Focus isn’t just the absence of distraction. It’s an immersive state in which meaningful work simply flows. Organizations that truly want to get stuff done will do everything they can to empower their teams to reach this state. Here’s six ways your businesses can stay focused on focus.
Have a plan
Meditation is all about eliminating mental distraction, and a basic technique for achieving that state is returning to the breath. Distracted by a stray thought? Bring your attention back to your breathing. In a similar way, having a real plan gives teams a place to return when their attention to the desired outcome strays. Crafting a truly workable plan—and giving your team members transparency into that plan—will help keep everyone centered.
“Chunk” your tasks
Executing on a plan means following the right series of next steps to reach your goal. But it’s hard to take that next step if it’s overly broad. Help your team members “chunk” out their tasks to create next actions they can accomplish in a series of sprints. The popular Pomodoro Technique suggests 25 minutes as the optimum amount of time the human brain can stay focused on a single task, followed by five-minute breaks. Set your team up for success by ensuring tasks are immediately actionable. (Then get everyone kitchen timers!)
The right digital tool is key to keeping the goal and the plan for getting there in sight. At the same time, nothing obscures the way forward like digital clutter. Any given team member is likely to have a laptop, phone, and smartwatch vying for their attention at every moment. Encourage your team to eliminate distraction by enabling “do not disturb” mode during work sprints. Let everyone know you have no problem with them shutting down their messaging and email apps when they need to get real work done. Every notification has the potential to torpedo focus. Make interruptions the exception, not the rule.
Just start typing
Procrastination is distraction more devious corollary. It’s the way we distract ourselves before we even get started! Help your team by offering this simple tip: “just start.” “But wait!” you’re probably saying. “If it were that simple, then procrastination wouldn’t be a thing in the first place.” In this case, what you’re telling your team is to literally go through the motions: start the physical act necessary to get the task done. Need to write a report or pull together some code? Just start moving your hands on the keyboard. Need to build a data visualization? Add one number to one cell. (This anti-procrastination advice courtesy of author and podcaster John Hodgman.)
Real progress comes from accomplishing goals that have real substance. To get there, your team needs to have the capacity to do work that really matters. Yes, every project requires some degree of busywork in service of the greater whole. But to get to the meaningful crux of a project, you need to give team members the clarity and the autonomy they need to innovate and create. When people feel like a task truly belongs to them, that sense of ownership allows them to invest themselves and their energy—an investment that motivates focus by giving team members a personal stake.
Diet. Sleep. Exercise.
Don’t be a mind-body dualist. The same simple mantra for better physical health—“diet, sleep, exercise”—applies to mental and emotional well-being. Without that foundation, your team won’t be operating under optimal conditions for productivity. A tired mind is a distractible mind. A sedentary body lacks the energy for focus. By enabling worker wellness, you’re setting up your team for success. When you have visibility into the tasks, workflows, and roles that will get your team to a desired outcome, you’ll know how to build wellness into your team’s process.