Staying focused is hard to do. There are so many personal and professional things that are constantly trying to get your attention and pull you away from what you are working on.
How well do you do staying focused on your task?
There is certainly an art to staying focused and getting the job done in an efficient manner. Here are several easy and practical things that you can do today to help you be more focused at work.
Keep your work area clean
The space that you work in can be a distraction to you in subtle or obvious ways depending on how much you clean up your workspace. Some areas to be mindful of:
Your desk should be clean except for the things that you need to work on your current task. Just like at home, surfaces tend to collect things. Get organizers as needed to ensure you don’t have stacks of folders, files, paperwork, or other items that can add distractions and stress.
Streamline your personal effects. I always encourage people to have some personal items in their workspace. If nothing else, it helps for people to see a different side of you and a way for them to connect with you outside of the workplace. Be mindful not to go over the top here. Instead of two dozen pictures, what’s your top four? Rotate them out from time to time to stay fresh. Keep knick-knacks to a minimum as well.
Keep a daily calendar and to-do list
I can’t stress the importance of keeping a monthly/daily calendar to help you stay focused. It helps you stay focused in a number of ways.
Set it and forget it! Requests for time, meetings, and other projects that pop up throughout the week and cause you to lose focus on what you are doing at the moment. Set those times and dates as quickly as possible so they won’t be a distraction and you can get back to work.
Pull the day off of your monthly calendar. Have your daily calendar handy so that you quickly see what you’ve got going on that day. I use a mousepad size pad (7in x 8 1/2 in) to write out my day similar to a to-do list. I have a good friend that prints her daily calendar view off. Many people are list junkies and this helps you stay focused on knocking each thing off of your list. It’s also an easy way to add things that need to be done today but don’t have a specific time attached to them.
Have a place to park your ideas
We’ve talked before about chasing after the proverbial rabbits that pop up in our daily lives, both at work and at home. Have a place to capture the idea, need, or topic so you can address it later. This is one of the reasons why I use such a large pad of paper for my daily calendar. I can capture several days on it, plus I have room to park these types of ideas and distractions on so I can address them later.
Minimize outside distractions
While you often can’t get rid of all outside distractions, there are steps that you can take to eliminate some and minimize others. Some simple things that you can do include:
Move to a quieter area.
Close the door to your space.
Let others know not to disturb you for a set amount of time.
Shut down windows, tabs, and apps that you don’t need on your computer while you work.
Take care of your phone
Your phone can oftentimes be an enemy when it comes to staying focused and getting things done. There are a number of easy things that you can do to minimize its distraction on you.
Set your phone to Do Not Disturb.
Have a dedicated charger at your desk that is just out of your normal reach. This will keep it nice and charged when you are done and makes it a little less tempting to pick up suddenly.
Minimize the number of notifications you get, especially ones that are pushed to your lock screen.
Communicating the vision for your team or organization is one of the most important things that you can do as a leader. Without a focused vision, employees can become lost in the meaning of their work, become unproductive, and have a higher chance of leaving to work for someone else.
In a Gallup poll, only 41% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they know what their company stands for, and only 27% strongly agree that they believe in their organization’s values.
If so few people connect to the company’s values, then how can they connect to the vision? Here are a few tips to help you communicate your personal and organizational vision to others.
Start with your values and purpose
Your people want to know that you have a clear plan for everything that is going on around them.
If you currently do have established Values and a purpose statement, reinforce and reintroduce those to your team. Begin tieing in your projects and work to that purpose, understanding, and set of values that your group holds.
If you don’t have established values, or if they need to be updated, spend time with key stakeholders in your organization or group to establish those. Avoid working through this process alone, as you’ll miss opportunities due to blind spots that we all have in our professional lives.
Build a good foundation that you can build your personal and company’s vision off of.
Say it again
The same Gallup poll also said only 23% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they can apply their organization’s values to their work every day.
It’s not like 77% of leaders and companies have never said a word about their values or vision for where they want to be. It’s likely that they said something early on, felt like it was communicated, or understood and moved on from it. Here are a few reasons why you need to keep communicating the vision to your team on a consistent basis.
