A Guide To Maintaining FocusDec 23, 2021
Do you have difficulty maintaining focus, paying attention to the business at hand or being present and in the moment? Often there are so many things going through our minds that we just simply get overwhelmed by it all. We allow ourselves to focus on the distractions, give power to the outside noise and therefore have difficulty staying focused.
No matter if the culprit is fatigue, distractions, lack of motivation, or something else, our inability to focus causes our productivity to wane and we limit our chances and degree of successes.
Often we really think we are doing the right thing by letting these things rob us of focused attention to what is important. When we are feeling pressured or stressed or overwhelmed or overloaded, it is easy to lose sight of our priorities.
Taking care of your mental state and your body, is just as important as powering through work and checking the items off our “To Do” list. By identifying and eliminating distractions, investing time and effort in maintaining physical exercise, and investing in our mental wellbeing, you can improve your productive time and accomplish much more.
If you are having difficulty maintaining focus, try some of the tips in this guide to create a positive result.
First of all, you have to identify the distractions.
You need to ask yourself specific questions and interrogate your reality to help keep you honest with yourself. The only person that is hurt, is you, if you aren’t honest and authentic. So, ask yourself questions that will help you get to the root of what causes your distractions.
Are there areas in my life that I always maintain focus? Are there areas of my life where I easily lose focus? What are the differences between the two?
One of the things that may distract you could be your physical location. Many of us are working from home due to the pandemic and this has caused a definite change in our workplace and our ability to stay on task. The distractions at home can be much more plentiful than in the office if you have others living in your home.
Children simply to do not understand why they can’t be sitting in your lap while you lead a very important project update meeting. The dog does not always choose the best time to bark or need to go out! Even our spouses can distract us at times.
One of the best gifts you can give yourself is to make the right decision about where to set up your home office. Many of us do not have a lot of extra room in our homes to do this so being smart about it really helps our mental wellbeing and cuts down on the distractions.
Where are the quietest places in your home and where do you think you can accomplish work tasks/meetings? Take a look around and evaluate the right place for you to work. If you have an extra bedroom you can use it for an office by using a small section in the room to set up shop. Another idea is to use the walk-in closet if you have one. It actually is a great idea because you can close the door for privacy when needed and no one will ever know it’s a closet!
If you have an open floor plan or a very small apartment, consider using a room partition for privacy or to separate the workspace from the rest of the room. These ideas will also help with work-life balance (which I will cover in my next blog.)
The idea is to separate yourself from anything that could distract you and it could distract others if you are on a conference call. To make sure that you improve your focus and therefore increase your productivity, it’s important to set boundaries, both mentally and physically, with the family. If you keep your workspace separate and/or away from the area in your home that your family spends the most time, you have a greater chance of maintaining focus.
Clutter: Mental and Physical
One of the things that can distract us is clutter! It affects our ability to think, focus or see things clearly. Because we have had to work from home due to the pandemic, most of us understand how easily we can get distracted by any clutter or messiness in the home. That is why identifying the distractions is so important and why setting up our office as a separate environment free from distractions is essential.
As we prepare to or are already migrating back to our offices, we need to consider that there are also a lot of things that distract you in an office. One is social time with coworkers. We’ve all been away from each other so long and when people come to your office door you will feel the need to reconnect. So take the time to do that because it will be good for both of you.
After reconnecting, if they stopped by because of business, that’s great, get right to it. If it is not business, you can ask them politely if you can continue later because you are on a deadline. You also have to make sure that you are keeping your head clear of any clutter. Later, I will talk about prioritization and some other things but for now let’s talk about mind clutter.
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the long to-do list so it is very important that you keep your list short. I recommend that you only have the items on the list that you can realistically get to TODAY. That means the list may only have 3 – 7 items on it. And that’s perfectly acceptable. It allows you to stay focused on what is most important today and it keeps you from getting bogged down by the amount of work you have to do.
One of the best things you can do for yourself when working from home is to get organized and make it a top priority. Making sure your home is free from clutter will likely increase your productivity and will help keep you from losing your mind while working in a small space.
First, start with organizing your office files, paper and supplies. Try to digitize as much as possible to reduce the amount of clutter on and around the workspace.
