6 Steps To Create Focus
There are considerable distractions that face us each day and they often have little to do with the things we need to get accomplished for the success of our business. As a small business owner now, and as a member of the c-suite club for years before that, I had to juggle staff, managers, and a boss. As CTO of a software firm, it is my responsibility to ensure the company has the absolute best, most reliable, innovative, products possible to compete in the market. Managing my direct team is foremost on my mind and ensuring that my team stays on point, not distracted with the mountains of conflicting priorities. What I’m about to present may not resonate at every level of the organization but I do feel rather passionate about this and I welcome your comments and experiences.
1) Establish Priority 1?
Sounds simple and maybe even a little contrived, right? But as a manager I constantly ask myself what is it that only I can provide for my team and the company. It was my belief that innovative, reliable, competitive products were my number one priority and secondly the success of my team. Their success meant that my number one priority was even possible so it may be said the two were interchangeable. There are certainly other responsibilities that fall on my plate and some I can delegate and some just have to get done; If I fail at keeping the first two on track the future success of the company is at stake and those stakes are pretty high. Choose one or two priorities and put them center stage. It is my opinion that having too many “key priorities” will make the entire collection of little value. If management gets the ah-ha, then this will work and your team will set the bar, if not, you’re putting your career with your firm at risk. You decide. I’m fortunate now, here at IOIHAN, our management team gets it. We are highly focused on our clients, and providing true innovation to equip our clients with best possible tools to better serve theirs.
2) Confirm Your Role?
This step sounds even more absurd, right? I would ask you to consider the question, however. I ask myself this question constantly in light of my contribution to the companies current goals and future success. As CTO, I have a unique set of skills that position me to see technology trends, evaluate the capabilities of my team and company, analyze product market fit and craft a solution roadmap. Certainly I don’t do this in a vacuum but with considerable input from not only my team but other groups within the organization. Sales are one of the largest contributors to disruptive input that I value as they are in constant contact with our clients. I analyze my strengths and what I can influence towards my priorities. I am NOT the CEO or President where managing the other departments is my concern. I am NOT the support manager, nor am I the sales manager. I am the CTO, responsible for ensuring my team creates innovative, reliable, products for our clients.
Before we get too far off track and lest you think I’m an island, that is NOT what I am saying. This portion is on FOCUS – of course I interact with other departments. Of course, I meet regularly with Sales and Support to ensure the technical solutions are meeting their needs, after all, they too are our customer; internal in this case. But from a FOCUS point of view, and for those key strengths that I bring to the table, I must single-mindedly focus on my number one goal.
3) Set Your Schedule
I have discovered that my mind engages at different times, and in a different way than the population. I suspect if you are reading this post that you have also discovered that you don’t function at peak performance within your 9 to 5 box. To gain focus, I would suggest discovering when your peak periods are. If you achieve an early peak then late distractions may not be as much of an issue as they would if you were at peak in the late evening. If you are unfortunate enough to have peaks in the middle of the day or you are unable/unwilling to adjust your table outside of the 9 to 5 this becomes rather paramount. You need quiet time to focus – distraction free blocks of time. I like to have at least a 4-hour window but occasionally will try with less. To frame this, I am a CTO – technology as my focus. If you are in marketing, sales, or support, you may be lucky to get a 2-hour block or less. I would, however, still ask you to consider that deep focus will require more than a few hours to obtain.
Let team members know that you desire no interrupts during these blocks. Setting a routine schedule seems to work well when everyone is on board and the entire team honors the “quite time”. Be prepared to be labeled with this move.
4) Turn It Off!
If it dings, beeps, buzzes, vibrates, rattles, cries, or makes any other distractive noise, turn it off (or feed it)! The length of time this can remain your reality is going to be a matter of training and coordination. It has been studied, documented, and so exhaustively debated that when you are concentrating on a topic a single distraction can take up to 2 hours to recover from. (See here for an article on distractions) Given that most people are distracted every few minutes, it’s a wonder we ever get any deep thinking done. Well, the true fact is that if you are NOT managing your distractions you are deceiving yourself that you are reaching deep thought. There aren’t any short cuts here. You need the distraction-free time to reach focus; plain and simple. I’ve told my staff that I don’t check email constantly. If it’s an emergency, pick up the phone and call. I check email 2 or 3 times a day and NEVER have it pop-up on new mail. In fact, I’ve turned audio alerts off entirely; always, not just during my key times. If it’s important, call me – as it turns out, there are very few calls. Again, if your upper management doesn’t get the ah-ha, this is not a career move. Choose your battles — innovation or compliance?
5) Make A List
As simple as this concept is it is the easiest to neglect. We are told to write down our goals. A goal document is partially achieved. Failure to plan is planning to fail. Yikes, these sayings are all around us and if you are reading this post you have already thought of many more. (The power of the list) So, I would recommend you take an index card, sticky note or just a piece of folded paper and write 1 or 2 items that you are going to accomplish this “session”. I would further suggest, like priorities, having a list of more than a few items to be counter productive. Unless you are truly doing a massive amount of small tasks I would suggest just a few key items. Having this small list allows the mind to zero in on the number one task. Like looking through the scope of a rifle, a single target in the cross-hairs.
6) Just Start
The last item to do is actually start. As a reader of posts, I am sure you are in tune with the infinite planner, the will-do sometime, the talker of ideas to come. This part is quite simple and to steal a phrase, Just Do It! Get started, head down, and begin. Plan on 10 minutes at first. (Start Small) Often I attempt to talk myself out of starting for any of 50+ reasons. When I start, I tell myself, just 10 minutes – after that I will give myself permission to break out and do something different. Rarely do I quit after 10 minutes and often I emerge after 3 or 4 hours desiring more time. Bottom line, just start!
I am certain you have other items to add to this list that help you and I would love to hear your experiences and practices. Drop me a comment here.
Post by Wolf Scott, Founding Fellow at IOIHAN http://www.ioihan.com