Finding Focus

Are we too connected?

With constant competition for our attention, focus is in short supply these days. From email bombardment to Twitter overload, endless meetings and constant interruptions, it’s difficult to shut out distractions and focus on the task at hand.

Are we losing our ability to concentrate on important activities because we are so conditioned to jumping from one thing to another? Is multitasking really anti-tasking because we never quite finish anything?

The Big Fizzle

I used to be amazed by how many things I could juggle, until I realized that items were dropping to the floor unnoticed. Eventually I rediscovered those projects and thought, “Wow, did I really never finish that?”

How much time have you wasted on projects that get 70, 80 or 90% complete, but never make it over the finish line?

Based on observations in my client work, this seems to be a 21st century epidemic.You probably know the drill as well: You have a new project or program in mind and it starts off with a lot of excitement and energy. Pretty soon, other priorities begin to chip away, eroding enthusiasm.

Team members start to skip meetings. Deliverables are missed. People forget what the original objective was and you begin to spin in circles – if you have any momentum at all.

The end result is wasted effort, increased distraction, frustration among partners and missed opportunities. Your efforts fizzle out and you wonder why you’re not getting ahead.

That’s no way to run a business! It’s time to break through the clutter and get the focus you need on priorities that matter.

Is that Urgent or Important?

The first step towards doing so is understanding the difference between what is urgent and what’s important.

  • Urgent – must be done quickly
  • Important – must be done (sometime)

This is a critical perspective because some things that are deemed urgent may actually be less important than other priorities. Do you need to sign that PO for a fresh supply of pens? It’s urgent if you want them delivered by the end of the week. Does that make it more important than reviewing the contract for a new copier lease? Probably not.

Many of us fall prey to the belief that if we just take care of all these urgent little tasks, the distractions will go away and we can focus on the big important things. Unfortunately, there are always urgent items, minor emergencies and fire drills to deal with, so we never get to the really important stuff.

The only way to find the focus you need to ensure success with truly important activities is to first differentiate between the two, and then prioritize accordingly.

Many years ago I developed a simple rating system for projects that applies a matrix view:

  • 1, 2, 3 ratings assess urgency
  • A, B, C ratings indicate importance

An A1 item is both urgent and important, so it takes precedence over an item rated B1 or A2. If something on my list scores C3, I need to question why it’s there at all. Is it “nice to have” or a waste of resources?

Applying a scale like this to your to-do list ensures that important but less urgent tasks don’t consistently land at the bottom of the list, where they languish for ages. Break big projects into small tasks and rate them appropriately so that important items get done.

Stop the Frenzy

Even with a system like this, you’ll still encounter distractions that deter you from finding focus. Overcoming that challenge requires the ability to block them out completely, at least long enough to allow concentration and creativity to bloom.

Sometimes this requires a change of venue, sequestering yourself or your team without email, cell phones or media. It may be as simple as closing your door and turning off your computer for an hour so you can think.  Taking a daily walk to clear your head can do wonders as well.

Breaking the frenzied cycle of activity – even for just a few minutes each day – allows focus and clarity to return. Making this a habit can help you and your staff develop the discipline to maintain attention on tasks that matter most to your long term success, reducing missed opportunities and improving results.

Note – I’m taking my own advice right now. I retreated to Florida for a week to work on my new book, Beyond the Launch, without distractions. Progress is going well and I’m looking forward to sharing the finished product! If you want to be alerted when it’s available, be sure to sign up for my email list.

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