Secondly, keep it simple and clutter free. Declutter your workspace and tidy up your desk regularly. You will be surprised how much more clarity you will have once you do this. It is very cathartic to have a clutter-free space around you and it allows for more freedom of thought.
Thirdly, set clear boundaries with both your coworkers and your family and stick to them! It is easy to set boundaries and difficult to be true to them. It is one of the most important lessons we can learn. Being clear about our boundaries and firm about sticking to them, sends the message to ourselves that we matter. This is beneficial both mentally and emotionally. Remember, to thine own self be true, and claim your boundaries!
Our Body Clock
Is there a specific time of the day that you get distracted? I ask this question because we all have different body clocks. Some are morning people and have lots of energy, some are midday people and others are night owls. I’m a morning person and do my best thinking and creative work early in the morning. That’s why I like to get up one hour before any calls, because my creative and thinking time is most productive then. I will often have a drop in energy usually between 3:00 and 5:00 in the afternoon.
So, ask yourself, is there a specific time of day that you get distracted and a time when you successfully maintain focus. Knowing the time of day that you more successfully maintain focus is important in planning your day. You want to work on the more difficult challenges, high priority projects or any problem-solving activities when you are most productive. Keep the easier tasks for when you have less energy and focus.
Once you have determined your most productive time of day, then block out your calendar for “Focus Time” so that you will minimize the number of meetings that get scheduled during your most productive time. This alone will help increase your ability to maintain focus and thereby get more done on any given day! You will also keep the clutter to a minimum!
The Multi-Tasking Myth
When we get overwhelmed, overloaded or overbooked, it is so tempting to try to multi-task. If you are working on maintaining or improving focus, this is absolutely one of the worst things you can do. I call it a distraction because just the act of multi-tasking is distracting to our minds. While it seems that this is a good idea and that multitaskers are better at their jobs, yet several studies have indicated that it actually hurts productivity.
In a McGraw-Hill Higher Education article titled “Multitasking: Helpful or Harmful?”, they mention a study that suggests that constantly checking your smartphone while doing other work makes people more absentminded in their daily lives – and absentminded distraction is likelier to hinder job performance than to help.
Multitasking causes you to lose focus more easily because it is difficult to focus on two things at once. If you are trying to do emails during a conference call, you are more likely to miss important topics being discussed while possibly omitting very important information from the email. Either of these things can damage your reputation and your brand whether you are in business for yourself or you work for a company.
If you are still not convinced, try this exercise. Simultaneously say your ABC’s while writing your numbers, 123….. Make sure you are doing this AT THE EXACT SAME TIME. My guess is that you are alternating letters then numbers or vice versa. Our brains are not designed to do two things at once. That is why distractions have such a negative impact on our ability to focus.
We spoke about our to-do list earlier in order to minimize how many items we have on them daily. Having a To-Do list is a great way to make sure you maintain focus and stay on track to hit deadlines. Overdoing a To-Do list can lead to overwhelm and distract us from what we actually need to get done today!
Why not have a To-Do list for each day? There are many productivity tools that you can use like your calendar. No matter which calendar app you use, there is a way to keep your tasks for the day right in the calendar. This will allow you to keep an electronic list and is easier to transfer any incomplete tasks to the next day. It should be your goal that this should happen rarely. That means that you are staying focused on what needs to be done today and completing those tasks.
Are there specific triggers that cause you to lose focus? Triggers are events, thoughts or people that cause us to act in a certain way. These can be both positive and negative. For instance, if someone calls and gets us really upset or stressed out, the first action we take is usually automatic and triggered by the upset or stress.
These same types of triggers or interruptions can cause you to lose focus. Pay attention to these triggers and behaviors over the next week or so and write them down. Then answer the above question to determine if there are certain triggers that cause you to be distracted or lose focus.
There are many things that may fit into this category and they can be very personal so I don’t want to give you a list of other distractions that may influence your thinking. The key is to observe and record in an intentional way. Be honest with yourself when something distracts you no matter what it may be. This will help you eliminate as many distractions as you can. Maybe this could become a regular activity for you to maintain focus and reduce the distractions in real time.
