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How not to lose focus on important matters at work

How not to lose focus on important matters at work

Sandra was hoping to achieve a lot as the day began. After dealing with the day’s email, she quickly jumped into the research for the next article she planned to write. She was interrupted by a colleague who arrives to discuss about another ongoing project. As she tried to get back to her work, she got a call from a client and finds out that she forgot to reply to an important email. Tens of other things barged in and she totally forgot the research and at the end of the day she felt frustrated as she had not made any real progress on her research!

How many of you can relate to this story?

Multiple activities simultaneously demanding your attention is no more extraordinary at the workplaces today. People are loaded with various important tasks and deadlines. No matter whether you’re a developer, writing code all day or a leader responsible for business across the globe, or an entrepreneur struggling and juggling to build a company. But most often, as we try to multitask and expand our boundaries, we often start to lose focus on the important matters. Partly because ‘little urgent things’ occupy our attention so fully that we run short of bandwidth to process further information.

Why at all do we lose focus of the important stuff?

I remember a leader sharing his predicament as he was attending a presentation and trying to think through the strategy for the next quarter. He thought he was having his attention on the presentation but found that as one thought led to another, he was just musing on some potential hurdles to the business. He realised he could recall less than 10% of the presentation and the strategy still eluded him! This is a fairly common thing to happen but why?

In simple words, we forget to draw lines between two consecutive tasks. Our brain can never make two decisions at one instance. This means when we call ourselves multitasking, we are burdening the brain with more information than it can efficiently deal with. Very often I come across leaders who admit to being absent-minded about the task at hand. What I mean by this is, they would find themselves thinking about a previous incident while working with something entirely different at the moment.

Well, there can be two broad reasons why you fail to concentrate on the crucial tasks.

1. Multitasking and stressful workload

When people complain about losing focus and forgetting important things, the first question I ask them is, “How many things do you handle simultaneously?” and more often than not, the answer is, “many”. Leaders are often loaded with many burdens and responsibilities that become the reasons for stress and anxiety. If they do not have their gameplan ready, stress and anxiety eventually cause poor concentration and poor time management yielding poor results.

2. It’s not important for you “personally”

Do you remember what you wore on your last birthday? I hope that’s a yes! But you probably don’t remember what you wore last Thursday! Why so? You tend to forget what’s not very important for you personally. Sometimes, out of frustration and exhaustion we lose track and get distracted. Personally, I feel this can be avoided if you consider the task at hand to be the most important thing. Think about how a particular task can impact your life and this will surely get your priority list clear and straight.

How to overcome this?

The first thing is to focus on reducing the unnecessary stress. Multitasking and overburdening yourself with more tasks than you can reasonably handle yourself are the primary reasons that lead to inefficiency and poor concentration. But along with that, you should acknowledge the fact that you cannot personally give 100% to every single thing! The secret to maintain focus at work is sorting tasks according to their priorities.

In order to successfully manage important and urgent tasks at work, the first and foremost thing you need to understand is, why is that particular thing important to you? Ask yourself this question whenever you encounter a new task. This is what will help you to set priorities and help you get more done!

Here are some other useful ways that might help.

1. Remove unnecessary distractions

The social media ‘pings’ are a great distraction; we are interested in the personal and professional lives of our friends, family and colleagues. There could be other things too! Find out what takes you away from “focussing” and set yourself to stay away from them when you need to have focussed time.

2. Use systems to stay on top of the critical tasks

Sometimes we end up watching that last episode of series or taking a coffee break with a colleague instead of focussing on a time sensitive task. You can take help from task-planners, alarms, reminders, calendars, to-do-lists etc. You can also consider having an accountability partner.

3. Schedule time for breaks

Our mind needs to rest after every task-completion to clear up the previous information and stress to get ready for the next one. If we skip this, naturally we won’t be very attentive and ultimately things can be all messed up later.

4. Connect to yourself

The importance of self-care can never be overstated. Yoga, meditation or any stress busting activity that helps you connect to yourself better is essential. Working after a sleepless night is not a good Idea! Make sure to get a good-night sleep before you start your day. This will keep you happy, healthy and you can perform better at anything you take up.

5. Catch yourself

It is very important to be aware of your own self, behaviours and patterns. Be aware if you are procrastinating certain kind of tasks, and is it becoming a habit?

Be ready to challenge your patterns and behaviours which you would like to change. Take help from a coach to help you work on the new behaviours you would like to develop.

6. Develop & Delegate

The time you spend on developing your team to handle more tasks to your satisfaction will help you achieve a lot more over time. Once you are happy with what they can do, you will be able to delegate with ease and move on to the more important tasks. As you move away from the urgent, you can focus on important and strategic tasks.

These steps along with the prioritization will help you be far more focussed and successful. Try them out!

About the Author

Ms. Manbir Kaur is an Executive and Leadership Coach (Professional Certificated Coach, PCC - ICF). She is also a Conversational Intelligence(C-IQ) Enhanced Skills Practitioner and a key-note speaker.