March is Women’s History Month, and a good time to think about the historic imprint you will leave on those around you. What kind of legacy are you leaving behind for the women in your life; daughters, nieces, co-workers, women whom you mentor, or manage? Involvement in purposeful projects, events and missions that create positive, meaningful outcomes is a very effective way to make your personal mark on history. Such a goal takes the discipline of moving along things that must get done (tasks, errands, routine work responsibilities), and creating room for these important things that will leave a lasting legacy. It also requires thoughtful weekly planning, and the skill of executing your ideas and work with efficiency and focus. Let’s explore this further.
Is staying focused on the work in front of you a challenge? Do you find yourself starting and restarting a task multiple times because of distractions, interruptions or because of your own sidetracking thoughts? If so, you are not alone. A study published in Psychology Today by Larry Rosen, PhD, observed the study habits of 300 middle school, high school and university students. Rosen and his team were startled by the results which showed that, on average, students were only able to focus on their studying for three minutes at a time, with nearly all of their distractions coming from technology. The researchers found similar results with computer programmers and medical students. The biggest technology offenders were smartphones, and the very computers on which the research participants were either studying or working!
The truth is, we have too many inputs vying for our attention; ring tones, instant messaging, reminder alerts, buzzing email, text tones, and even Facebook and social media notifications! Then there are meetings, phone calls, crisis situations and office chatter. It’s endless, and those examples don’t even include our own distracting thoughts such as the errands to run, bills to pay, family schedules and more. If we are not careful, interruptions can bounce us around like a ping pong ball all day long. Are you letting distractions take your attention and keep you from being focused, or are you in the driver’s seat of your life?
If staying on task is challenging you, I offer you a double-pronged approach that will help create laser focus. First is a commitment to weekly goal planning. The second is mindfulness, but we will come back to that later.
I am convinced making a weekly plan with goals is the first step to successfully creating habits that lead to laser focus. Most of us are familiar with the Covey method of project planning, or perhaps you’ve used other techniques, or your own version of task prioritization and organization. The question to ask yourself is, do you use it consistently, without fail? The weekly planning process needs to be a top priority if you want to drive your success in meaningful areas, versus being pulled along the path of uncertainty, and only accomplishing small tasks.
Weekly planning takes foresight and commitment. When creating your plan, consider and identify these key elements before creating it:
1. Top priorities for the week – what must absolutely get done? Remember the following in this process:
- Do it all – focus only on the impactful, meaningful and important
- Please everyone
- Always say yes
- Have blurry boundaries
- Get first things done first – leave or delegate small tasks for another time
- Please yourself with a job well done
- Say yes to top priorities
- Set up respectable boundaries
2. Top energy zones – when are you most productive?
- Morning or afternoon?
- Before or after a workout, lunch or break?
- Alone or with others around?
These are the two key questions to ask yourself when planning and prioritizing for the week – what do you have to do, and when are you at your best to complete them? From this genesis, you can create your ideal schedule with attainable goals. Don’t overschedule yourself, or spread yourself too thin. Leave white space for emergencies, and margins for thinking and creativity. Once you’ve successfully prioritized and scheduled your week’s goals, congratulate yourself, and make a date with yourself to do it again – same time, same place next week. Use that smart phone wisely. Set a reminder on Sunday to review the upcoming week and plan out your productivity!
With the first step of the approach to laser focus complete (planning), your stage is set for step two. The second step to obtain laser focus on a daily basis is by practicing ‘mindfulness’. Mindfulness is ‘a state of active, open attention on the present’. With practice and patience you can actually ‘reprogram’ your brain to be in a state of mindfulness throughout the day. To prepare yourself (your brain really) for a mindfulness approach to laser focus during the work day, it is important to begin your day with a deeper sense of mindfulness.
To be clear, I’m not pushing a brand of spirituality or religion, but rather a method by which you can clear your mind, obtain some peace, and get grounded for the day ahead of you. To that end, I am proposing that prior to the start of your work day, you spend 10 minutes in a quiet, peaceful state in an attempt to empty your mind of thoughts and feelings by the process of recognizing them when they come into your brain, but then letting them go without reacting to them. You can do this upon waking, before you leave for work, on the drive to work, at your desk, or in the car before you go into the office (especially if being completely still at your desk will have co-workers wondering if you are OK!)
The goal of practicing 10 minutes of deep mindfulness sets your brain into action, rather than leaving it vulnerable to reaction. It prepares your brain for approaching work with basic mindfulness (the ‘a state of active, open attention on the present’), and ultimately a laser focus. Practice and patience are essential to maintain basic mindfulness in order to achieve laser focus. The technology distractions listed earlier are the biggest culprits of distraction, but there are others. How many of the following do you identify with?
- Conversations at your desk
- Phone conversations that last too long (personal or professional)
- Checking and responding to non-essential email and social media
- Thoughts of personal/home issues
- Multiple projects at once
- Snacking, coffee or water run
- Non-urgent tasks (cleaning email inbox, organizing files, making lists, etc.)
The first step in avoiding these distractions is to recognize them as just that. It may be that you are not even aware that these activities are robbing you of your time, productivity and prohibiting you from laser focus on the task at hand. Mentally go through a day at work, and write down everything that distracts you and places your brain in a reactive mode. Then, pick the top three things to conquer first. Now, make a plan for proactively responding to them when they occur. Below are some examples:
|Conversations at your desk
||Close your door, or put up a sign requesting no interruptions
||Let it go to voicemail
|Conversation getting too long
||Explain that you have a deadline
|Checking email too much
||Designate two or three times a day to check email, responding only to those pertaining to your plan for the day, or minimally reply with a time and date you will get respond.
|Multiple projects at once
||Put away other work project
||Set your timer to work for 15 – 30 minutes solid, then take 3 or 5 minutes to check and respond to relevant text messages. Non-urgent messages can wait.
|Thoughts of personal/home issues
||Keep a list of things to address at a later time
|Being diverted outside your workspace
||Don’t engage in miscellaneous interruptions from co-workers
While some of these responsive techniques may seem too radical, they are perfectly acceptable ways to create boundaries for yourself and create ‘a state of being active with open attention on the present’ (mindfulness) enabling you to laser focus. The process of choosing to actively engage in the task at hand rather than react to stimuli takes discipline. While you won’t achieve laser focus on the first day, you will be surprised at how quickly practicing mindfulness will begin to yield laser focus and positive results.
Weekly planning sessions coupled with the daily mindfulness approaches I’ve described will do so much more for you than help you achieve laser focus. It will empower you to be in complete control of your thoughts and actions. It will also reward you with additional mental space and opportunities to produce creative, quality and meaningful work. These opportunities are the foundation from which your lasting legacy can flow. Keep a diary of your accomplishment and successes as a result of your new approach. This will motivate you to continue your practice of laser focus, build self-confidence, and make your mark on history. When you train your brain to use both states of mindfulness to the point where it becomes natural and exciting, you will have mastered the art being able to laser focus.
©Copyright 2015. Kay Fittes. All Rights Reserved.