The new year often means making resolutions for personal and professional life. Using #OneWord2017 can be a way to choose an overarching goal for the year. What might you choose as your #OneWord2017?

I first learned of the One Word approach a couple of years ago, and since then I’ve used it myself, but privately. I’ve never shared that single word. My excuses include, “I got busy,” “I’m not sure it’s good enough,” and “I need the right moment to share it.” No more excuses: this year, I’m sharing my #OneWord2017: Focus.

I’ve toyed with lots of possibilities. I nearly went with believe. When we act on belief, we act in the positive. We don’t leave room for doubts. When I compared belief with focus, however, the concept of focus is more critical for me right now. I already act in belief. What I’ve been feeling lately, though, is stress and anxiety. Professionally, I’m involved in several different initiatives. I already believe in their value; each benefits my students and me. My problem has been one of looking at all of them together, rather than focusing on one at a time. The idea of being mindful, attentive to a single task or goal, is not only appealing, it’s critical for me continuing to balance both professional and personal lives.

There a number of ways focus will help me improve, learn, and grow. By being present in the activity at hand, I am working most efficiently on that task, whether it’s listening to important information or collaborating to solve a problem. This means I need to do the following:

1. When I’m teaching, I’m focused on my students, and my students and our work alone. It sounds obvious and straightforward. Yet our easy access to technology makes it far too easy to become distracted. The illusion of efficiency through multitasking is tempting. After all, if the class in front of me is reading a short story, why can’t I provide feedback on those essays the other class has in progress? When I am present with my students, I am sending them the message that they are vitally important. I am aware and available to answer questions and offer guidance. Our time together is more important than a message from someone in my email or a to-do list sitting on my desk.

2. When I’m in a meeting with my colleagues, I am focused on the work we are doing, whether it is lesson planning, discussing recent assessment results, or planning an adjusted schedule to better accommodate a guest speaker. It sends my colleagues the same message it sends my students: they are vitally important. Being fully focused on the tasks at hand will also save me from having to look back through notes or emails to find that information I missed because I was multitasking during a meeting.

3. When I’m involved in professional development, whether face-to-face, in webinars, or on Twitter, I am again fully focused on the moment. I will get more out of the experience if I’m invested in it fully.

4. When I’m with family and friends, I am listening and participating in our time together. I am not checking my work or personal email. I am not participating in a Twitter discussion. I am not mentally rehearsing that conference I’m having in the morning. I am with my family or friends, enjoying their company.

5. When I’m involved in an activity for my own health and well-being, whether that is exercise or a hobby like quilting, scrapbooking, or reading, I am again fully focused on the activity. I might choose to have music or television on while I’m doing these things, but I am not checking email, following a discussion on Twitter, or checking Facebook. When am I fully focused on the activity, then it becomes the relaxing yet productive pastime that attracted me to it in the first place. It’s okay to spend time in these creative ventures. They recharge me, and we’re seeing more and more how important this kind of self-care is for us.

In 2017, my overarching principle is one of focus. I will be much more mindful of my actions and attention. I will be present in the task at hand, rather than trying to address several activities at once. From time to time, I will need to look at the big picture and consider all I have in front of me, but then I need to change my focus to the single tasks and events, taking responsibility for one at a time. By practicing mindfulness and focus, I will continue to stretch, grow, and find the joy in the journey.

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