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Last Updated on October 2, 2018

Can’t Focus? Why You’ve Been Doing It Wrong and How to Focus Better

Can’t Focus? Why You’ve Been Doing It Wrong and How to Focus Better

What comes to mind when you think of the word focus?

The attention or concentration it takes to complete a task? The amount of will power needed to finish writing a report without touching your phone? Or, is it having to sit in complete silence and away from distractions so that you can study for an important exam or prepare for an interview?

I’m sure many of you can relate to the above statements and agree that the ability to focus is about staying on task for a period of time. Breaking that concentration would mean that you’ve lost your focus; and you’re either doing something else, or trying to gain back that focus to finish up the intended task.

With an ever increasing amount of information–that is easily accessible online and offline–we’re faced with a lot more opportunities and avenues to create possibilities to experience things on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, that can make it a lot harder for us to make progress or get things done, because we’re either easily distracted or overwhelmed by the constant influx of information.

That is why many of us end up having problems ‘concentrating’ or ‘focusing’ in life–whether it be on a smaller scale like completing a task on time, or something much bigger like staying on track in your career and climbing the ladder of success. We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we blame our failures due to a lack of focus.

So, how does one focus better?

Focus Is Not About Paying Attention

What if I tell you that you’ve been doing it all wrong this whole time?

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Focus isn’t just the attention span of giving 20 minutes to a task. It actually goes way beyond that.

The real reason why we focus is because we need to do something that exceeds our existing capability. We need to devote large amounts of time and energy to move the needle in life, to make that progress and positive change.

And why do we want to do that? Because we want to become a better version of ourselves! Isn’t that true?

At the end of the day, the reason why we stay focused on any task, project, or goal is because we want to succeed. And with that success comes progress in our lives, which means we eventually become better than what we were a month ago, or even a year ago.

Let me give you an example:

Say you’ve been tasked to manage a project by your boss. You have targets to meet and favorable outcomes to achieve. Your focus and attention has to be on this project. Once the project has been completed, your boss is happy with the results and your hard work. He rewards you with praise, a promotion, or maybe even a juicy year end bonus.

That’s your success right there, and you feel good about your achievements. So looking back at who you were before and after the completion of this project, wouldn’t you say you’ve become a better version of your previous self?

Focus Is a Flow

This is what focus is and how focus works! It’s not a one-off task by task mode that you jump into whenever needed. Rather, focus is a flow.

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Focus is the way in which you deliberately target your energy to push progress in something you care about. And because focus takes energy, time and effort, whatever it is that you need to focus on should be something meaningful to you.

So why is it that we sometimes find it so hard to focus?

Usually, it’s because we’re missing two major elements. Either we don’t know where we want to go–in that we don’t have a clear goal–or we do have a goal, but we don’t have a clear roadmap.  

Trying to improve your focus without these two things is like driving to get somewhere in a foreign country with no road map. You end up wasting a lot of gas but you don’t really know if you’re getting anywhere.

Let’s go back to the example of your boss assigning you a project to manage. The company is opening a new office. Your boss wants you to oversee the renovations and moving-in process of this new location. Now, if you didn’t have a clear goal or end result of how the new office should look, you could be busy arranging for contractors, interior designers or movers etc to come, but have no clue what to assign or brief them on.

The second scenario is that you know exactly how the new office should look and when it should be up and running. But, because you don’t have a clear roadmap to get to that end result, you end up working all over the place; one moment you’re arranging for the contractors to start renovations, the next moment you’ve got furniture coming in when the space isn’t ready. What do you focus on first?

The Focus Flow

Without a clear goal and road map, things can turn out frantic and frustrating, with wrong turns; and you also end up expending a lot more mental energy than needed. But, having a Focus Flow can help.

So let me show you how the Focus Flow works.

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  1. It starts from a clear objective.
  2. This becomes a clear roadmap.
  3. Then it manifests into a state of targeted attention and effort.
  4. This results in pushing your progress towards your ultimate destination.

Setting a Focus Objective

To start off, you need to set an effective focus objective. If you don’t have an objective, how can you decide on what things are worth focusing on? You can’t focus on everything at the same time, so you have to make a choice.

Like driving a car, you need a destination.  

In this case, you don’t want to drive around aimlessly. You want to arrive at your destination before you run out of gas.

