How to Focus on Work as Well as My Cat Focuses on Watching Birds

Kyla Bills

Focus can be hard in the digital age. When you log into work in the morning, the notifications can feel overwhelming. As Lady Gaga would say, “Every night. No sleep! Bus, club, 'nother club, 'nother club, plane, next place.” But more like, “Email, Twitter notification, Slack message, another Slack message, lunch at your desk, next meeting.” Getting into deep work can be difficult.

But then I look at Willow, my tiny cat. Every day she sits by the windowsill for hours, body tense and alert, watching the birds come to my fire escape. While she has never been an outdoor cat, there’s something in her brain that tells her to be on high alert, high focus for hours a day. It’s inspiring! I wish I could do it. But instead of giving in to jealousy, I’ve decided to learn from her.

1. Low distractions lead to high focus

My cat’s prime time for bird watching is when I’m working at my desk quietly a few feet away. The quiet is key. It’s way too hard for her to focus when I’m on a call or I need to make my bed so my meeting background isn’t dirty sheets. In general, finding a space to stay still and be quiet is key to really focusing.

2. Willow doesn’t need the internet all the time, do you?

My cat hates computers. If I leave my laptop near her she’ll sit on the keyboard until it overheats and turns off. Maybe she’s a Ludditte, but (as we know) Luddittes were kind of right. Maybe try a pad of paper and a pen if you really need some time to think. I promise, the real world can just be as engaging as the internet—especially if you’re hunting birds.

3. Set goals and dedicate yourself to them

While my cat will probably never meet her goal of catching a bird on my fire escape because I do have a window and a screen, her daily dedication is inspiring.

4. Know when to stop for the day

When the sun starts to set upsettingly early and it’s almost feeding hour, Willow knows it’s time to take a break. She’ll be back tomorrow, but you can’t force focus. Have a snack, take a nap, run around the house at a terrifying speed with your claws out. Then come back the next day with your energy replenished.

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