Every now and then, I have a need to get super-focused. It’s usually when I have an important task to accomplish like preparing a speech, coaching with another leader or solving a complex problem.
Unfortunately, I live in the same distracting world you do, where multiple voices compete for my attention. I’ve gone through days when I didn’t accomplish a single thing on my to-do list. Yet, somehow I was busy the entire time!
Recently, I found myself in this exact situation with an upcoming workshop I was preparing to facilitate, conflict resolution between two leaders, and preparing for two executive level meetings.
This got me thinking. Is it possible to turn focus on and off like a switch?
I am not sure I can say yes one hundred percent of the time. But, over the years, I have found five practices that enable me to be better focused, especially when I need to get important work done.
- Give yourself a deadline. Though I often dislike them, the truth is I usually perform better when I have a clear deadline. It provides clarity, efficiency, and the ability to persist until I am done—even when it is totally self-imposed.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Don’t you find yourself more unfocused when you are tired? You may have to reread the same paragraph four times to get the meaning. Being fully rested just makes you more productive.
- Find Quiet and Turn Off. This is just common sense, but find a quiet, distraction free environment—or one that has consistent background noise that quickly turns to white noise. Turn off the Internet or at least the social parts, like Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail that endlessly ping you.
- Focus on one task. Multi-tasking is a myth. In fact, it’s impossible. What you are really doing is serial tasking—shifting from one task to another. The problem is that this actually destroys productivity. It is sometimes necessary but never efficient. When you are trying to focus, you need to work on one task at a time and set everything else aside.
- Take periodic breaks. The key to staying focused is to adopt a rhythm of work and rest or what Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz call “the pulse of high performance” in their book, The Power of Full Engagement. One key idea that works for me is working for 50 minutes and then break for 10 minutes.
There’s not much we can do to affect our external environment. But we can shape our internal one by following these seven practices.