A good focus objective therefore needs to be concrete. This means that it should be something you can visualize. Such as determining how the new office is going to look after you’ve completed the renovation and moving in project. If you can visualize it, that means you have a clear enough picture to know what’s needed to achieve it.

Setting a Focus Roadmap

The second step is to lay out a practical Focus Roadmap. Once you have your ideas, setting an objective is easy. The most difficult part is determining how you’re going to achieve your objective.

There are lots of things you can do to work towards your goal. But, what comes first? What’s more valuable? How long will it take?  

That’s where having a roadmap helps you answer these questions. Like driving, you need to at least have a rough idea of which major roads to drive on, and the order in which you need to drive them.

Yet, creating a roadmap can get tricky because you have absolute freedom on how you’re going to achieve your objective.

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So to create a good road map, you should include major milestones. These are targets you need to hit in order to achieve success. Your road map should also include feasible and realistic actions that you can achieve.

Power Up Your Productivity

I hope you now have a better understanding of how focus truly works. By harnessing your focus using the Focus Flow, you’ll be able to work on a task more productively not because you’re able to ‘concentrate’, but rather because you know exactly what your end goal is, and you have a game plan in place to make that happen.

Once there is clarity, I can assure you that you’ll be less likely to get distracted or ‘lose’ focus on your tasks at hand.

You may think it’s going to take you extra time writing out an objective and setting out a road map. You may believe that you are better off getting right down to the actual work.

But, as I’ve mentioned, there’s no point in rushing your efforts that lead you to nowhere or cause you additional detours. You’ll end up expending more mental energy and time than needed.

Now, if you’d like to dive deeper into perfecting your Focus Flow by learning how to set clear milestones and feasible/realistic action tasks on your roadmap, then subscribe to our newsletter today. Start on a journey that will help you get to your intended destination twice as fast!

Featured photo credit: Paul Skorupskas via unsplash.com

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on February 18, 2019

How to Motivate Employees and Boost Team Productivity

How to Motivate Employees and Boost Team Productivity

These days, in a world with cognitive, AI, and extraordinary advances, we have failed at the most basic stimulus: motivation. Why do I say so? Just take a look at these statistics:

58 percent of managers said they didn’t receive any management training as per a CareerBuilder.com survey. Only 12% of employees leave their jobs because of more money. Research indicates that around 80% of employees leave their jobs due to “lack of appreciation”. Due to fear of failing, more than half of American workers don’t take their paid vacations. 53% of Americans are unhappy at work (not engaged). And 1 in 3 are working in a field they don’t like.[1]

Archaic people management and HR structures are the root cause.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

So how to motivate employees and boost team productivity?

Here are 3 key things that you can do to motivate your employees and boost team productivity:

1. Run Your Team/Group/Company like a Lean Startup

The Lean Startup phenomena by Eric Ries has been socialized across millions all over the globe. In a nutshell, it is a methodology for developing businesses and products, which aims to shorten product development cycles and rapidly discover if a proposed business model is viable; this is achieved by adopting a combination of business-hypothesis-driven experimentation, iterative product releases, and validated learning.[2]

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Encourage Your Employees

When you empower your employees (or family members) to do what they deem to be best for a particular roadblock, idea, or improvement, you create magic. You create genuine trust. You enable innovation. The result is happy, inspired employees who feel they have a say in the grand cosmic stage at work.

Note that increasing the competency level of employees and coaching and mentoring them along the way is key. You yourself, need to do the same. Nourish your brain – and get a mentor that will keep you at the edge of your game.

Offer Rewards

Motivation is also intrinsic. The startups I have worked at offered instant rewards — not just fat checks or equity increments, but Oscar-style nominations.

The non-monetary rewards were actually more coveted, and grandiose: lunch with the CEO, tickets to an Obama fund-raiser, horse-back riding with a world-class equestrian.

Compare this to a dodgy, corporate, white-cubicle dinosaur that had a “yearly performance review” where both parties dread the conversation. In a world of instant WhatsApp messages, having a conversation about performance, likes and dislikes cannot just happen annually in 60 minutes. Employees need to be rooted in the belief that their manager genuinely cares about them.

