A leader’s secret weapon: Focus
A Happy New year to you; may it bring you all the desires of your heart. As with every year, new beginnings tend to fill us with the energy and yet another promise of reaching personal and professional goals. Somehow, the first month of the year always has a way of re-energizing us to tackle goals with determination and boldness. Check my article titled: ‘It’s that time of the year, should I even bother setting goals’ on Medium.
Energy alone is not adequate to accomplish goals. Excessive entertainment, social media, and general global distractions are an everyday reality and tend to distract even the most fantastic dreams. Our brains always wonder about the next stimulus, leaving the effort and work required to achieve goals unattended to and left for later. Focus, discipline, resolve, and setting boundaries are crucial to zoning in on what matters and accomplishing results.
Focus is particularly challenging to master in the 21st century, especially in a world filled with multiple stimuli and, often, a fear of missing out on the latest. As humans, we have become accustomed to noise and hype, we dread the silence and anything that indicates boredom, so we choose aimless distraction. Focus is a crucial Leadership skill. It enables you to quickly understand complicated information and produce better decisions in less time. It makes you better at what you do as it helps you solve problems through connecting the dots, developing insights not readily visible. It gives you an ability to think deeper and seek out things perceived as hard. For more work and information on this, I recommend a book by Carl Newport called Deep Work.
As an influential leader, you want to focus on cognitively demanding work, producing value, and moving the needle for the organizations and the people you serve. Optimizing productivity tools for repetitive work and structuring your time is incredibly useful. Every minute counts, and it should be for your valuable benefit.
Lack of focus will leave you exhausted, nervous, and guilty of not achieving anything.
Here are daily routines I would like to share with you that have worked for me and improved my focus levels and productivity by far. These have helped me hold several influential roles, both professional and volunteer. They have helped me launch a podcast, coach young ladies, and write a book (still under review).
Please note that what works for others might not work for you, so try taking away only what applies to your case.
- Ground yourself
Use the mornings to set the tone of your day intentionally. Waking up early to assess the sequencing of your day deliberately ensures that you have the optimal output for that day. Whether your preference is exercise, meditation, affirmations, or prayer, setting the flow of your day from an intention level is powerful and will help you direct you to focus on what is essential for you. This daily practice can seem simple, but notice the days you miss out on this and see how you are pulled from all directions that do not align with your objectives.
Daily grounding practices psychologically remind us to go back to the nucleus of our beings, purpose, and goals, reminding us to center our efforts daily on what is essential for our being. They propel us into the day with power, direction, and a sense of awareness. The vital part of the focus is recognizing what is necessary and what is just noise.
Once you have managed your energy, you are better positioned to deal with the world from a position of being grounded.
2. Monitor your thoughts and set time aside for self-reflection regularly.
As your day progresses and as you tackle your priority work, it is almost sure that your mind will drift away to something else. This is human, but it is something that you can manage. Be aware of your thoughts, and each time your mind drifts away, be conscious to take it back to your course for the day. When you notice a distraction, give it a label and get your mind back to what needs to be accomplished.
Mornings are my prime time. I am usually at the peak of my performance and can accomplish challenging and intense cognitive work. Additionally, I have found high-frequency music extremely beneficial to helping my mind with concentration and getting into a state of flow. Many creatives rave about binaural beats. Binaural beats are essentially music that repeats repeatedly. They have a way of almost placing one in a meditative state of focus and blocking out any background sounds. The brain focuses on the work at hand.
3. Protect your time
Thinking time is essential and a space that is often taken for granted. To create focus, you will need to build boundaries around your time, treating it as the most precious tool you have. To ruthlessly protect your focus hours, arm yourself with powerful tools that will still ensure that you do not miss out on essential things. Digital productivity tools are a great way of consolidating repeat work and ensuring that you prioritize and effectively apply your time.
They can also be the most significant distractors. Imagine all the notifications you are constantly receiving that force you to switch your attention and then work back to the priority task. Intentionally switch off your notifications and deal with them at an assigned break time. Your breaks may be frequent if you are a new mother or have other challenges that require you to be on high availability. Constantly switching focus is destructive and costs time. It is like shooting a short gun at multiple targets. Your time is precious, and not everyone needs to have access to your time.
You will often run into colleagues or bosses who create urgency and detract you from the course of your day. Remain grounded and have your priorities set before engaging. Building boundaries and managing expectations are also important, creating a buffer for you to work more effectively.
In a highly paced Sales environment, everything is perceived as urgent. It is always best to have the energy and wisdom to manage yourself first and then others. The important thing is to remember that anxiety will make the task much harder.
4. Take breaks often
It can be challenging to focus after the big lunch or the long morning meetings. Middays are when your energy starts waning, and you may need a boost for the afternoon work. A leg stretch often can ease your mind and take away the focus from an intense peak of the day. What is important is the awareness of your energy patterns and knowing which moments in your day are the most energetic and productive.
Taking breaks are also incredible ways of introducing the oxygen flow in your brain and helping solve specific problems you have been stuck with. To re-energize for the rest of your afternoon, it often helps to listen to motivational podcasts or videos that get you fired up again.
5. Apply the Pomodoro technique
Setting time to achieve an installment of work is incredibly powerful to direct your mind and focus. This is called the Pomodoro technique, and it is focused on assigning work sessions with frequent short breaks to promote sustained concentration and stave off mental fatigue. The brain somehow seems to understand that instruction and complies with the most optimal use of the set time. You can start with setting 10 minutes of uninterrupted work to focus and work your way up from there. The next one would be 15, then 20, then 25. The benefits of this technique are incredible and develop a focus for even more extended periods.
6. Strengthen your support system
There are moments of being incredibly overwhelmed by personal or professional matters, distracting your focus. You often need that friend, a coach, or a sister you can reach out to at these moments. These are often mutual relationships that can help you put things into perspective, helping you to get back to focus on what is essential. A solid support system is critical to optimizing the most vital resource, time.
7. Prioritise your health
Taking your health as a critical ingredient to achieving your objectives is vital and provides you with the resources and energy you need for focus.
When Lockdown hit, i struggled quite significantly with setting time for exercise and building healthy eating habits. With time, I realized that my lymphatic system took a strain as I was permanently attached to my seat moving from webinar to webinar. I thought I was working hard, only to deal with extreme lethargy, fatigue, and weight gain later. Our health makes us productive and quite enjoyable to be around. Do not sacrifice this for anything. Please find time to place it as part of your routine.
8. Managing the end of the day: de-clutter
Have a mental gathering tool for all the ideas that surface throughout the day. This can be a notepad, digital or email. Whenever a thought comes, write it down to create a space to focus on what you are busy with. Create a mental firewall that sifts through what requires your attention and what can be delegated.
Sorting out your mental tool and what needs to be done is also critical for creating space for rest. This practice adds to the quality of your focus when it is time to shut down, do so to allow the brain to recharge effectively.
Your mind is a potent tool, and you can get the best use of it through focus. You can do everything you put your mind to, but not simultaneously. Focus on training your mind to focus. Lastly, make your downtime truly, your rest.