10 Ways to Sharpen Your Focus: The #1 Key to Success

how to focus

The first thing you need to know is this: Discomfort and the desire for something better drives change.

It’s why you and your company go in new directions: to relieve pain of poor sales, poor performance, poor salary, poor leadership, poor anything.

It’s why we look forward to a new year: To address the discomfort of the old one by exploring new and better ways of doing things.

I’ve been in the business world for a long time and have distilled success down to 4 main keys.

The first key is focus.

Focus relieves the discomfort of an ambiguous goal. If you don’t have clarity of your objectives, then it is enormously difficult to reach them. How can you prioritize properly? Often, I have sat side-by-side with employees and executives who had absolutely no clue about the company’s goals or their role in achieving them. Worse, they were afraid to admit that they didn’t know.

Focus relieves anxiety because you are not wasting time guessing, or feeling guilty over the past or worrying about the future. Focus brings you into the present moment, where you need to be.

However, we live in an age of distraction. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram–the internet itself—fuels our need to connect. Ironically, we actually disconnect and lose the thread of face-to-face conversation because we’re simply not focused! Our bodies may be there, but our minds are elsewhere.  The upshot: we miss key details and take much longer to get things done.

Just as nicotine made us crave cigarettes, mobile devices and their electronic prompts make us become overly dependent on technology and addicted to distraction.

That’s why focus is key. It is the heart of productivity.

Here are 10 tips on how to focus better and get more out of your work and life in 2014:

Take control: Focus, like confidence, is all about self-control. You only have so many hours in a day, so take control over your time. There are many ways to train your brain. Here are a few:

Avoid multitasking: It’s a myth. It actually hurts productivity and costs time. According to the Journal of Experimental Psychology, it takes your brain four times longer to recognize and process each thing you’re working on when you switch back and forth between tasks. Think of taking a phone call while you’re checking email. How many times do you ask the caller to repeat themselves? (Be honest!) So—what vital details are you missing at work?

Keep a to-do list: Capture all tasks in one place. In a world where we’re constantly bombarded with information overload, it’s easy to forget things. Having a list you can refer to and add to helps you monitor activity and progress. Monitoring is key here.

Know how to prioritize: You must be able to choose the most important tasks. I like this rule of thumb: Prioritize according to the revenue line. Meaning, what’s most important to your company and its goals, which usually entails making money, saving money, growing market share, and making your customers happy.

Assign a “what” to a “when”: Even with a to-do list, things do not get done until you make time to do them. So schedule tasks on your calendar.

Set a timer: Condition yourself to focus on one task in set intervals. Start with 15 minutes and then work up to 30–focusing and doing as much as you can in short spurts of time.

Control interruptions: Some suggestions:

Create a question list (also called a “bank”): Keep a running list of questions you need to ask others—questions that can wait. I do this with my tech support guy. This way, I don’t interrupt him—or myself– unless it’s critical. We schedule time to sit down and review my list in one shot.

Silence the Pavlov’s Dog response: Turn the sound cues off on your devices. That way, you don’t hear a “ping” every time a message comes in, interrupting what you’re doing. Trust me, just as nicotine was put into cigarettes to affect addiction, those annoying technical cues are there for a reason too.

Schedule social media breaks: Preferably, later in the day at work when you need a pick-me-up. Let’s face it–who hasn’t gotten lost for 45 minutes on facebook when you were supposed to finish a report?

And finally:

Stop the blame game: It wastes time and energy because you wind up generating problems instead of solving them. Be a team player—collaborate. Take responsibility together and start focusing your energies on what you can do to fix whatever went wrong.

Remember: Success needs strategy. Strategy requires execution. And execution demands focus. That’s how you move the ball forward each and every day to get your company where it needs to go.

 

Copyright 2014 Michelle Kerrigan

 

1 Comments

  1. Dave Demers

    Reply

    Good stuff, Michelle. I’m particularly drawn to the “avoid multitasking” section. I can’t tell you how many disagreements I’ve had with people on this point. My brain views this simply as, BAD MATH!

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