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The Two Things Killing Your Ability to Focus

Clean up

Your environment affects your productivity and quality of work. Don't let yourself get distracted by clutter.

To help you stay focused, take the time to clean up your work environment, both physical and digital.

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The Two Things Killing Your Ability to Focus

The Two Things Killing Your Ability to Focus

https://hbr.org/2016/08/the-two-things-killing-your-ability-to-focus

hbr.org

6

Key Ideas

Our inability to focus

Two significant challenges are destroying our ability to focus.

  1. We are increasingly overwhelmed with distractions from various connected devices.
  2. We rely excessively on meetings as the default form of interaction with other people at work. Studies reveal that we spend 35% -55% of our time on meetings.

    We need to set aside more time if we want to remain focused and productive at work.

    Practice mindfulness

    Our biggest mistake is how we start the day. Instead of checking email on your phone, try a simple mindfulness practice when you wake up. 

    It can be quietly taking a few deep breaths or meditating for 20 to 30 minutes.

    Organize tasks

    A common mistake is to fill your calendar with the wrong tasks.
    A meeting can break your day into two pieces, each too small to do anything hard in.

    Instead, take advantage of your body's natural rhythms. Focus on complex, creative tasks in the morning and schedule your meetings for the afternoon.

    Clean up

    Your environment affects your productivity and quality of work. Don't let yourself get distracted by clutter.

    To help you stay focused, take the time to clean up your work environment, both physical and digital.

    Shrink meetings

    Limit the number of people in any meeting to eight or fewer, unless the meeting is informational.

    Ensure that your meetings result in action items, a timeline for each action item, and one person who is responsible.

    Preserve buffers

    Switching tasks and context is difficult. You cannot be efficient if you run from meeting to meeting. If you want to avoid wasting time, add buffer time between each meeting.
    For every 45 - 60 minutes you spend in a meeting, take 15 minutes to process, reflect, and prioritize.

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    Common Challenges of Remote Work

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    • Lack of face-to-face supervision, which leads to a two-way communication gap and even mistrust.
    • There is a delay in the procurement of information as remote workers aren’t able to sense the atmosphere and real-time events at the workplace, leading to a lack of ‘mutual knowledge’.
    • A sense of isolation among remote workers, leading to a feeling of less belongingness within the organization.
    • Distractions at home due to unplanned work-from-home transition, with employees balancing childcare and many other responsibilities along with work.
    Improving Engagement And Productivity

    A few specific, research-backed steps that can be taken to improve the engagement and productivity of remote employees:

    • Establishing Structured Daily check-ins, by establishing a daily call or touchpoint.
    • Providing several different communication technology options, using virtual communication tools like Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams etc., and making use of video conferencing.
    • Establishing clear rules of engagement for communicating with the coworkers or the managers, according to the levels of urgency.
    • Providing opportunities for remote social interaction by talking about non-work activities, thereby reducing the feeling of isolation among remote workers.
    • Offering encouragement and emotional support by listening to the workers, acknowledging their stress, and keeping their needs and issues in focus.
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    Measuring Employee Productivity

    Fixing employee productivity in the industrial age, when most workers were handling machinery and it’s parts, was a tedious but doable process. The managers had to fix the people who were making mi...

    The Old Productivity Formula

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    Quality And Quantity

    While assigning value to the output of knowledge workers, we cannot simply measure the output like before.

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    One on one meetings

    ...are held between a team leader and team member

    They are conversations that usually last no longer than 10 to 30 minutes where they discuss what is going well and what needs t...

    A recommended agenda

    Most effective one on one meetings typically last about 30 minutes:

    • 10 minutes for the direct report from the employee;
    • 10 minutes for the manager’s remarks and messages, and;
    • 10 minutes for the employee and manager to draw a way forward.
    Objectives of effective 1:1 meetings
    • find out about the employee’s current emotional state.
    • track the status of the employee’s performance and how their goals are coming along.
    • learn if there are any obstacles in the way to the employee’s goals.
    • discuss specific issues – either the employee’s, the manager’s, or both.
    • get honest value-added feedback from the employee.
    • provide an opportunity for the manager to coach the employee.
    • share formal and informal information about the team and company as a whole.

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    Break Up The Tedious Tasks.

