Posts Tagged ‘focus’

How to Reclaim Your Focused Attention

February 20th, 2015

Waste my time?  I am my biggest time waster, which I admit can be enjoyable.  Being productive all the time might make me a dull guy.  And, yes, there is more to life than “being productive.”  That being said, there are tricks that we have all learned to focus better on the task at hand.  My favorite is having turned off that little notice on the bottom of my screen that announces every email I get. I did that years ago and it really helped me.
What is your favorite distractor eliminator? And how well do you manage your time? (Yes, I know, we can’t manage time…we can only manage our activities).

If you’re like many people, your answer may not be completely positive. Perhaps you feel overloaded, and you often have to work late to hit your deadlines. Or maybe your days seem to go from one crisis to another, and that is stressful and demoralizing. While some people are able to easily get through the day with many achievements ticked off their list, others seem to accomplish very little. With so many tasks and distractions pulling us in so many directions, it takes focus to…well, focus!
Below are some helpful tips from Harvard Business Review on how to harness your attention span:


  1. Build Capacity.
    We can expand our attentive capacity through a commitment to practices such as meditation, journaling, time in nature, regular physical activity, and good sleep hygiene. All of these activities support our ability to direct our focus, filter out distractions, and manage our emotions, and we can often realize their benefits with a modest investment of time.While these activities are often enjoyable in themselves, they aren’t indulgences–they’re investments in our ability to operate at peak effectiveness. High-performing professionals often enjoy success early in their careers by virtue of their ability to forego activities like this–they cut back on sleep or go without exercise for extended periods of time. But while those sacrifices temporarily expand our capacity for throughput, they actually diminish our capacity for focused attention.2. Plug Leaks.
    Attention is finite, and our ability to focus in the moment is severely limited. Because distractions can fatally undermine effective leadership, it’s critical to avoid “attention leaks.” The functions on our phones and other devices that beep, blink and thrust red numbers in our faces are designed to capture our attention and create a sense of urgency… But how often are any of these interruptions truly urgent? Almost never. Turn them off.3. Limit Multi-tasking.
    Another attention-destroying practice is what we’ve come to call “multi-tasking,” an utterly misnamed concept. While insignificant tasks requiring minimal cognitive effort can be performed in parallel, the truly meaningful work through which most leaders add value–one-on-one conversations, facilitation or decision-making in meetings, and creative thought and ideation–require a much more intense level of focus. Multi-tasking in those environments inevitably results in significant inefficiencies as we switch contexts and lose focus before returning to a deeper level of thought.4. Create Space.
    Leaders typically face intense demands on their time (in part because everyone wants their attention), and if they’re not careful they can find themselves booked nonstop for days on end. It’s important to maintain some open space in the calendar, on a weekly or even daily basis, which allows for more creative thinking and helps replenish our stores of attention. This inevitably involves disappointing people, all of whom believe their issue is worthy of the leader’s time, but productive leaders realize that they can’t meet all of these requests and must ignore many of them. Here leaders require help from their senior team, family, and friends, and–perhaps most importantly–their executive assistants. People in these roles are uniquely positioned to help leaders protect open space on their calendars, and they’re uniquely positioned to undermine that process if they don’t understand this responsibility.

    A final thought:
    If you’re a leader sitting in a meeting that’s not worth your focused attention, then you’re serving a theatrical function. Sometimes this makes sense. There’s a place for organizational theater. But more often the whole organization is suffering because your most precious resource is being wasted. Let the people who organized the meeting know that you’ll attend in the future when you’re needed, excuse yourself, and get on with your day. And if it’s your meeting, then you may well be wasting everyone’s time and attention–they may all be there in a theatrical function because they’re deferring to your authority. Have a candid conversation with a trusted ally, and get some feedback on the utility of your meetings.

-George Alwon