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Wherever you are, be all there

Being present (paying attention to the here and now) and purposeful (taking actions to achieve some end) helps us to live more fulfilling lives. Jim Elliot once said, "wherever you are, be all there." While it is often painted on flowery backdrops and put on the walls of suburban homes, this quote holds useful advice for productivity and professional growth.

If you're doing something, you should apply all your efforts to that thing, and avoid distractions or other tasks. Turn off your phone, close your chat program, and just work. When your brain encounters a difficult task like learning a new skill or solving a challenging problem, it tries to avoid spending the energy on that hard thing. Instead, you'll suddenly feel the urge to check your text messages or open up Twitter. Your brain might start reminding you about the fact that you need to schedule a doctor's appointment or get your car washed. You've got to fight these urges, or you'll get derailed from the task at hand and become less productive. You will be more productive if you focus on and complete your current task and then apply all your focus to (for instance) scheduling a doctor's appointment than you would if you try to do both at once. To help avoid your brain's weakling pleas for relief from the mental workout, many people find it useful to set a timer for a set period of working on a specific task (see for example the Pomodoro technique).

This quote is also great career development advice. Wherever you find yourself professionally, you should use the resources at your disposal to your maximum advantage. Find the truly great people at your company and try to learn from them. Take them to coffee and ask them how they are so effective. Ask them to critique your work. Over the course of your daily interactions, observe how they handle situations you would be uncomfortable in. Beyond the people at your company, try to get yourself assigned to projects that stretch your abilities.

Life is more rewarding when we live purposefully in the present. By focusing on one task at a time and making the most of our resources, we can become better people and find more fulfillment.