The Ultimate Productivity Tool To Focus On
Over the last few months I have given myself a self-diagnosis of A.D.D. While I’m not sure that I meet the criteria to make me a hardcore case of Attention Deficit Disorder, I certainly have been struggling with “Attention Distraction Disorder.” And the more I’ve shared my problem with other people – whether friends, clients or colleagues – the more I’ve realized just how prevalent this problem is. So if you are also struggling with keeping focus in a world brimming with distractions, read on…before your phone rings and your attention is pulled elsewhere.
Between our Blackberries (dubbed “Crackberries” for a good reason), Twitter, Facebook, texting and a zillion other sources of potential distraction, it’s becoming harder and harder to stay focused on one thing for very long. Ask most Gen Y’ers about this and they will tell you they can easily finish an essay while texting friends and engaging in 5 simultaneous online chats discussions. But studies by leading universities, from MIT to Stanford, are finding that our brain simply cannot do multiple things at once. As our attention becomes spread across multiple tasks, it grows weaker, our focus poorer and our productivity lower. A recent study by Workplace Options has found that American businesses lost $650 billion dollars a year lost productivity through workplace distractions. Yes, that was billion, not million.
It would be convenient to blame all our distractions for undermining our ability to finish tasks efficiently, to perform at the level we know we are capable of, or even to focus on what we needs to be prioritized in any given busy day. But more often our productivity levels (measured in terms of what we accomplish in any set period of time) are impacted more by the fact that we have simply not got really clear about what we really want to focus our attention on, rather than the distractions themselves.
I recently did my first ever live televised coaching session with Terri, my first “on air” client. (BTW, thank you to those of you who volunteered to work with me on camera: I will post upcoming opportunities on Facebook.) If you saw the TV segment, you saw that Terri is smart, accomplished and imminently employable. But as Terri acknowledged herself, the major challenge she’s had since leaving her job 18 months ago to relocate to a new area has been her lack of clarity about what she really wants for herself professionally. And because she’s been unclear about what she really wants, she hasn’t been particularly productive in landing herself a job (though she told me off air that she’s become very proficient at yoga!).
As I said to Terri, once you are clear about what you really want to do, you can focus your time, energy and resources into accomplishing it. But you need to put aside time daily (sometimes hourly) to get really clear about what you are going to focus your time on in the day ahead. If you don’t, you become a bit like a rudderless sail boat in the middle of the ocean, at the mercy of the prevailing winds, tides and currents and unlikely to end up anywhere you’d really want to be. And so when you have no clear focus, it’s all too easy to become an unwitting victim of those distractions that, in the bigger scheme of things, aren’t taking you in a direction you truly want to go. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong or sinister with all the the activities you distract yourself with – from chatting with friends by the water cooler or on the phone, rummaging through the department store sales racks, watching re-runs of “The Office,” updating your Facebook status or browsing YouTube. But beyond the initial restorative benefits gained by disengaging your brain for a little while, if those time consuming activities aren’t adding to your long term sense of fulfillment or wellbeing, then they are doing you more of a disservice more than anything else.
While the world has changed dramatically in even just the last 20 years, the value of focused effort has not.
While the world has changed dramatically in even just the last 20 years, the value of focused effort has not. To combat my ADD and improve my focus, I recently downloaded software that limits my access to Facebook (and in case you’re wondering, yes, this IS humiliating for me to admit). I switch my phone to silent when I’m writing. Like right now. Often I head to a cafe where I can’t access the internet, removing all temptation. And I have time scheduled in my calendar every weekday morning at 8am to prioritize what I will focus on in the day ahead. Does my new system work perfectly? No. But it certainly counters that ADD, making me far more productive than I would be otherwise. As for when my kids get out of school for summer, well, I guess will be heading to that café even more! What I’ve learned over the years though is that I can get more done in 2 hours of focused attention, than in 8 hours while suffering with Attention Distraction Disorder.
4 Steps to Harnessing the Productivity Power of Focus:
1. Write down the specific goals you have for yourself in the next 3 months. The more specific the better. ( e.g., For Terri, it is to get a job in the food industry that utilizes her skills and experience in product development and resourcing in cross-cultural settings.)
2. Schedule time into your calendar for the week ahead (at least – a month is better still!) that will be dedicated solely to moving you toward this goal. Be realistic but be very specific about exactly when you are going to focus. No multi-tasking: it simply doesn’t work for anything more than the simplest of tasks. (And this multi-tasking wannabee would know.)
3. Get whatever resources and materials you will need to make sure that you have everything you need to use that time well (e.g., If you need more information to get started, get it now so you don’t find yourself distractedly surfing the internet!)
4. Think ahead about possible distractions and plan around them. Turn your phone off. Let others know you will not be available. Unplug your modem. It doesn’t matter that it seems pathetic. If you need that to help you focus, then just do it. Speaking of which, I guess I can turn my phone back on. Article written. Mission Accomplished. Distraction awaits 😉
Got a comment or suggestion to help me or others combat Attention Distraction Disorder? I’d love to hear it!