The Power of Focus

Accomplish what's most important by being present where you are.

We are more connected than ever. I don't know about you, but if someone wants to reach me they can call me on one of two cell phones, or on our business phone. They can e-mail me and I can read that on my phones, my iPad or my computer. They can text me or use instant message. Wouldn't one think with being SO connected I would be REALLY productive? But sometimes that goes the other way. 

Technology has blurred the boundaries and sometimes circumvents our priorities. If your wife has ever asked you to stop looking at your phone during dinner, you know what I mean. The biggest cost to this constant connection is a loss of productivity. 

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review (which you can read online while planting this spring) neuroscience has demonstrated that there is no such thing as "multi-tasking". What we describe as multi-tasking is simply the rapid shift of attention from one topic to another topic and back again. Research has found that switching from one task to another results in a 25% increase in completion time.

Wow! You thought you were getting more done by doing two things at the same time.

In addition to reducing efficiency, we are burning our limited reservoirs of energy.

Managing this has everything to do with being present where you are. A 15-minute conversation that you have given your full attention to is more productive than 30 minutes spent with someone where you are distracted by your phone and email.

Here are three things you can do to increase your focus:

  1. Plan tomorrow, today. Identify the handful of "must dos" for the next day and schedule them on your calendar. Set aside 30-90 minutes to focus your energy on getting into the project. Having it planned before you show up for work allows you to get momentum and avoid the time killer of – "What should I do today?"
  2. Turn off distractors. Many of our computers and phones are programmed to grab our attention via dings, bells, icons, pop-ups, etc. Take back control of your attention by turning sound notifications off. Periodically check your email on your schedule. 
  3. Schedule long-term thinking. Once a week schedule time to dig deeper into what's really important. You may need to get away from your usual environment to help you to focus on creative thinking. Concentrate on big picture thinking to ensure your day-to-day activities are keeping you on track toward what is most important.

The two main rules are to be intentional and be engaged. Great things don't happen by accident, they require intent. Being intentional, coupled with managing your attention, will help keep you out of the gray zone of distraction, perhaps even out of the doghouse.

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