    Boring tasks lead to distraction and procrastination and enduring them exacerbates the problem. By taking frequent breaks and doing physical activity, gives you the energy you need to mai...

    Fidget To Help You Focus

    Trying to focus on something without moving tires the mind. In general, releasing excess energy throughout the day will help you stay on task.

    When you need to pay attention during a call or meeting, bring a small object that you can play with, such as putty. Handling something that you can manipulate mindlessly while you listen frees up your mental energy so you can better focus.

    Visually Map Your Time And Tasks
    Map your day by the hour and review it throughout the day to help you organize your time. That visual cue will help you pace your day and budget your time appropriately. To do that:
    • Use free hours effectively by ranking your task list visually.
    • Try color coding your list according to priority, with four or five levels of urgency.
    • Do the essential, time-sensitive tasks early in the week while you're fresh, then save the optional ones for later.

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    1:1 meetings
    1:1 meetings

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    1:1 category

    The goal of an effective 1:1 is not an update from your direct report or for you to lay down some instructions. It's a conversation. It's a chance to hear about your direct reports' ideas for your product, their career goals, and possibly their opinion of their performance.

    Keep a list of three potential topics ready for discussion. When they say they have nothing to discuss, you can jumpstart the conversation with one of your items.

    Manager's best tool

    Your most precious resource is your own time and energy. When you spend it on your team, it helps build healthy relationships.

    Your job as a manager isn't to give advice or 'save the day.'' It's to empower your reports to find the answer themselves. If you want to understand what's going on, ask. Let her lead the conversation while you listen and probe.

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    Time blocking
    Time blocking

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    Time blocking and focus

    By scheduling every minute of your day you not only guard against distraction but also multiply your focus.

    Also, focusing on one task at a time can make you up to 80% more productive than splitting your attention across multiple tasks.

    Cons of the time blocking practice
    • It takes a lot of time and effort.
    • Few of us (if any) have the same schedule every day.
    • We’re bad at estimating how long tasks will take to do.
    • Constant interruptions and “urgent” tasks can destroy your system.
    • Flexibility is key in most workplaces.
    • You can lose sight of the bigger picture if you focus just on each day.

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    The goal of staying focused

    The goal is not constant focus, but a short period of distraction-free time every day. 

    Twenty minutes a day of deep focus could be transformative.

    Do creative work first

    Typically, we do mindless work first and build-up to the toughest tasks. That drains your energy and lowers your focus.

    In order to focus effectively, reverse the order. Check off the tasks that require creativity or concentration first thing in the morning, and then move on to easier work.

    Allocate your time deliberately

    We are truly focused for an average of only six hours per week. You want to be really diligent with what you put into those hours.

    90 percent of people do their best thinking outside the office. Notice where and when you focus best, then allocate your toughest tasks for those moments.

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    Focus on value

    The key to any productivity system is to focus on value, not effort.

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    This process walks through a list of prompts in different categories, looking for things you're trying to remember and commitments you've made and gets them out onto paper.

    It will help you clear your thoughts and get the distractions out of your head.

    Review the week to come

    Take the time to review the coming week's schedule and organize it into large chunks of time, with tasks grouped by importance and urgency.

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    Statistics about multi-tasking
    • Trying to focus on more than one thing at a time reduces your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s the cognitive equivalent of pulling an all-nighter.
    • The average desk job ...
    When you single-task...
    • you tend to work on the right things. Effective single-tasking requires planning. Starting your day without a plan is just asking for distraction and inefficiency.
    • you accomplish more in less time with less stress: Intentionally focusing on one task at a time has been proven the most efficient way to move through your to-do list.
    4 essential components of effective single-tasking:
    1. Cutting out distractions.
    2. Make a single-tasking plan you’ll actually stick to.
    3. Dealing with unavoidable distractions.
    4. Getting back on track when you’ve fallen off the single-tasking band wagon.

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    Instead of increasing the number of productive hours, we can focus on getting the right things done in a timely way. We also need to restore and balance ourselves, our colleagues, family and environment, instead of a neurotic or pathological focus on deadlines.

    Find out what's truly important to us and use the finite resource of time wisely.

    Phantom Workload

    Phantom workload looks like real work but results in massive unproductivity and even conflict in an organization. The pressure to meet unrealistic expectations causes a vicious cycle of further workload.

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