They forget: Even if you put your values on posters in the office and make everyone use your vision statement in their email signature, they will forget about the overall vision of the organization. Think about all the distractions that happen to you on a daily basis. Those same types of distractions happen to everyone else on a regular basis and they need to be drawn in and refilled with purpose and vision to keep it top of mind.
The team changes: Perhaps you do a big visionary push a few months ago that was well received. That unified consensus quickly fades away as new people come on. Without that consistent cadence of vision casting, the team will eventually be filled with a majority of people that never heard your message.
The environment changes: Things change constantly. Look no further than 2020 to see how we can start with great intentions only to be thrown a curveball that no one saw coming. When shifts happen around us, we can sometimes question if the vision or purpose still applies. Communicate to your team during challenging times to solidify that vision for them.
We pay attention to what our leaders say. Communicate often about vision so that others have a clear understanding of what it is and that it is important to you and for them to be successful in their roles.
Always show them the why and the WIIFM
Help your team understand the why behind the decisions that you make as a leader. It will help them with understanding the need to change and will increase their buy-in to a change.
When communicating your vision for others, tie the action into the WIIFM (What’s in it for me). Show the person what benefits will happen for them as you work together to fulfill your mission and vision both on small scale and large scale goals.
Communicating vision is a constant process with your team. Just like a rudder on a ship, a proper vision may seem small in the big scheme of things, but it can steer you to your destination and without it, it doesn’t matter how big of an engine you have.
We sometimes think of employee engagement as a one-way street. What do we have to do as leaders to make sure that our people are productive in their roles? Yes, engaged employees are typically very productive, but they see engagement as a two-way street and more of a relationship. How engaging are you with your people?
You don’t have to be a leader at the top level to champion engagement with your team. In fact, you can build a very strong and engaged team right where you are by focusing on a few key areas.
Safety & Security
Safety and security will always be the foundational need that every employee wants whether they readily admit it or not. People want to know that they are secure in their role on your team and in the larger organization. Know, that doesn’t mean you have to say, “Scott, I wanted to just affirm you and say that your job is secure.” While that might be appropriate during a merger or acquisition if you said that every week, it would cause all kinds of stress for the person.
Focus on communicating clearly and often about change so that your team knows that there is a plan in place. Be honest and transparent during these communications, otherwise, people will fill in the gaps with their own interpretations which can cause unneeded drama in the workplace.
The last 18 months have been taxing and challenging to just about everyone in the labor force. One of the immediate opportunities that we saw as large work populations suddenly found themselves in a remote world, was a lost sense of connectedness to others.
Support and build a network of peers: Connect your team to other peers that may be separated by geographical location or business unit. Think outside of the box when it comes to networking. Look at professional organizations with like-minded interests to help further your employees’ connections to others.
Put your social efforts on the calendar: Be formal even in the informal to ensure that you are meeting people’s social needs. Whether it’s scheduling an outdoor meet-up, an online hangout, or larger events, be sure not to leave the social aspect up for chance.
Trust is a little more complex than the self-reflection question that asks, “Do I trust you?” There are four types of trust: Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy, and Self-Orientation. An employee that would rate you and your relationship as high in these four areas will be all-in when it comes to your leadership.
Time is truly an investment: As uncertainty, change, and crisis grows around you, invest more time in your people to build upon the trust that you have. Being visible and available to your team makes a world of difference for people.
Build a trusting culture: Culture starts with you. Create an inclusive and safe space for your team by modeling the behavior that you want others to follow. Lift people up, encourage individuality, and support people as they take risks in their role.
We all long for a sense of purpose in work and in life. Without a personal purpose to a larger impact on our work, we become unengaged, unproductive, and will eventually leave the team. With a strong sense of purpose, employees can navigate complex change and uncertainty while tieing their work to the larger goal of the group.
Share purpose stories: Share stories that showcase examples of how people are living their purpose through tough and uncertain scenarios.
Make it part of your daily dialog: Link the “why” to the “how” for those on your team. Remember that a great leader will consider the journey as being just as important as arriving at the destination. Look for consistent ways to communicate purpose to your team through emails, meetings, and calls.
