Getting focused, not to mention staying focused, is almost impossible these days.
Try one or all of these 8 Ideas to Get More Done Without Working 8 Days/Week
Be An Orchestra Conductor
Over time, you’ve probably seen articles comparing orchestra conductors to leaders. It’s a great metaphor with a lot of embedded wisdom and insight. In a brief article I wrote many years ago, Leading by Listening? What a concept!, I refer to several similar concepts, but I think this phrase is a great mantra all leaders can follow:
It’s not about you. It’s about how the orchestra sounds under your direction.
I’ve long thought that pilots and orchestra conductors also have at least one powerful attribute in common.
Both of them are intensely focused while they’re doing their job. They block out everything, riveted to the outcome they seek. At least, that’s what I hope pilots are doing.
Intense Focus is actually refreshing
There is another phenomenon at work here, too.
Have you ever noticed how refreshing it is when you’re so focused on something that you lose track of time? I think your mind actually skips a few beats as it steps across some imaginary boundary and arrives somewhere that’s so consuming that nothing else matters.
What happened when I took flying lessons?
I know it happened when I took flying lessons many moons ago. When you add a few doses of fear (actually, a really big helping of it) to a lack of aeronautical knowledge and that great big earth below beckoning you to return in the gentlest of manners, it kinda keeps your attention. I was in another world, so focused I thought my brain would explode.
Like, really, really BIG TIME. I could have been living on another planet I was so focused on what I was doing.
Then, when I eventually landed (thanks to both God and my other copilot), I felt invigorated, so refreshed it was like I just returned from a vacation.
Fear will surely keep your focus tight
Fear is major source of focus, isn’t it? The fear of failing … or falling … is pretty much the same.
Whenever I see the powerful image below, my stomach turns to water. It’s one of my all-time favorite images and yet I am absolutely baffled when I watch these guy sitting around. They don’t look focused at all … more like they’re in the local pub playing darts. I often wonder if this image is real?
How about you?
The intense focus that keeps everything else out of your head is both a great relaxer and a refreshing monument to the power of focus.
We, too, should strive to gain the intense focus possessed by symphony conductors and airline pilots.
No room for distractions.
No room for lack of focus … failure is not an option … regardless of whether that fear is triggered by several thousand patrons or several hundred passengers.
Other Powerful Single-Focus Activities ...
There are other single focus activities that can be both powerful and refreshing:
- We know a pilot or symphony conductor is a great choice.
- Public speaking is a strange choice, but how often have you thought of anything outside of your presentation while you were giving it?
- What about an athlete in intense competition?
- Skydiving I hope. Without a parachute, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
- Reading an intense mystery or thriller novel can often transport you to a totally different world. It sure works for me.
What about our focus in the workplace?
Office workers are interrupted — or self-interrupt — roughly every three minutes, academic studies have found, with numerous distractions coming in both digital and human forms. (This article describes many other challenges as well as possible solutions.)
Once thrown off track, it can take some 23 minutes for a worker to return to the original task, says Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, who studies digital distraction.
Workplace distractions have always been around, so you can quit blaming technology and social media. They’re just different.
Decades ago, driven by the same dynamics we experience today, someone in our office was on a mission to implement “Quiet Time” using bright red signs shaped like stop signs. The idea was that you would stick one on your door, or near the opening to your cube (a concept very new about then), and everyone would honor it.
We tried it for an hour/day and it worked. No one was supposed to bother you, knock, visit, call … nothing unless, as I liked to say, there was blood on the floor. It still works today.
8 Concepts to Focus & Get More Done Without Working 8 Days a Week
We all get so much more done when we’re focused. Try any or all of these 8 Concepts to Get More Done without working 8 Days a Week.
1. Organize Your Workspace.
You don’t see conductors reading a book or pilots watching television while they’re focusing on their work. There is an intense, single focus on just that activity.
Organize your workspace accordingly.
2. Find another workspace.
If you can’t organize your own workspace?
Leave. Go somewhere else where the distractions aren’t in your face.
