Focus or Distractions?
This is not our first edition dedicated to this topic. But we notice issues that come up in our coaching work that give us another reason to create an article about it. Focus is what drives results. It’s that simple. If you are a business owner and also feel that spending six to eight hours a week supporting another project is somehow in your long-term interest this means you have to take your focus off your main project. But it’s important to value your time based on your future objectives, not your current circumstances. Here’s what Jeffrey Hayzlett has to say about this topic…
I've filtered the noise to focus quickly and efficiently on what needs to be addressed. I don't want to waste time thinking about the thousands of choices I could make when the choice I make is good enough. These decisions aren't what matters to thinking big and acting bigger. Since I have a constant awareness of and real clarity about what drives my business and me, I'm able to focus quickly on easy answers, which is good because focus can be a real problem for people like me, who look at a blank wall and see opportunity.
Jeffrey wrote this book on this topic and we highly recommend it. His view is the same as ours. It’s easy to be distracted in today’s reality. Between books, magazines, TV, radio, Satellite radio, newspapers, journals, news shows, news stations, newsletters PLUS the Internet and you start to get the picture.
Now add in the fact that most successful business owners have a certain amount of ADD in their DNA and you really start to get the picture. Focus is important.
The average person will wake up, stumble over to a phone, and immediately get lost in a stream of pointless notifications. This digital haze will continue throughout the day, keeping us from accomplishing important tasks. We get distracted, anxious, and ineffective as a leader. Most of us know we need to change but it is not easy to break free from the behaviors that keep us locked into the same cycle. This problem is not unusual. Executives across the world stumble through each day in much the same way. Two major challenges are destroying our ability to focus.
First, we increasingly are overwhelmed with distractions flying at us from various connected devices. Smartphone and tablet use is spiking, and we now use digital media for an average of over 12 hours per day. This hyperconnected state does not allow us to process, recharge, and refocus.
Second, we rely excessively on meetings as the default form of interaction with other people at work. Studies indicate that we spend anywhere from 35%–55% of our time, and sometimes much more, in meetings. If we want to stay focused on truly meaningful activity, any meeting has to have a purpose.
You and your business will benefit greatly if you can address these issues. You and everyone on your team will enjoy their work more and accomplish more. The data echoes what our common sense tells us: We need to carve out more time for ourselves if we want to remain focused and effective at work. These five daily practices from William Treseder will help:
The single biggest mistake most of us make is how we start our day. Do you immediately roll over and start checking email on your phone? Bad idea, according to Stanford psychologist Emma Seppälä, author of THE HAPPINESS TRACK. As she said in an email interview, “By constantly engaging our stress response [when we check our phones], we ironically are impairing the very cognitive abilities — like memory and attention — that we so desperately need.”
So, what should you do? Start trying a simple mindfulness practice when you wake up, which can be anything from quietly taking a few deep breaths to meditating for 20 or 30 minutes. Dr. Seppälä explains why this is so important: “Meditation is a way to train your nervous system to calm despite the stress of our daily lives. When you are calmer, you are more emotionally intelligent and make better decisions.” We also recommend turning off the TV and radio. Significantly reduce your consumption of daily news, and avoid negative conversations that have nothing to do with your objectives.
Another common mistake is letting other people fill in your calendar, particularly in the morning. You have to make sure you leave enough time to accomplish complex, creative tasks. As an entrepreneur, investor, and Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham described in “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule,” his now-famous 2009 post, “a single meeting can blow [an entire day] by breaking it into two pieces, each too small to do anything [meaningful] in.” Creative tasks require dedicated time when you are fresh, not a few distracted minutes squeezed in between meetings. We all love to think we can multitask effectively, but research shows conclusively that we are terrible at it.
Instead of struggling to accomplish what matters, you can take advantage of your body’s natural rhythms. Focus on complex, creative tasks in the morning; these things will tend to be ones you accomplish individually or with 2–3 other people. Push all other meetings to the afternoon. These simpler, execution-focused meetings with larger groups are easier to handle.
Is your desk a mess? What about the desktop of your computer? Your smartphone’s home screen? These areas might seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but your environment affects your productivity and quality of work in ways we are just starting to understand. Tidying up has a big impact, as indicated by the runaway success of Marie Kondo’s book THE LIFECHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP. And it’s not just for civilians. When (now retired) Navy SEAL Admiral William McRaven gave a commencement address at the University of Texas at Austin in 2014, his most important piece of advice was to make your bed.
Keeping a clean work environment, both physical and digital, is essential to your ability to stay focused. At work, put everything in a drawer. Create folders on your desktop to get rid of all the random files, and keep only the most important 8–12 apps on your home screen. Turn off all unnecessary notifications on your cell phone. You can find help online for both Apple and Android. Don’t let yourself get distracted by all the clutter — you will stay focused for much longer.
How many people were at your last meeting? More importantly, how many of them were actually involved in the creation or fulfillment of deliverables from that meeting? This question might seem like a strange way to stay focused, but countless studies have shown the benefits of smaller teams. Focus and responsibility are more challenging with too many people — which is how you end up with folks staring down silently at their laptops for an entire meeting.
One reason so many people have a hard time staying focused is a lack of margin. You cannot be on top of your game if you run from meeting to meeting. Switching tasks and contexts is difficult for the human brain at any time, and that ability degrades throughout the day. For busy executives, this means up to 70% of their time at work is wasted.
If you want to avoid wasting time and burning out, add buffer time between each meeting. For every 45–60 minutes you spend in a meeting, make sure to take 15 minutes or more to process, reflect, and prioritize. This will keep you from wasting time. It will also avoid the burned-out feeling that many of us have at the end of each long day. And it should be an easy sell to your other team leaders and managers: They can also benefit by also adopting this scheduling tactic.
In summary, we want to thank several subject matter experts for content to help illustrate ways to address focus. William Treseder and Paul Graham among many, are experts in this topic of managing distractions in the world of business. As William says; “Staying focused at work is not easy, but it is doable. These five practical techniques will help you stay on task, accomplish what matters, and enjoy yourself more throughout the day.” We could not agree more.
Think Big Do Bigger text on notebook with glowing light bulb
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Will Robertson, Founder / CEO, Jay McDowell, President / MBA and Lisa Walker, Senior Partner, are doing business as Performance Strategies, Inc. Our offices are located at 1231 E. Dyer Road, Suite 215, Santa Ana, CA 92705. You can reach us 562-577-7000. Our E-Mail addresses: Will@PS-MCG.com and Jay@PS-MCG.com and Lisa@PS-MCG.com
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