Certainly as related to our jobs the effort we put forth is aimed at achieving specific goals. Be them for the year, the month or simply a day, there is one significant ingredient necessary for efforts to be realized as intended. That is, one’s ability to be in and maintain focus. It has everything to do with achieving anything we set out to do and the further away the intended goal … the greater the opportunity for distractions will only serve to get in the way of our success.
An article written by the editorial team of ‘MindTools’ defined focus as:
“ Your ability to center your attention and energy on a specific task, object, or activity, for a sustained length of time. It’s often quite simple to focus on the more routine and repetitive short-term tasks and goals. Why? Because we are often familiar with the task and as such doesn’t require intense concentration and focus. We can get desired results quickly, and this helps to keep your motivation levels high with a soon to be realized goal.
However, trying to tackle and achieve a task that is somewhat complex is a different ball game. These often require research and learning. These often are only occasional challenges that lack the familiarity that allow us to confidently accomplish them. It is also more difficult to see the progress, especially as we begin the task. This means that it’s easy to get distracted by shorter-term priorities, and by other projects that seem more exciting. However, the ability to focus on the long term is a key skill for anyone who wants to be successful.
I refer to the things that get in the way of maintaining needed focus as ‘Blips’. Think lightning bugs that are all round us and serve as distractions to the focus we want and need to maintain. And although one’s desire and intent is clear and present there are several things that tend to be blips within their vision that divert attention elsewhere and take us off track. Here are a few. Maybe you’ll see yourself in some of them:
- Blip # 1
We get a telephone call or hear the tone of an incoming email … at the same time you’re trying to work through a particularly challenging aspect of your ‘plan or task’. What do we do? We take the call or open and respond to the email and why? Because we can and it’s comparatively easy when we feel a bit stuck in working on a part of our plan.
- Blip # 2
A co-worker or report stops by wanting just a second of our time and in the name of being ‘nice’ and wanting to be helpful, we stop what we’re doing on the plan and become side-tracked on something totally unrelated. “Why” we ask ourselves? Because we want to help others achieve their tasks and being honest … the plan we’re prodding forward on is a challenge. Why not take a break and be helpful? Step aside plan!
- Blip # 3
We remember something we promised to send to a customer or client and realize that we should do this now while thinking of it even though it’s not due this moment. But what the heck … we’ll get it to them on the early side and honestly … we’ll accomplish something positive and avoid the struggle we’re having in executing our plan that will elevate our success.
- Blip # 4
We know that executing our plan is going to be a challenge. Why? Because one has a history of not maintaining focus and because the plan calls for them to do things that are just uncomfortable. At least we’re honest and maybe with time we’ll get more comfortable and follow through. So great! We’ve just given ourselves the pass that threatens to undermine what we have designed for ourselves and achieving it.
While employers are actively trying to find ways to limit distractions, some things you can’t avoid; meetings, emails, and calls are typically part of the job. So, how can you avoid distractions at work without switching off your phone and laptop altogether?
Here is the good news. There are some rather simple things that can be done to help maintain the focus that the more challenging tasks require and allow us to achieve them in a timely manner. These are designed to help us avoid distractions and remain focused:
- Have a Plan to which you commit
Having a daily to-do list seems a bit simple perhaps, however, having a written plan of action for the
day is known to increase productivity. It provides an organized approach to the day and makes staying on track more realistic as you consistently refer to it.
- Limit interruptions from well-meaning co-workers or reports
How many times does someone approach to ask if you have a minute? Wanting to be helpful one often responds “sure” only to discover that many minutes are needed to provide what is desired. And that interruption often takes many more minutes for one to return to their project and remember where they were. Avoid this by asking what help is desired and suggesting that you can be available in i.e. 30 minutes. Often the response will be “no problem” and one is able to maintain the focus.
- Avoid multitasking
Often some pride themselves in their ability to have to have many balls in the air and accomplish them all. And yet, it has been proven that this especially does not work when trying to accomplish a challenging task that requires real concentration and focus.
- Set boundaries with colleagues
Speaking to employees, colleagues, and business partners is crucial for building a collaborative and friendly work environment. But if you spend too much time gossiping or discussing non-work-related topics, it can do more damage than good.
- Don’t succumb to the lure of emails and texts
When doing work, the one finds challenging from the start, interruptions like emails and texts can be a welcome diversion. Clearly without limits they will contribute to being unable to achieve the important goal as needed and desired.
- Make time for scheduled breaks
Plowing through a challenging task is enhanced when one allows themselves to actually schedule breaks of a few minutes. Walking, stretching or listening to favorite music becomes the ability to recharge and that’s important to staying the course. Working in time blocks is recharge time and makes one more productive in the long run.
- Shut an office door or find a room where this can be done
shutting the door can be a helpful way of showing others that you’re busy. It can also shut out the noise that may be distracting you from your work.
- Create an email schedule
This establishes a planned time when one will break to read and respond to emails awaiting in an inbox. It allows timely response to those needing input and relaxes one’s mind to know that important correspondence has been acknowledged and addressed.
If you struggle with workplace distractions, you are not alone. The more we can sensitize ourselves to recognize reoccurring ‘blips’ that serve to vie for our attention, we have the ability to see them as distractions that can get in the way of looking back on our day as an accomplished one. Emails, smartphones, calls, colleagues; the list goes on. Add to that an increasing number of people working remotely, there are even more distractions to handle. Children, family members, barking dogs, and a knock at the door are all hard to ignore. It’s no surprise that so many people struggle with distractions and staying focused at work. Some days it can feel like you are constantly being interrupted. Between meetings and conversations, it’s tough to focus on your work and get through your to-do list. And yet, implementing some of the suggestions above will return one’s sense of control and with that, accomplishment.
Thanks Mike, great reminders of how to turn off and stay focus on what is important at the moment. Being present sometimes present a challenge.
Bob D says
Great reminders / reinforcement! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Shekinah and definitely agree