Focus On One Thing At A Time
Do you bring your laptop to meetings and then pretend you are taking notes while you surf the net? Do you eat lunch at your desk? Do you make calls while you are driving and even send the occasional text, even though you know you should not?
The biggest cost - assuming you do not crash - is to your productivity. In part, that is a simple consequence of splitting your attention, so that you are partially engaged in multiple activities but rarely fully engaged in any one. In part, it is because when you switch away from a primary task to do something else, you are increasing the time it takes to finish that task by an average of twenty-five per cent.
But most insidiously, it is because if you are always doing something, you are relentlessly burning down your available reservoir of energy over the course of every day, so you have less available with every passing hour.
The best way for an organization to fuel higher productivity and more innovative thinking is to strongly encourage finite periods of absorbed focus, as well as shorter periods of real renewal.
If you are a manager, here are three policies worth promoting:
Maintain meeting discipline.
Schedule meetings for 45 minutes, rather than an hour or longer, so participants can stay focused, take time afterward to reflect on what is been discussed and recover before the next obligation. Start all meetings at a precise time, end at a precise time and insist that all digital devices be turned off throughout the meeting.
Stop demanding or expecting instant responsiveness at every moment of the day.
It forces your people into reactive mode, fractures their attention and makes it difficult for them to sustain attention on their priorities. Let them turn off their email at certain times. If it is urgent, you can call them - but that should not happen very often.
Create at least one time during the day when you encourage your people to stop working and take a break. Offer a mid-afternoon class in meditation, organize a group walk or workout or consider creating a renewal room where people can relax or take a nap.
It is also up to individuals to set their own boundaries. Consider these three behaviours for yourself:
Do the most important thing first in the morning, preferably without interruption, for 60 to 90 minutes, with a clear start and stop time. If possible, work in a private space during this period or with sound-reducing earphones. Finally, resist every impulse to distraction, knowing that you have a designated stopping point. The more absorbed you can get, the more productive you will be. When you are done, take at least a few minutes to renew.
Establish regular, scheduled times to think more long term, creatively or strategically. If you do not, you will constantly succumb to the tyranny of the urgent. Also, find a different environment in which to do this activity - preferably one that is relaxed and conducive to open-ended thinking.
Take real and regular vacations. Real means that when you are off, you are truly disconnecting from work. Regular means several times a year, if possible, even if some are only two or three days added to a weekend. The research strongly suggests that you will be far healthier if you take all of your vacation time and will be more productive overall.
A single principle lies at the heart of all these suggestions. When you are engaged at work, fully engage, for defined periods of time. When you are renewing, truly renew. Make waves!
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