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You begin with a plan for what you want to accomplish for the day. However, halfway through your workday your plan gets changed due to some conflicting priority or distraction, like being called into an ad hoc meeting that lasts for 90 minutes and distracts you from your priorities.

One reason some get caught in what I call a “distraction loop” is because intentions and focus are not aligned. For example, many have good intentions to exercise but don’t follow through. The reason is a lack of focus on the goal and not having clearly defined objectives and motivation. Without focus we can be easily distracted and find acceptable reasons why we believe we don’t have time to exercise.

Awareness

Many of us get distracted each day at work and we lose our focus.

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Being focused is being clear on the task we’re committed to complete. When we’re not focused we’re more easily distracted by others’ priorities and easier work, and get pulled into spending time on tasks that aren’t core to our focused objective.

When we’re not focused, we’re at increased risk of feeling like we’re busy but end up not being that productive. It’s often due to getting caught up in touching a lot of different things and moving from task to task, which distracts us from focusing on our most important functions. We end up feeling like we’re constantly behind.

Though the idea of multi-tasking sounds good in theory, it’s rarely ever really effective, because when we move quickly from task to task without focus the quality of work suffers.

If you feel like you’re jumping around and on a roller coaster every day, your productivity and efficiency are at risk, often because of a lack of focus. If you determine you’re lacking focus, take charge of what you can control.

Accountability

There’s so much information coming at us in the form of e-mail and texts that it’s not hard to get distracted. One way to take charge of focus is to accept what we can control. By finding quiet private space, turning off notifications and not checking e-mail, we lower the likelihood of becoming distracted.

One of the benefits of becoming more focused on one task at a time is our brain becomes more tuned in and we’re more able to learn and master a task. In time, we’re able to complete the task faster, with higher quality than if we’re constantly rushing. Learning to slow down and focus on one thing at a time can reduce stress and increase our sense of accomplishment.

There’s a lot to be said for the adage, “less is more.” Being focused can increase our sense of accomplishment. However, it requires picking what’s important each day, focusing on it, and not allowing ourselves to be distracted.

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Action

One key for being focused is anticipating distraction. Be clear on why what you’re doing is important and what success looks like, and have a plan to complete the task. It can take time to learn before you can do. One problem many people have is they lack patience and focus to understand that they need to learn before they can do. Learning to ride a bike can be painful, but once mastered there’s little to think about other than enjoying the ride.

Learning how to increase focus begins with a decision, and like a muscle it requires time to develop.

Focus tips:

  • Prepare for asks – Before saying yes to a task, determine who really needs to do it. Can someone else do it? Can it be outsourced? Does it really need to be done now? Why? It’s okay to tell people you can’t do something at this moment because you’re focused on completing a task and now is not a good time. And then allow the other party to respond. We all need to be flexible and sometimes change our focus; however, it doesn’t need to be automatic.
  • Leverage your subconscious mind – As you learn to focus on important tasks one at a time, your subconscious mind will also learn, which will allow you to complete similar tasks faster. By slowing down, focusing and learning you set yourself up to move faster, with more effectiveness and efficiency.

The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and total well-being of their employees first. Register for the 2020 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at: employeerecommended.com. This series of articles supports the award.

Read about the 2019 winners of the award and watch a video from the winners here. You can also purchase the benchmark report that outlines findings from 2019 at this link.

Bill Howatt is the founder of Howatt HR Consulting and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

You can find other stories like these at tgam.ca/workplaceaward.

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