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The Lost Art of Being Able to Focus


With All The Information Coming At Us, It Is More Difficult To Focus On What Is Important. 

By Steve Schumacher

In my consulting business, I travel throughout North America. I work with a number of different companies and levels of management. Those levels of management include all types of people and all ages as well. One common characteristic of nearly every group I work with is the lack of ability to focus on the various tasks at hand, and make the most effective use of time.

I completely understand this situation, and even find myself losing focus from time to time. One of the primary reasons for this is the sheer volume of information and communication that comes at us 24/7.

We all have increasing demands on our time through email, texts, conference calls, go-to meetings, etc. It seems that the busier we are, the more we seem to get additional tasks piled on us. Everyone seems to be jumping from task to task, not spending time to fully work through issues.

The standard operating procedure seems to be getting it done now. This sense of urgency puts us in situations where we seem to be running around with massive fire hoses, putting out all of the flames that are burning around our ankles.

There are numerous studies that tell us that jumping from task to task, from email to email, makes us feel like we are being productive. The reality is that we are touching a lot of projects, but the quality of each project suffers because of our lack of focus on each one. We go home at the end of the day feeling like we were incredibly busy, yet we did not really get much accomplished.

If you feel that way at times, here are some areas that you might consider taking not of in order to increase your ability
to focus on your work:

Plan your days. I have met people at both ends of the planning spectrum. Those who plan every minute and those who fly by the seat of their pants. Good planning falls somewhere in between. Take 15 minutes at the start of each day and map out what you want to accomplish that day.

Yes, there will be interruptions, but take them in stride and get back to your plan. Learn to prioritize tasks and spend 80 percent of your time working on the high payoff items. Plan your work and work your plan.

Block time for emails and phone calls. Many of us have ready access to emails. Either on our phone or on our computer, or both. It is very tempting to respond to everything as it comes in. Resist that urge. Try to set aside blocks of time to handle all your email and make, or return, phone calls.

Do not let yourself get caught in the activity trap of responding to low-priority emails. Learn to trash them or delegate them. Let your colleagues know the times you are available to respond.

Manage yourself in meetings. Everyone has meetings to attend. Some are productive and some are a complete waste of time. For the bad meetings, try to find some value that you can add. Participate as an active member, do not just complain. If you can get out of bad meetings, do it. Attending a bunch of worthless meetings gives you a bad attitude, which hampers your ability to focus.

If you run meetings, make them as productive as possible with agendas and action items. Have clear meeting objectives that force people to focus.

Learn to say no. Unless it is your boss making requests of you, learn to push back requests that take your time and lessen your ability to focus. Do it in a manner that is assertive, yet does not alienate the person that is making the request. They will appreciate your professionalism.

In this world of constant frenzy, the ability to focus and be productive with your time and energy will set you apart from everyone else. As a leader, it is important that you model the ability to focus for others. Putting all of your energy into the tasks at hand and staying productive will an edge in this highly competitive world of work.