10 Tips on Staying Focused

Mariel Stevens, BA Psychology, Management and Marketing, Former Assistant to the Managing Director, Momentum Management

At one of our recent workshops, a practice owner expressed their concern with how to trust their team while they were away on holiday. “While the cat’s away, the mice will play,” they said. “How do I get the team to do what I want them to do?”

Our response to them was that the question should really be “How do you get your team to want to do what you want them to do?” It’s a fundamental principal of leadership that a good leader will act as a model for their team. Teach your team to stay focused by being focused yourself. Have you ever heard of the theory that a messy house can be representative of a messy mind? The same goes for you and your practice: set the example yourself, and see others around you follow suit.

Here are 10 tips on staying focused:

1. Create Achievable Goals

Ever heard of a BHAG? It’s a term that Dr. Toni Surace, Managing Director of Momentum Management, taught me this week and it stands for “Big Hairy Audacious Goals.” There’s nothing wrong with reaching for the stars but you’ll get overwhelmed if the only goal you’ve got is a BHAG.

At Momentum, we teach the concept of SMART goals; ones that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound. It’s about breaking down your BHAGs into small, manageable bite-sized pieces, and working on a micro-level to achieve the macro over time.

2. Become a List Maker (and Sharer)

In our office, we’ve begun to use free online list-creation and tracking system called Trello. It allows you to create a to-do list (or multiple lists based on different themes), and dynamically move your list items between “to-do”, “doing” and “done” categories. It also allows you to share your list with your team, which helps to create a culture of transparency amongst staff. It also eliminates the need to ask “what’s going on with…” to check that items are still on a staff member’s radar.

There’s bound to be plenty of similar websites out there that will allow you to achieve the same thing, and a quick Google search will reveal them. The best thing I’ve found is a reduction in little yellow post-its littering my desk. Which brings me to my next point…

3. Keep It Clean, to Keep Yourself Keen!

Have you ever taken one look at your desk, kitchen, car, kids’ bedrooms or hand bag and thought to yourself “I don’t have the energy to deal with this right now”? If you’re like me, and the kitchen is messy before you have to cook, you may end up just giving up and ordering a take-away. The same can apply when you go to sit down at a messy desk at your practice. It puts you in an “I can’t be bothered” mindset, let alone being distracted by all of the coloured sticky notes stuck to your computer screen (see point 2 above!).

Keep it clean, to keep yourself keen!

4. Don’t Procrastinate

I’ll come back to this point later…

5. Use Your Time Wisely

First of all, please feel free to call us here at Momentum (1300 519 000) if you’d like help with structuring your appointment book. We often find that aside from having a focused day, we are able to support practices to maximise time for high-production work too. In designing your ideal day, think about the times of day that you work best; often that might mean allocating the mornings (when you’re freshest) for more complex procedures. Or it might mean easing into the week on a Monday morning by blocking out the book for a team huddle.

We are constantly being told by our clients that they are not blocking out dedicated time to tackle their administrative duties. Are you guilty too? It is essential that admin time is blocked off, so that you can do a good job of the admin tasks you’re required to do, and so that you have a clear head for your non-administrative duties too. Avoid the temptation of taking the work home to complete late at night, or squeezing it into the 5 minutes of break time between patients. Without dedicated admin time, free from distractions from colleagues or patients, you run the risk of producing non-quality work that may take time to fix later.

6. Reward Yourself

Aside from rewarding your amazingness with that flashy Gucci bag, a reward for your focus can simply be in the form of taking a break after a solid stint of concentration.

If you find the administrative side of things cumbersome, one technique is to follow Pomodoro Time. Named after those old-school tomato kitchen timers, the technique involves working solidly in 20-minute intervals (or however long you can concentrate for) and then rewarding your work efforts with a 5-minute brain break in between sprints. Set your timer. After a set number of initial intervals, you can take a bigger reward: a longer break. Then repeat the cycle. Soon enough, the mountain of work turns into a molehill.

7. Get a Good Night’s Sleep

It is commonly known that sleep has a marked impact on your ability to focus. My husband is an air traffic controller, and as a shift worker his employers are very concerned with ensuring their staff have adequate sleep. Half of his night-shifts are spent sleeping at work, and it’s necessary as he has lives in his hands, but then again, don’t you too?

This brings me back to ensuring you have adequate admin time factored into your day at work. It’s hard to wind down for the evening if work-related tasks are left until right before bedtime, or if you are staring straight into a phone screen while in bed, responding to that last email.

8. Listen to Music (or Not!)

Are you the kind of person who feels spurred on to complete a task by a musical beat in the background?

Business owners often feel that music creates a distraction for staff, but this simply isn’t true for all people. If staff have workspaces away from public view and earshot, you may wish to encourage them to play whatever makes them feel most comfortable and productive.

Listening to music while working is a very personal thing; for me, it doesn’t work at all. And in working in shared spaces with colleagues, I’ve often had to delicately negotiate the kind of music played, or to have the music switched off if I really need to concentrate. So consider that the goal is to have everyone upbeat and performing, and find out what works well for them individually.

9. Eat a Balanced Diet and Drink Plenty of Water

We send our kids to school with a packed lunchbox of healthy choices so that they are able to maintain their energy throughout the day, and to concentrate. Why should it be any different for adults? Don’t forget to include carbohydrates that are slow-burning (the low G.I. ones), such as muesli, vegie-based carbs and wholegrain breads and pastas. The slower the burn, the longer your focus. Protein also helps with longer concentration, so foods like eggs, tuna, smoked salmon and cheese can all be useful. Snacking on nuts during the day is often great too!

And for goodness sake, drink plenty of water! Two studies conducted by the University of Connecticut’s Human Performance Laboratory found that not getting enough water can significantly impact mood, concentration levels and energy: http://today.uconn.edu/2012/02/even-mild-dehydration-can-alter-mood/

10. Delegate!

When you have too much on your plate, it can be tempting to try to accomplish a little bit of everything, making it extremely challenging to get things done. This can make you feel tired and defeated, and you end up burning yourself out.

Conversely, how energised does it make you feel when you’ve ticked that thing you’ve been meaning to do off your list? Or better yet, when you can trust that the task is in someone else’s capable hands (and that you know they’ll get it done?). If you can’t do it yourself or don’t have the time, and there’s someone else in your staff whose strengths are up to the challenge, why not give another team member the opportunity to take it on?

4. Don’t Procrastinate 

Did you like what I did there?? In all seriousness, it feels so much better when you’ve made a start. I had a mentor once that asked me the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” You may have heard this one before. If not, you might think the phrase sounds crazy; you don’t eat elephants! But in the context of getting started on projects, or tasks you’ve been putting off, the answer is clear: “one bite at a time.”

So take that bite now: no excuses!