Motivators That Help Us Maintain Focus
Just like there are distractions that take us away from our focused activities, there are also motivators that help us stay energized and maintain our focus. Think about the things that cause you to always maintain focus. How does it make you feel when you think about those areas? Are you feeling energized? Do you feel, like, “I want to get up and go do something right now” or “I want to sit and read that article” or “I want to make those phone calls that I need to make.” Whatever it is, does it get you energized?
Now think about the areas in your life where you easily lose focus. Pay close attention to that as well. How does it make you feel? What happens with your energy level? What happens with your desire to take action? Are you thinking about putting it off or just sitting staring at your desk or laptop trying to take action?
My guess is that the difference in energy level is dramatically different from the areas that you maintain focus and the areas in which you easily lose focus. So, check your motivation and your confidence. After you’ve asked yourself all these questions, think about them specifically. The answers should give you insight into how to keep yourself motivated and help you maintain focus.
If you are a small business owner, how confident are you that you’re in the business of your choice? One of my favorite sayings is from Confucius, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” (I think Mark Twain saidAre you absolutely confident that you are doing what you love? And the answer may very well be Yes. If so, use this guide to help you maintain your focus.
If the answer is No, then you need to do some soul searching to make sure you are doing what you were created to do!
If you work for a company, how sure are you that you are in the role that best suits you? Are you confident that you are on the right career path? Are you being intentional about that?
This topic may seem like a departure from maintaining focus but the answers to these questions can help to explain your ability or inability to maintain focus at work.
The third question is, are there parts of your business or job that you like better than other parts?
Think about this and be a little introspective to better understand those triggers that cause you to lose focus. Really understand them. It will make all the difference in how you approach your days, weeks and months ahead. You will begin to find it easier to maintain focus and accomplish your goals and dreams.
Give Yourself the Gift of Focus
We’ve talked about a lot of ideas that can help you maintain focus and we may have stirred some additional thoughts and triggers with those questions. Really understanding those triggers can help you in so many areas of life and career. Get clear about what you really love about your business or career. What is it that you really love?
One of the things I think we need is accountability. Who is in your personal or professional life that can and will hold you accountable? Really hold you accountable with authenticity and without malice. I mean, truly hold you accountable for making smart decisions, for staying focused - all of those things.
Identify these people and ask them to be your accountability partner. You must give them permission to be completely honest with you while you remain totally open to their feedback.
Another way is to get a coach. Some companies will provide a coach for you if you reach out to the talent development team. You can also hire one directly.
So, let’s review some things you can do to maintain your focus.
Identify the Distractions: as we discussed there are so many things that distract us from our focus. The best way to address an issue or solve a problem is to identify it, name it and take action to change it.
Motivators: once we understand what motivates us it is easier to maintain focus by keeping these things front of mind.
The Gift of Focus: incorporating focus into your daily life is one of the best gifts you can give yourself and the side-effect is that you become more productive and successful in every area of your life.
Make sure you are taking action on the tips in this guide. Each day is a new day and will find us with new challenges. Maintaining focus while at work can be challenging and yet we are committed to help you achieve your goals and be as successful as you can be.
My greatest joy is helping clients become people who lead. My mission is to help people grow into the strong, successful people that I know they can be. My passion is building great talent while building authentic and long-lasting relationships! I also love using my experience as both a corporate executive and an entrepreneur to provide actionable feedback that helps people reach new heights no matter if that is working in the corporate world or as an entrepreneur or as a stay-at-home parent! I start right where you are and we grow from there!
Growing up in a small town, I often found myself wondering if there were more to the world than this. After being given opportunities to lead, I genuinely felt like I was in my element for the first time in my life. I decided it was time to break free of my limitations and become the person I knew I was meant to be—confident to build a career that I had always imagined.
I have had a career signature of being asked by senior corporate leaders such as Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, and Rick Wagoner to assume advisor-consultant roles with clients and executive teams. I was recruited by The Walt Disney Company to coach executives and worked jointly with their leadership to create career development plans for Disney’s Enterprise IT group.
As a recognized leader and mentor, I hold more than 20 years’ experience building relationships, developing teams, and coaching associates to success.
You can contact me via email at [email protected].
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