7 Strategies for Staying Focused in a Distracted World

7 Strategies for Staying Focused in a Distracted World

In this hyper-stimulated world, it’s no surprise that people struggle to focus. A recent survey found that over 60% of employees can rarely, if ever, complete an hour of deep work without being disrupted. So where is all that time – and money – going?

Let’s just play this out in the life of Joe, a high-performing product manager. 

His day starts with checking emails in bed, and from there, it’s a non-stop cycle of distractions. From coworkers seeking input (“Just five minutes”), to a never-ending stream of emails (“Almost done”), to unexpected meetings (“It’s urgent”) and new tasks to complete (“By today please”), Joe finds himself constantly pulled away from his work. Despite a busy day, he realizes at the end of it, very little has been accomplished. And the task that he sought to complete at the beginning of the work day has yet to be touched.

Days like these aren’t the exception– they are the norm. Many of us go through our own version of this cycle. At the end of a busy day, how often had we been productive and accomplished what we sought to achieve? In a world where we’re constantly bombarded with distractions, burdened by unrealistic expectations, and drowning under too many incoming requests, what can we do?

For the last several decades, David Allen and Justin Hale have studied and coached leaders in the skills to stay productive in a hyper-stimulated world. They present seven strategies for helping you and your employees focus.

1. Inventory tasks and projects: Keep an updated to-do list and review it regularly to stay in control of your daily tasks. Use this to-do list to help prioritise your workload.

2. Clarify and curate communication channel: Reduce distractions by clarifying the purpose of each internal communication channel and make response expectations clear.

3. Normalize “No”: Create a safe environment for employees to express burnout and overwhelm.

Case Study Example
Rich Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations, not only encourages employees to speak up, he normalizes and rewards the behavior.

When an employee says they don’t have bandwidth or are burned out, Rich teaches his project managers to smile and say, “Thank you for sharing that bad news with me.” Why? “Most leaders want to quash bad news. But bad news doesn’t just go away. Instead, it permeates the culture, creates quality and morale issues, and leads to endless hours of overtime.”

4. Keep Meetings Meaningful: Encourage employees to decline meaningless meetings. Ensure that all meetings are productive and efficient. Put the onus back on the meeting creator to show greater respect for others’ time.

5. Promote purposeful productivity: Ask employees if they have time and space to do their work and support them in closing any gaps i.e. help them remove themselves from unproductive requests, assist them in blocking out their calendar for focused work time, enable them to adjust their hours to work more seamlessly with their ability to focus.

6. Formalize Focus: Establish team norms of protected work time to ensure focused work is prioritized. Perhaps the easiest way to encourage focused work is to put it on the calendar.

7. Respect Boundaries: Honor protected work time and avoid interruptions as it sets the norm for you (as well as others) to do it again.

Build a culture where you and your people can focus on the work that really matters. Follow these strategies to keep your team efficiently engaged in a world designed to keep them distracted. Everyone wins when the work is done.

Source: Harvard Business Review | Compiled & Edited by Tailored Accounts

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