There are many of us who struggle with focus, myself included.
A big part of achieving focus is acknowledging your distraction in the first place. Before looking at possible solutions, it’s important to look at what’s underneath your distraction and lack of focus.
So with your coaching hat firmly on your head, ask yourself some open-ended powerful questions that will clarify:
- Your individual needs,
- Your personal history of distraction and focus problems, and
- Your motivation for improving this issue.
The whole reason this topic fits so well in a coaching context is that no strategy fits every person and each person needs to come up with their own solution. Here are a few areas that may be challenging for you, with some solutions to try:
- Position your desk so it’s not facing a door or window
- Clear distracting items from your desk
- Make adjustments to your schedule to work when the fewest number of people are present
- Use noise-canceling headphones
- Check and process email on a set schedule rather than reacting every time a new message arrives (this HBR article about avoiding distractions at work notes that email is a form of asynchronous communication, even though we don’t usually treat it that way)
- Keep a notepad handy for those random, must-remember thoughts
- Use a timer or alarm to help you keep track of time
- Fidget with a small stone or other gadget (put it in your pocket when you’re in a meeting or with other people)
- Doodle (use colored pencils to engage more of your senses)
- Use a day planner
- Use an alarm, timer or watch with an alert of sound or vibration
- Use one folder to hold all of today’s papers
- Use sticky notes that can then be moved easily to the next day or week
- Plan to fill less time than you have (don’t over-commit)
- Block off time in your calendar for focused work and do not allow others to book with you at those times (Basecamp CEO Jason Fried uses this strategy to avoid playing “calendar Tetris”)
- Break down into small parts
- Use a calendar and plan backward
- Utilize a coach or coworker to help track and celebrate progress
- Double-check deadlines
- Plan to finish early
In the Harvard Business Review article, the call to action is actually to the organization, not the individual. There’s a lot a company can do to create a culture that minimizes distraction, starting at the top with its leadership. Until then, though, it’s up to each of us to use our own strategies to achieve the focus we need.