I've attended a few leadership training seminars in which developing the ability to focus was taught. Once you get the mind and body focused intently, it is truly amazing what we can accomplish both physically and mentally. I witnessed and experienced for myself some pretty awesome stuff as a result of focus.
Premier athletes talk about the ability to get "in the zone". I experienced being "in the zone" powerfully once during high school wrestling. I was going up against a guy from Boise High that had beaten me twice previously that season by a narrow margin. As I warmed up, I focused on my breathing and stretching...kinda yoga-like; before I even knew what yoga was. In my mind I could foresee the entire match and exactly what I would do in each situation...what moves I would make, what counter-moves I'd make...even counters to counters. When the ref's whistle blew to start the match I was still "in the zone" - a perfect synchronization of mind and body. My poor opponent didn't stand a chance. I racked up so many points that I won in the second round by technical fall.
We need contributors to society and business that are zoned-in, not zoned-out. We face such a huge variety of distractions in life that often carry over into our work. We are so often distracted by our quest to be entertained that we infringe on our time and ability to contribute to the good of the real world.
I'm not saying that watching a hilarious video clip on YouTube during the work day is a bad thing. There is a time and place for it. What I'm recommending is that when we sit down to work on a project or complete a task that we focus on it, and only that task until it is complete. You'll be surprised at home much more you can accomplish is much less time when you work "in the zone."
I'm as guilty as anyone of my generation. I get distracted so easily. I might be going to the web to look something up for work and I notice that I have a half dozen tweets, a couple Google+ notifications, an invitation on LinkedIn, news articles that are begging to be read, and some comments on my blog. Some strange and anxious feeling irrupts inside me and I feel like each item needs my attention right this very minute. That's when I need to take a breath, relax, focus on the task at hand knowing that I can always come back later to that non-life-changing stuff.
Here are some recommendations for myself and those of my generation and younger to help with our focus and productivity in today's world:
- Make a conscious decision to focus on the task at hand and only that task.
- Eliminate all the distractions you possibly can.
- Facebook friends can wait. Most emails can wait. Most phone calls can wait.
- Take a minute or two before beginning that task to focus on your breathing and clear the mind.
- Start each day by tackling the biggest gnarliest thing on your to-do list. Once you complete it in record time you will get an endorphin rush that will carry your productively throughout the rest of the day.
- Sometimes a big gnarly task can be complicated and overwhelming. When this is the case, break the task down into manageable baby-steps on your to-do list. Then attack those small steps one by one.
- Apply the one-touch principle. If you pick up a paper or open an email, address it and complete whatever it is you need to do with it. Then file or round-round file it. Don't let items linger partially done and don't let a huge to-do list paralyze you.
- Once you've completed a task, feel free to reward yourself by checking your favorite Facebook page for a few minutes, or even better, get up and take a walk and get some fresh air or text a love note to that special someone in your life.
- Approach the next task or project by starting over on this list.