Look around you where you work and pick out the people you either identify as strong/resilient leaders or high performers. Now reflect on how they approach work and consider how often you might describe them as ‘focused’. Focus is widely acknowledged as a key component in resilient leaders and high performers.
Focus is frequently mentioned in leadership literature in relation to goals, vision and communication but it runs much deeper than that. Developing focus is so important in building your mental toughness and resilience.
It is focus that enables the resilient leader to concentrate on the right thing at the right time, casting distractions aside so the task at hand can be dealt with and completed. It is the ability to focus that allows the resilient leader to approach even difficult tasks and situations in a relaxed, calm and controlled manner. That aura of being in control in the most challenging situations and withstanding the loudest voices and short-term pressures are just two of the outcomes of focus.
Focus: The Benefits
Already, we can see how focus underpins mental toughness, resilience and high performance. The benefits of being able to focus are huge as focus:
- Enables confidence, clarity and commitment.
- Allows you to increase or decrease your level of intensity, depending on the difficulty of the task at hand.
- Brings precision of thought and attention so you can focus on the right thing at the right time.
- Gives you the clarity to see both the whole task and its component parts allowing you to break the task down and prioritise.
- Allows you to set aside your own vulnerabilities and ignore distractions.
- Increases your ability to develop a range of qualities and skills as, no matter what they are, they all require focus.
- Perhaps best of all is that this ability to focus feels really good!
Focus: In the Flow
This is another significant benefit you will experience by developing your ability to focus. If you talk to some of the resilient leaders and high performers you thought about at the start of this article just after they have been completely focused on a task, they will use phrases like ‘things were happening automatically’, ‘I didn’t really have to think about it too much’, and ‘I was totally absorbed in the task’. You will recognise this as being ‘in the flow’.
‘The flow’ is a great place to be. It is a state of mind where you are completely focused on the task at hand, where your focus is directing you towards achievement and where there are no distractions beyond the task.
Fortunately, you can develop your ability to focus. The good news is that it mainly involves some discipline and plenty of practice.
In this section, I will give you some simple actions you can take to improve your ability to focus. If you enjoy these and find them beneficial, please check out my Resilient Leader masterclasses where you can develop your mental toughness and resilience further. Or, if you want to focus on developing focus specifically email me to discuss my High Performance Mindset for Leaders workshop.
Tips to Improve Your Focus
- Reduce multitasking
Let’s just get straight to the point. Multitasking is a myth. It has taken hold in lots of leadership literature, and you will hear lots of people talking about how they are multitasking. The truth is, multitasking only serves to divide your resources, attention, focus and time among several tasks where you end up not giving sufficient focus to any of the tasks. Multitasking reduces your focus.
Tip: start on a single task (perhaps after prioritising), set your goal for that task that specifies what you want to complete at this time and start working. Continue until you have achieved your goal.
- Switch off social media, messaging and email
These apps and tools are designed to grab your attention and distract you so you give them your time. Social media, in particular, is designed to lure you in by engaging you in habitual behaviour such as scrolling. You cannot be focused and have these open at the same time. Remember, it is the app that is grabbing our attention rather than the person sending the message who is very unlikely to expect an immediate response.
Tip: set one or two short periods each day that are dedicated to responding to emails, messaging and social media. Outside of these set periods, switch it all off and put your phone in a drawer or a bag so you can’t see it.
- Eliminate distractions
The workplace is full of distractions. No doubt, like most people at work, you are constantly bombarded with information from different sources and via a range of media. It can be overwhelming and definitely reduces your ability to focus. You must find a way to eliminate distractions for the times when you need to focus completely on a task.
Tip: when you need to focus completely on a task, set time aside for that task in your schedule, perhaps informing those people around you that you are not to be disturbed. Book a room or find a quiet space where you can work undisturbed. Also, see No 2 above!
- Get enough sleep
Many people do not get enough sleep. Our sleep time is continually being squeezed by busy work, social and family lives and our desire to relax before going to sleep by watching TV or reading from a smartphone or tablet. These devices hinder the release of melatonin which promotes sleep anticipation and is linked to feeling rested.
Tip: turn your bedroom into a sleep haven with comfortable bedding, no clutter and blackout blinds/heavy curtains. Remove all distracting devices such as phones, tablets and TVs.
You have heard this tip before. Many times, no doubt, and here it is again. Prioritising is a vitally important skill for focus. This allows you to start working and concentrate on your highest priority task rather than, perhaps, starting with the task you enjoy most.
Tip: as you prepare to leave work for the day, write down the 6 most important tasks you need to do the next day. When you arrive for your next working day, prioritise your tasks and start working on the highest priority task. Stick at it until it is complete and move on to your second highest priority task.
- Break the task into smaller chunks
Many people get overwhelmed by a task because they look at the whole task. Instead, you should break the task down into it’s component parts. These smaller chunks are easier to deal with and complete giving you a sense of satisfaction and achievement as each is completed.
Tip: break the task or project you want to focus on into smaller chunks, ensuring each chunk is a distinct mini-task. Then prioritise the mini-tasks so you can start with the highest priority and make good progress on the bigger task.
- Take breaks
Focus is difficult to achieve or maintain if you are tired or do not take proper breaks. Make sure you take regular short breaks to maintain your focus.
Tip: set a timer so you can take a short break at your optimum times. Research shows that a short break every hour helps improve focus, however you should do what works best for you.
Exercise just makes everything better. If we exercise regularly we are more likely to eat better, sleep better and focus better.
Tip: make sure exercise is incorporated into your daily routine.
These are simple actions you can take to increase your focus. If you really want to increase your focus and resilience, take a look at my Resilience Leader masterclasses or email me to discuss my High Performance Mindset for Leaders workshop.