Remember that everyone is different in their needs in order to be fully engaged in the workplace. Take time to identify those individual nuances and dial in a great strategy to keep your people engaged and satisfied so that they can have a long career under your leadership.
There are absolutely advantages in working from home; accessibility, a higher level of engagements, and lower costs for you personally among other things.
Working in a remote environment can be a challenge too. While Emotional Intelligence is a major differentiator in the real world, you can leverage and even grow your EQ in a remote world.
Turn the camera on
Whenever you turn on your camera you are putting a little bit of yourself out there. You are displaying vulnerability and authenticity to those that you are meeting with. This can help you and the other party build empathy with each other.
Be mindful of your background: Ideally, you want a clean and nondistracting background. Clean up the space behind you before jumping on the call. At my home studio, I have two closet doors that are in view. I always make sure that those are closed so that they aren’t a distraction. As fun as the virtual backgrounds are to use, stay in the real world if possible. They can be distracting themselves and don’t always work right.
Respect the time: In general, video calls do run shorter than an in-person meeting. Be mindful of the time and land the meeting a couple of minutes early to allow for people to close up and get ready for the next appointment.
Present yourself and your environment in a way that is positive and connects with others: We’ve all seen the joke about the guy in his underwear with a suit jacket on his video call. Put a little bit of effort into how you look to others. You don’t want to show up looking like you just got out of bed. Also, consider the impression you are giving others with your environment. You don’t want the amazing views of your condo to distract the new employee that just started at the ground level.
Lead with and master small talk
Some people hate small talk, but when it’s done with intent and with the right focus it can really add value to the relationship. Using small talk to build rapport and connection before you jump into a heavy topic can be invaluable to how the conversation goes.
Great small talk is always other-focused. Here are a couple of examples to contrast:
Before we get going, tell me how John’s baseball game went…..
Did everybody have a good weekend?
The first examples show you are being specific with the person, empathetic towards their personal life and affirms that you listen to the other person.
The second is not as strong with EQ. It’s generic and seems like you are just checking the box without a real interest in the answer. If I’m in a one-on-one I will back the conversation up if the person jumps right into the business. It shows them that they are my priority over the reason for us to being together.
Transform your small talk from an awkward silence filler to one where you learn and connect with others.
Be transparent and show authenticity
It may sometimes feel like as a leader you have to have all the answers all the time, besides, your people are looking to you for advice and guidance.
Be ok with admitting when you don’t know the answer. Your people will value your honesty and will build your trust level with others.
Acknowledge when you can’t fully connect empathically. Instead of trying to relate in an unrealistic way or turning the attention back to you, tell the person that you don’t understand the challenge that they are facing. Just being there and acknowledging the moment means a lot to people.
Use the opportunities in remote work to grow your self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Grow your EQ and your impact on others will increase no matter the distance.
The year 2020 fundamentally changed how many go about doing their work!. In a matter of weeks, you may have found yourself going from visiting with the co-worker next to you to suddenly setting up a work station in your dining room. That sudden and sustained shift is stressful and its impact can be long felt on your professional and personal journey.
With the right focus and attention, we can enjoy all the perks of working in a virtual environment and thrive to greater success.
Keep focus in the chaos
Stay focused on your assigned tasks and responsibilities by avoiding distractions in your home. This one can be really challenging depending on your home situation. Your significant other, kids, TVs, streaming, social media, and other things all tug at your attention throughout the day. Be creative and set up a good working environment the best that you can.
Keep your calendar updated to provide structure in both your home and work environment. Scheduling both sides of your life ensures that one is not a distraction for the other. You don’t want that grocery list or messy kitchen to be a day-long distraction on your work.
If you have children doing virtual school, help them with a similar setup so they can stay focused on their school work. We live in an older house and converted our formal dining area into a school space for both our kids. We weren’t sure how it would work, but it turned out great for both in the end.
Build and protect work routines and boundaries
It’s very easy to let your work and life blur together when you work in a virtual environment. I have spent the last 7 years working out of a home office to various degrees and it is always something that I have had to be mindful of.
