to foster an excellent life, we must develop and learn to listen to – to trust – our own voice of authority. 


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Introducing Season 3 of the Tracking Wonder Podcast: The Beauty of an Excellent Life

What drives us to excel – to wake up wanting to get just a little better at our work, at our art, at the way we shape our daily as fluidly as an artist shaping clay?

Almost all of us want to get better at something, whether it is being a better business owner or painter, prototyper or parent. Inherent in this desire to improve ourselves is the drive to excel. Too often, we think excellence requires nothing more than nose to the grindstone, grueling work and we wind up missing the beautiful moments in front of us. 


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How Brands Build Trust Through Transparency and Cynical Optimism

Between recent corporate scandals, media fragmentation, and massive data breaches, it comes as no surprise that Americans have little faith in our institutions. According to this 2018 Gallup poll, only 40% of the population has confidence in the US government. That’s less than our degree of trust in Amazon. The figure is even lower when it comes to faith in religion (36%), banks (30%), and media (23%). 

I put these four – government, religion, finance, and media – together because these are the cultural institutions that have the most influence on how people make meaning of their everyday lives. The increased cynicism of recent years tempts us to detach: to disengage further from a society we don’t believe operates in our best interest. But with our trust in institutions at an all-time low, businesses have an opportunity not only to increase earnings, but to create genuine purpose as well. In fact, there are interesting trends in whom Americans invest their trust these days that should get your attention – if not your conscience – as a brand.


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Unlocking Impactful Creative Ideas Through Radical Openness

The act of making an idea into an impactful endeavor lights up every “cylinder” in us.  As psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (who coined the term “flow”) said in his 2008 TED talk, “When we are involved in [creativity], we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.” You seek this sense of fullness through imagination, artistic expression, and even subconsciously through the quirky ideas pop into your head unbidden every once in a while. Yet you don’t pursue them, or you complete your project only to stow it away in the attic of your mind thinking “maybe someday.” You hide what could be your most potent ideas, not only from yourself, but from others that could benefit from them. Why?

When we surveyed our global community of readers on this topic, we were surprised by the answer. I had thought that lack of time or resources or support might have topped the list. Instead, what held back these accomplished professionals, published authors, smart consultants and coaches and knowledge workers and leaders was this:

Fear. Fear of judgment, rejection, backlash, failure. 

The fear of revealing our unique ideas to the world holds us back from growth and discovery. Many of us have potentially brilliant ideas. Many of us have the potential to make a rippling difference in this world with our endeavors. Yet what separates the people whose ideas ripple from others is this: they work with their fear and reveal the innermost workings of their minds. They practice radical openness.


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