Give Autonomy

Another key attribute is autonomy. Most employees start brushing their resumes and cruising LinkedIn when their hands are tied in their current positions: approval forms, long meetings, escalations, and more meetings. In the world of agile and scrum masters, deliberating for the sake of deliberating is poison. You will choke the very employees that giddily accepted the job initially to “change the world”.

Within a reasonable realm of assessment and deep-dives, trust your employees to do the heavy lifting. Give them access to the knowledge, people and resources that help them directly make the choices that will shape the future of your team, and your company.

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Eliminate yourself as the bottleneck – and interject yourself as a benevolent, servant leader that is the symbol of high-performing organizations.

2. Apply the 90/90/1 Rule

I recently saw a video by Deepak Sharma (a leadership adviser) about productivity and this principle stuck with me. Here’s what it’s about:

Devote the First 90 Minutes of Your Day to Important Project

For the next 90 days, devote the first 90 minutes of your day to your most important project—nothing else. Do this for yourself and your employees.

We usually get sucked into the most wasteful, operational activities in the morning which robs our focus, and steers us into an unwanted rabbit hole. So mute your notifications, avoid the temptation to check your exploding inbox, and scroll your Instagram feed later. Instead, focus on that ONE thing that will provide real value to you, your team, or your business/company/home.

Apply this rule to yourself – and your team. Your team will thank you. Note: If you’re feeling really stretched for time, you can always hack the rule by testing out a “45/45/1” version.

A To Do Scheduling System

Another version of this is to use the Kanban concept, developed by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota. Kanban is a scheduling system employing boards and cards.

The most basic version is a canvas with “To-do”, “Doing”, and “Done” boards (or columns). Each activity or task is a “card” that moves from one column to the other. I use Trello (a Kanban-inspired app) that is a key system for my personal and professional life. It allows me to understand my workload, their priority, and due dates.

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I use importance and effort metrics (scores) for each task to understand what is truly necessary in my life to work on. It negates the FIFO (first-in, first out) paradox that has plagued millions of people. Instead, it allows me to take stock of what is on my plate, and then bite on what truly will move the needle for me, my team, my life, and my company.

With a limited appetite (at least for some), would you eat the veggies, fries, mashed potatoes and leave the sizzling steak? No, you wouldn’t (unless you are a vegan and ended up in the wrong restaurant).

Approach your work with a weighted vengeance – and encourage your team to do the same.

3. Align Passion and Skills to Purpose

The heart of human excellence often begins to beat when you discover a pursuit that absorbs you, frees you, challenges you, and gives you a sense of meaning, joy and passion.

“The most fortunate people on earth are those who have found a calling that’s bigger than they are—that moves them and fills their lives with constant passion, aliveness, and growth.” — Richard Leider

An ace team-member once told me that while she enjoys working for the company we both used to work at, she really hated anything to do with technology. She was more of a “people” person, and did not want to sit behind a desk sifting through lines of code.

What struck me was that she was in that role for more than a decade and had just spoken up. The good thing is she spoke up. She expressed her desire and interests. And it allowed her to get into a role of her liking within 30 days.

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Ask If They like What They’re Doing

If you, or a team member is frustrated, demotivated, or not performing at their best – one of the questions you should ask is whether they like what they are doing. Then genuinely try to help them get to the role they should be in (whether in the same team/company or not).

There’s a reason why 53% of Americans (and perhaps more or same across the globe) are unhappy at work. A butcher cannot be an ace salad maker. Pursue your passion – and help pave the way for your team. Unlock your potential and theirs. You will command and lead a supercharged team.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

The Bottom Line

Sometimes, passion has to be ignited. It is dormant, clouded by busy-ness, buried by wrong career choices, and plagued by non-supportive eco-systems. Some will climb out of it, but we as society — and in the case of business teams — incumbent upon the manager/CEO/leader to foster, grow, and nurture the employee.

Teach her the ropes. Show her the path. Advise him as you would yourself. Let them lead, and make mistakes. Do not fear them, rather make them the leader you would want to become.

For your not-so-great team members, understand that it is not personal, it is just not a good fit. Help them move on to the pastures they would be fit to graze on. Hence, hire slow (and fire fast).

Your team is a reflection of you. Boosting their confidence and helping them achieve the impossible is motivation. Focus on that, and you will have a productive team that you and your company will be proud of.

More Resources About Team Management

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

Reference

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