Liz Reyer: To Focus Your Thinking, Train Like An Athlete

By Liz Reyer Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Business coach Liz Reyer shares her best tips on how to focus your attention to get your work done. To start, she shares ways in which you can create a work environment with more limited distractions.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Q: After years in roles of intense busyness, I've taken a new position that requires more focus and attention to big-picture innovation. To my surprise, I feel I've forgotten how to take a step back and think comprehensively. How can I re-energize those skills? -Amanda, 50, operations director

A: Build up your endurance, just as you would if you were training for an athletic event.

It's not surprising that focus is a challenge. Lately I've been hearing that human attention spans have fallen to a level comparable to a goldfish (about 8 seconds). And it's no wonder, with the plethora of devices and inputs demanding our attention. Most of us fall prey to this.

A number of tactics can help you focus. To start, create a work environment with more limited access to distractions.

If you are a mobile addict, put your phone across the room. Turn up the ringer if you're afraid you will miss a call; just make sure you can't pick it up every time you feel the urge.

Find ways to catch yourself and calm yourself internally. Before you mindlessly check email yet again, take three deep breaths to focus and bring your attention back to the task at hand.

Now consider the work you are doing. You may be trying to think about too much at once. Try taking one aspect of your current assignment, just one, and think it through as deeply as you can. Asking yourself "why" and "what else" can help you deepen your vision.

Another hint: Set a time limit for periods of focused thinking. Start fairly brief, say, 15 minutes, and see how it goes. Have it be long enough that you have to manage some discomfort but short enough that you can achieve some success. This is where the muscle building comes in as you increase the duration of these periods.

Build some structure and discipline around this aspect of your job. Writers often speak of having a time of day when they write, not waiting for inspiration to hit. Approach your deep thinking time in a similar way.

Engage others, as well. Creativity and innovation arise readily from combining ideas and insights from a variety of sources. You may be missing some of the team energy that comes from a very busy setting, so create opportunities to get energy from others. And find good reading material both within and outside your field to trigger thoughts.

Then notice the triggers that lead you to get distracted. It might be when you get stuck on a difficult point. Might it help you to take a walk and let that point percolate rather than switching to another task? Or success may feel hard to define; clarify for yourself (and with your boss) how you will know if you are doing your job well.

Finally, avoid the other end of the spectrum, analysis paralysis. At some point, your work needs to move from you to some sort of activation, so be sure you are not being drawn to a dysfunctional level of perfection. You are part of an iterative process, so give yourself the freedom to let it unfold. ___ ABOUT THE WRITER Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes.

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