“When the WHY is clear, the HOW is easy.” –Unknown
Read the news and you're probably aware of what could be referred to as chaos in our fast-paced, increasingly complex world. And all that news doesn’t even touch on the happenings in our personal lives, such as little Jimmy’s sore throat, your check engine light turning on during your morning commute, or Uncle Jeff’s open-heart surgery that’s scheduled this week.
To focus is to put all our attention on the task at hand, and it isn’t always easy. And when focus is absent, it can jeopardize intended results within our organizations, seep into our time management efforts, and pull our attention away during important conversations. We’ve all had moments or even lengthy amounts of time when trying to focus felt like trying to move a massive boulder uphill. You may not be a body builder, but fortunately, you do have the power to carry yourself out of a focus slump.
So, what are the barriers to focus?
Many factors may be contributing. We’re overthinking. We’re worrying. We have a lot going on in various areas of our lives. Our responsibilities and concerns are pulling us in different directions.
We’ve all heard the basics: eat right and get enough sleep. That goes without saying. But there’s a lot more to it! Here are some equally important tips that don’t receive as much press.
1. Pay attention to what your mind is doing.
When you’re not focused on the task at hand, where does your mind go? Does it veer from the present moment? Are your thoughts full of worry about the future? Are they wrapped up in the past? Are you caught up in daydreams? Are you so attached to preferred outcomes (or fearful of unwanted outcomes) that you’re adding unnecessary stress to your day? Our minds want to convince us that we need to entertain extraneous thoughts, but we can choose to override the information that isn’t useful.
Setting yourself a reminder to come back to the present moment can be helpful when you notice your mind wandering. I really like The Now app for this purpose—you can set the time and frequency that positive quotes with soothing images will appear on your phone, calling your attention back to the now.
2. Create white space.
Creating white space is about more than taking an occasional break. For those of us in creative roles, much of our work requires us to be in our minds where we spend a lot of time pondering and imagining. And we need this creative breathing room to exist, separate from the actual execution of projects. In fact, this is so important that Juliet Funt (who will be one of our speakers at the 2017 Fierce Summit, woo!) created WhiteSpace at Work, Inc. Her firm provides solutions for organizations wanting to avoid burnout and maximize the amount of unscheduled time employees have to simply think and strategize. To quote Funt, "When a company adds WhiteSpace to its culture, every single employee benefits. You can almost hear an audible sigh of relief as a path is cleared back to strategic thinking and focus."
3. Get outside.
Whether it’s taking a hike in the woods or going for a brisk walk around your office building, when you notice your attention wandering, get outdoors to significantly impact your concentration and general well-being. According to Business Insider, research shows that getting outdoors improves concentration and short-term memory, among a slew of other cognitive and physical benefits.
4. Create (or remind yourself of) meaning.
Have a conversation with yourself. What does the work you do and its outcome mean to you? How does your focus on a particular task, no matter how small, contribute to the end results? Perhaps you’re making a difference in your clients lives and in the lives of your colleagues. Perhaps you really value what your company stands for. If you’re not engaged or on board with the mission of your work, focus will suffer. On the contrary, when your intentions are aligned with what you’re doing, focus will return. Decide what’s important to you, and let it be the tool you use to regain focus.
5. Tend to your needs.
This refers setting time aside for anything you might need. When pressing issues or needs haven’t been addressed, focus will seem nearly impossible. If you need to make a phone call to check on little Jimmy, do it. If you need time for your mind to wander, dedicate time for mind wandering. If you need to restore, set aside time to lounge on your patio or go for a massage. If you need time to exercise, carve out the time.
If there’s anything that is neglected in your life, it can show up when you’re attempting to focus. As a personal example, I have an unusual leg issue where I experience tingling and discomfort when I’ve been sedentary for too long. When I’m sitting at my desk and it’s been more than a few days since I’ve exercised, I end up in physical pain, and my focus suffers. Bottom line, listen to your mind, body, and emotions...and respond with action to address what they’re communicating to you.
Do you have an effective strategy or method you use for regaining focus? Share with us.