Great leaders stay focused on the strategic big picture while prioritizing the smaller pieces that will form the global canvas. If asked what is the one defining quality that sets great leaders apart from their wannabe counterparts, it would have to be their ability to maintain focus on the important issues. Sure, once behind closed doors, even the most successful leaders probably have moments of indecision, procrastination and uncertainty, but even the sharpest minds need to take a break occasionally.
Focus On the Important Tasks
For the majority of us, the power to focus on one task at a time and see it through to completion is not an innate gift. Focus is a learned response, so if we want to achieve the professional, personal and social goals we imagine, we have to first learn how to focus on what we want.
We now live in a frenetic, activity-filled, multi-tasking, instant gratification society, so it is easy to get lost in the distractions that bombard us from every angle. How many times have you found yourself on the phone talking to a client, while reading your emails, hitting the "Reply" button and then typing out a response? Where is your focus while you are completing a number of individual tasks at the same time?
Focus requires that we learn to differentiate between the "urgent" and the "important" tasks. Urgent tasks are distractions that cause us, albeit subconsciously, to put off or delay the important projects. And it's the important tasks that lead us to our objectives and goals.
Responding to urgent emails, answering the phone, or checking your pager can all be categorized as urgent tasks. We are conditioned to believe that these urgent tasks require our instant attention because they keep us busy and make us feel important and needed. We think, "This will only take a minute," when, in fact, urgent tasks can often take a lengthy amount of "minutes" to complete.
11 Guidelines for Staying Focused
The power of focus lies in your ability to distinguish the urgent from the important; and concentrate your energy on the important. Here are some guidelines to help re-direct your focus and prioritize getting the important stuff done first.
1. Write down the important tasks you have set yourself for the day. These are the results-driven projects that require your complete focus. Prioritize those tasks according to their importance, and then plan a strategy for completing the most important task first. Visualize the entire process and how it will look once it's completed. Keep that image at the front of your mind.
2. Clear your desk of everything except the important project you are working on. If necessary, make a pile of paperwork on the floor. You can always pick it up once your important task is completed.
3. Block out a time in your daily schedule to attend to the urgent matters. Most of us find we are at out lowest ebb early in the afternoon, so this is an ideal time to take care of anything "urgent".
4. Don't answer the phone. Imagine you are in a meeting and can't be interrupted.
5. Turn off your email client and shut down the automatic email notification system.
6. Turn off your cell phone or shift the ring tone to "silent".
7. Close down any programs on your computer that could cause you to become distracted. Remember to turn off RSS feeds.
8. Close the door to your office. If you work in an open plan space where there is a lot of noise around you, consider buying a pair of ear plugs.
9. Work attentively. If you find yourself getting distracted, re'visualize the project in your head and the action steps necessary to complete it.
10. Take regular breaks. Very few of us can remain focused for long periods of time without losing the plot, so take a 5 to 10 minute break every hour.
If you sit at a desk, get up, stretch your legs and take a few deep breaths. If you have been working on a computer, re-train your eyes to focus on middle to long distance objects. This helps avoid eye strain.
11. When you have successfully completed one of your important projects, give yourself an imaginary pat on the back for a job well done!
The emails and phone messages will still be there when you have completed one or more of your important tasks.
Taking the urgency out of the urgent tasks makes you aware that they weren’t life-threateningly urgent after all. Completing the urgent tasks within your time frame enables you to focus on each small task individually, and then remove it from your desk and your mind.
"There is no reason, no excuse, no alibi, no fate, that can hinder an individual that is focused on a specific purpose." ~ Mike Jones
Staying focused requires effort and determination, but like any project we want to achieve, practice makes perfect!