If you are a reader of Joyfully Jobless News, this may be familiar.  When I came across it again the other day, I decided it was worth a second visit. This simple idea has added enormously to my productivity and fun.


The sky was overcast and the wind was frigid, but there we stood huddled together with hundreds of others for three shivering hours. It was our second day in Amsterdam and we were in line to see what we had come for—the Van Gogh Museum.

My siblings and I had been planning this trip for months. Hundreds of emails hammered out the details. Eventually, a theme emerged.

What began as a trip to Provence evolved into what I named Stalking Van Gogh. As it turned out, we not only stalked, we shivered.

My brother Jim is the painter in our family and had been an admirer for years. I had rather recently discovered my passion for Van Gogh’s work and wanted to see as many paintings as I could with my own two eyes.

I decided the time had come to finally read Irving Stone’s Lust for Life, a fictional account of the artist’s life. Of course, it added to my enthusiasm for the upcoming voyage.

After Amsterdam, we traveled by train (my favorite way to go) to Provence where we spent a week in St. Remy which is also the location of the asylum where Van Gogh did some of his most prolific work. We visited Arles, dined at the Yellow Cafe featured in one of his well-known paintings, saw other places he’d painted there.

We ended our stay with four days in Paris. Unbeknownst to us, a glorious surprise was waiting for us there.

On our first day, a Sunday, we headed to Musee d’Orsay, oblivious to the fact that an enormous exhibit was running with Van Gogh’s work gathered from around the world. Paintings from museums and private collections adorned several rooms in the museum.

It was hard to leave all that magnificence, but having spent all that time with Van Gogh as a focus, made the trip extraordinary. It was not the first time, however, that I’d taken a trip with a special focus as my guide.

When I first began traveling to London, I decided that instead of just going there, each trip would have a theme. One time I explored gardens. Another time it was architecture. Then there was one of my favorite visits when I scouted booklover’s London.

I started assigning themes to other projects and discovered that getting things done  got easier. You’ve probably used this yourself, perhaps when you decided to throw a party and then got the idea to give it a theme. Suddenly, ideas and resources became visible.

You may even discover that necessary, but boring, projects become less unpleasant once you give them a title. For example, I decided to begin a daily uncluttering project and although I knew it was a good idea, I wasn’t feeling a lot of enthusiasm about it until I named it Lighten Up.

A well-chosen theme reminds us of our ultimate goal. It gives us the big picture.

Whether you are starting a new exercise program or creating another profit center or building your speaking skills, start by naming the theme. Decision-making becomes easier. You’ll waste less time doing things that don’t fit. Focus comes naturally.

Best of all, a theme unlocks your imagination.

One Response to “A Simple Tool to Sharpen Your Focus”

  1. Peggy Fall

    I was just on a weekly call with a small group of friends and colleagues — our Success Group — and we ended by talking about focus — how challenging it can be when there are so many things we either want or need to do. I have a theme for the year and think I may want to use your tip Barbara and create some mini-themes. I love the Lighten Up theme! Thanks for sharing.

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