The old school view is that a coffee shop has too many distractions, but I’d submit that there are far fewer distractions than in your office. They are just of a different nature.
There is ambient noise but that can be almost soothing. It doesn’t create as much “interruptus” as much as it blocks out other distractions. Besides, if you’re working on your laptop or tablet, or even reading a document, you’ll be focused on that single activity and not the other hundred things lurking about your workspace.
3. One thing at a time.
Multitasking is a mirage. You think it’s there, helping you along, but it’s not. You can’t do more than one thing at a time.
In fact, I’ll bet you a dollar to a doughnut that if you focus on 5 things each over the course of an hour, you’ll make much more progress than paying attention to all of them, mixing them all around, over the same 60 minute period.
If you have any doubt about this, start with When Multitasking Makes You Happy and When It Doesn’t.
Still not convinced? Try Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work.
Still not enough? Consult The Google and be prepared for the tsunami when you look up “distractions” or “lack of focus”.
4. Get rid of the “open door policy”.
I know it makes you appear to be more accessible … maybe you’re actually more accessible … “one of the people” … but it also creates endless distractions.
Your job is not to be accessible 24/7 to anyone and everything.
I know many senior executives who proudly boast of their open door policy … but those are the same executives who are often late, documents go in but never come out … and any initiative in which they’re involved? Count on it to be very late indeed.
If you have to, have an open door for a few hours/day. Max.
5. Stop living in your inbox.
Check your inbox and social media site at the door.
Set a specific schedule and follow it.
Don’t worry, they’ll find you if there’s blood on the floor. Otherwise, whatever is there will await your attention. Unfortunately, it won’t leave without you.
People email you when it’s convenient for them, not when it fits into your schedule.
If you’re going to be an effective executive, you need manage your own agenda, on your time and in accordance with your schedule … so you can do the things that ONLY YOU can do.
6. Make lists. Follow them. Don’t deviate.
I’ve written often about the value of checklists. There’s a real no-brainer “proof of concept” there you don’t want to miss.
It can also keep you inside the guard rails. If your daily work list, in whatever form it takes, is complete, sticking to it, without careless or thoughtless distraction, can make all the difference.
7. Track your time
This is a time-honored way that probably harkens back to the dawn of the industrial age … that image of an engineer standing around with a stopwatch in hand.
If you’re really struggling and are at a loss for where you’re spending … or wasting your time … try keeping track of what you do over the course of one week. Don’t think about it, just write it down. At the end of the week, you’ll probably be surprised by how your week went.
8. Block out time
There are many ways to do this. I like the idea of blocking out 1-2 hours, first thing in the morning, to tackle the top priority for the day without looking up to see who’s looking for who to do what.
Tony Schwartz of The Energy Project describes his routine of creating a sacred 90 minute block of time for personal effectiveness, and hey, we’re all about effectiveness here, aren’t we?
You could also try blocking out multiple times throughout the day to focus more intently on specific projects.
On this subject, I’ve recently returned to a rigorous time blocking system which I now wish I had never left. I’ll tell you about it in a forthcoming article.
Each of these is a valuable nugget to strengthen your Productivity, but you don’t have to try to grab all of them. You’re already familiar with some of them, so use this summary as a handy checklist to make sure you’re consistently applying those that you know works well for you.
- Organize Your Workspace
- Find Another Workspace
- One Thing at a Time
- Get rid of the “Open Door Policy”
- Stop Living in Your Inbox
- Make Lists. Follow Them. Don’t Deviate
- Track Your Time
- Block Out Your Time
Pretend you’re a pilot … which you kinda are anyway.
There are a lot of lives at stake (mostly yours in our little pretend world) but you’re going to intensely focus to make sure you have a successful flight and a safe landing.
Easy enough, huh?
What practical strategies are working for you?
Everyone struggles with distractions and lack of focus. Let’s see if we can help each other make some progress.
Let me know what you think.
If you have strategies that work for you, share them below or email me at email@example.com.
I’ll share the suggestions I receive in a future issue of Sword Tips.