You get what you focus on
If I were to ask you “Can you spare five dollars?”, you might be quite happy to hand over a fiver without any questions asked. However, if I were to ask you the same question every one or two hours, well… like most people you would probably ask me what I needed the money for and no doubt eventually refuse my requests. Why? Because for most of us, money is in limited supply and we can’t afford to hand it out to people left, right and centre.
Now let’s transpose money with time. Even though we can’t physically handle time like we can money, time is arguably more valuable (just ask anyone with limited time to live). And yet, so often we allow others, and ourselves, to steal our precious time... five minutes here, a half-hour there… without a blink of an eye. It’s staggering how much time is wasted in business on low value interruptions and distractions… hours and hours of precious time that could otherwise be focused on activities that would have a far greater impact on our success.
The University of California did a study of a range of different workers over three days and found that the average amount of time that people spent on any single event before being interrupted or distracted was about three minutes. They also found that 44% of those distractions were internal (i.e. checking emails, phones, starting other tasks before finishing others, etc). When you think that it takes 25 minutes to get back one’s focus after an interruption or distraction, no wonder some people come home from work wondering what they did all day!
If you want to be a high performer and achieve your goals in business, it’s imperative that you protect your focus. Here are just a few ways to do so:
- Be discerning with your time. If someone asks for your time, ask them what it’s for and then weigh up whether it is more important than the high impact activities required to achieve your business goals. If it’s not, politely decline. If it is important, but not urgent, make an appointment at a later time then get straight back to what you were working on before completely losing your focus.
- ‘Batch’ your communication. Quite often when people are operating close to others at work they simply start talking to them when the need arises. While it may seem convenient, there’s every likelihood that someone’s focus (and performance) is suffering. One suggestion is to set regular meetings with people you work with, create a list of topics you want to speak with them about as you think of them, then wait to go through them at the meeting. Many of our clients say that this one habit significantly reduces the amount of interruptions they receive, and a positive bi-product is that employees end up making decisions for themselves, thus becoming more self-sufficient.
- Work on one thing at a time. As much as some people love to boast their ability to multi task, the fact is that multi-tasking is significantly less productive than doing the same tasks one by one.
- Set aside ‘non-interrupt time’. Some people put themselves in another room away from distractions and interruptions. Others signify ‘non-interrupt time’ by putting ear phones in their ears (corporate code for ‘leave me be’;). Whatever works for you, just make sure you let everyone know that you have something important to do and that you require complete concentration.
- Clean up! It’s been proven time and time again that a messy environment is a major cause for distractions. Regular clean ups of your working space can be one of the best things you can do to increase your quality of focus and performance.
- Turn off the toys. While emails, mobiles and smart phones have all been invented to increase productivity, they are also responsible for increasing self-inflicted distractions. People are becoming addicted to checking technology! So when you need to concentrate, turn off the mobile, divert your phone to voicemail, turn off your email alerts (ideally, turn off the email program altogether) and give yourself every chance to maximise your focus, and ultimately your success.
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