Yesterday I struggled with focus. My mind was everywhere.
Design this class. And that class. Create a catchy title and description for an upcoming manager session. Send out calendar invites. Start prepping for upcoming important meetings. Answer incoming emails and help someone work through an urgent talent management system question. Catch up on Twitter and LinkedIn and Forbes Leadership articles.
Oh, and just that little pesky thing I'm creating on the side that I like to call start your own business.
One thing I really like about myself is that I generate great ideas and then execute on them. It makes me an effective instructional designer and talent development guru.
But it also hurts my productivity because my brain bounces in so many directions and I often start one thing, move on to something else, but then feel inspired by a song I'm listening to or a Twitter post I read and stop everything to write down the idea.
And then I get exhausted because my brain is spinning in so many directions and frustrated because I don't have a work output to show for the energy I've put into the day. Sound familiar to anyone?
On my best days there are a few things I do to keep myself focused.
I've figured out that I'm most creative in the morning and that constantly checking social media takes time out of my creative block. I know that I feel a sense of urgency to reply to emails, so checking constantly makes me less productive. I know that I need to set up my day each morning if I want feel successful.
I also do these things:
Block time. I need time to think. Regroup. Eat a snack. On a day filled with meetings or a looming to do list, I divide my calendar into chunks. I might schedule 30 minutes to myself before an important meeting or in between back to back meetings. Or block an hour of time to work on something in particular. If it's on my calendar, it holds more weight than if it's in a bulleted list in my notebook.
Identify "in the zone" windows. I'm at my best in the mornings. Because I know that, I choose to do the hard things in the mornings - the things that take the most energy or thought or creativity. I'm also my most nervous in the mornings, so if I have to schedule an important meeting, I'll put it after lunch. That way I can prepare in the morning (when I'm most productive).
Walk around. As the afternoon goes on, I get less and less productive. I stare at my to do list and then decide to search on Amazon for something I obviously desperately need to survive. When I hit the reset button every hour in the afternoon, my focus improves. I have something to look forward to and when I sit back down, I've given myself permission to switch gears and work on something else. It's when I've been sitting at my desk for hours that I lose all ability to be productive and convince myself that online shopping or social media is a better use of time.
Connect. When I'm struggling with focus or getting stuff done, it might seem counter intuitive, but if talk to my coworkers, the connection that's made leaves me feeling refreshed. It doesn't have to be a deep conversation (I'm introvert and those are painful ) - it just needs to reset my brain so that when I sit back down I'm recommitted to getting something done.
It's taken years for me to realize and commit to doing the things that make me productive. On my best days I practice all of these tips, and on my worst days I give myself grace (because I'm human and mess up) when I'm unproductive because I didn't follow my own advice.
Self-awareness is a key component to effective leadership and an easy way to practice it is to understand what it takes to be at your peak of productivity. Without this, we glide through the day on autopilot, feel like we've been pulled in twenty different directions, leave work exhausted, and then go to bed feeling like there's nothing to show for it.