Success comes down to setting and protecting boundaries, otherwise, you’ll find yourself sitting down for just a minute to do something only to lose a couple of hours of personal time as you continue on in your work. Things will no doubt pop up after hours that may require your immediate attention. Obviously address those, but let them be the exception and not the norm.
If the people that work with you know that you have no boundaries, they will likely take advantage of it whether they know it or not. It could come in texts, emails, or calls that normally wouldn’t take place if you had a good set of boundaries.
Communicate often and with intent
Since you may not see your leader all the time anymore, you need to be intentional about communicating with them. Set up a weekly check-in time and also update them throughout the week on your projects and outstanding items. it will help both of you when your leader has a good sense of where you are in your work.
Keep an open line of communication with your peers as well. Head off a sense of isolation by staying in touch with those you work with. Find out what’s going on in their personal life and how you can help them in their professional life.
Be transparent with your leader about your journey
No one is perfect and no one should expect perfection from you in your virtual work environment. Breakthrough the pleasantries with your leader and stay transparent and authentic in the struggles that you may be facing in your situation. It’s always great if you can bring a potential solution along with a problem to your leader, but sometimes you are at a total loss and simply don’t know what the solution could be. Don’t let that hold you back from talking to your leader. They need and want to know.
A leader can’t lead and help if they don’t know that you need a hand.
Follow these tips to keep a focused workspace where you feel connected with others and good boundaries to feel a great work-life rhythm.
One of the challenges of remote work is that there are fewer opportunities for everything. There may be little to no chances to just hang out with your co-works or team anymore. Certainly fewer opportunities exist to have an impromptu brainstorming or problem-solving session.
With fewer opportunities to connect and grow together, it’s important for you as a leader to have good operational behaviors to close the virtual gap between you and your team.
Have one-on-ones with your team
It’s important to schedule a regular cadence to check-in individually with your people. For newer ones, they should be very frequent (multiple times a week), for your more experienced members perhaps it’s weekly or even bi-weekly depending on the need and scope of work.
One-on-ones are very productive because it offers your team members a chance to address things that have come up between meetings. I have mine weekly and typically write out a list ahead of time of things to cover or updates to give. Some items may include important project updates, non-critical people issues, questions on clarity, and updates from previous topics.
Always open the meeting on a personal note and avoid jumping straight into business unless you meet very frequently and/or you are both pressed for time. The thing you open with first is your most important topic. Show your people that they are important connecting with them before you start with the business topics at hand.
Have an open calendar
People can get weird about calendars. Whether it’s a feeling of invasion of privacy or they lack trust in others, some people choose to keep their calendars locked down so that no one can see them. As a leader, you should at least open up your calendar for your team to see and ask them to do the same for you. This will give you both a chance to look and schedule time together without a bunch of back and forth beforehand.
You can always keep certain events and time private if you need to. Look for the privacy setting when you create an event, it will typically mark the time as busy or unavailable when others see your calendar.
Be on time
Does your day consist of going from meeting to meeting? It can be hard to keep yourself on schedule for the day when each meeting has an X factor of talking heads and oversharing. Do your best to end the meeting on time so you can be on time for the next one. It shows you respect the other person’s time and have them as a priority.
I typically watch the time in my meeting and then give us a verbal warning if I don’t feel like we are going to wrap up on time. I may say something like, “Alright, we have five minutes left. What follow-up is needed as we wrap up this topic?” If there are outstanding items still to cover, schedule more time later to discuss and follow-up on.
Knock it out now
With fewer opportunities to pop-in on one another, it’s more important to make decisions in the moment. Don’t make a rash or ill-informed judgment call, but do your best to provide an answer, direction, and clarity in the moment.
Provide an answer to someone when they ask for it, rather than putting it off unless it requires further follow-up or knowledge gathering. Every time you delay a decision or push the topic until later on, you are hitting the pause button on that action item. Because of the nature of remote work, you’ve likely just stopped all progress on the topic whether you realized it or not.
Take care of questions and decisions in the moment if at all possible.
You can be a great leader in the booming age of remote work. Carry the proper mindset and build strong operational behaviors to lead your team, and yourself, well.