In my role as business advisor, I rarely find owners and founders who aren’t working hard, but I often find dedicated people who can’t seem to stay focused. That means they may be killing themselves by working twenty hours a day, multi-tasking between email, their smartphone, and the crisis of the moment, but find themselves unable to focus on strategic issues and hiring.
For example, I tried desperately to channel the boundless energy and enthusiasm of a new business owner a few years ago, but she insisted on being a part of every activity, until she aggravated some previous health limitations, became bedridden, and the business floundered. We are all human, so it pays to recognize our limitations, and spend our energies wisely.
Over the years, I have developed some basic rules that work for me, and I believe can really help any business professional manage their focus and awareness in all work activities. Practicing these will ensure greater productivity, less stress, as well as an improved overall sense of well-being. For business owners, these rules can mean the difference between success and failure.
Many fast-growing companies, including Google and Starbucks, have active coaching programs to highlight these mental strategies and habits that lead to focus, and increase overall productivity:
1. Give full attention to individuals, objects, and ideas around you. Start by making a conscious decision to intentionally be totally present and focus on each team member, client, meeting, and family member. Don’t let your mind wander or give in to distractions around you, such as phones ringing, social media notifications, or report deliveries.
2. Focus on previously-seen problems from a fresh perspective. In this fast-moving word, today’s reality is different from the past, but it’s easy and often not productive to apply old perceptions, rather than utilize your more satisfying curiosity. Mindlessly applying the “way things have always been done” will not enhance your career.
3. Balance your efforts between satisfying tasks versus difficult. Practicing awareness of balance will lead to a change in your ability to focus and complete all tasks. Many business professionals give priority to easy tasks, such as email and texting, and practice long-term avoidance of more challenging work, thus lowering overall productivity.
4. Accept that you need not solve every problem personally. Extended fighting with a specific problem leads to anger and frustration, but rarely solves it. Focus until you have exhausted your own reasonable efforts, and then seek help. In business, the most productive people are ones who can work effectively with all the resources around them.
5. Regularly purge frustrations and negative thoughts from your mind. Clearing your mind is a simple powerful mental strategy to reset your perspective and refocus your thoughts to the task at hand. Eliminate negative distractions and toxic relationships. Spend some time on positive outside activities, including sporting events and music.
6. Find an occasion to smile and laugh every day. The key to cultivating happiness and joy is to focus on at least one activity that you enjoy daily. The best leaders look for positives to celebrate, rather than always being critical. Sometimes joy is just reserving a specific time for quiet contemplation and appreciation of all the good you see around you.
7. Incorporate kindness in every interaction with people. When you treat people with respect, understanding, and focus, they will do the same for you, making both of you more productive and happier as well. Handling constant interruptions is frustrating at best, leading to emotional and insensitive reactions, rather than constructive feedback.
8. Practice patience and listening before impulsively responding. Get in the habit of taking a few breaths to calm down before focusing on the next crisis request. Sometimes I find this means counting to ten or a bit of discomfort before tackling the next challenging situation. Other times it means softly saying “not now” or “get on my calendar.”
Without these initiatives, most people will find their productivity at work declining. We all face the same information overload, increased pressure to move fast, and often distracted work reality. Our attention is continuously under siege, leading to fewer results. Have you noticed an impact on your perspective, health, and happiness? Now may be the time to increase your focus.