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Staying Focused

Staying Focused

Thoughts on Authentic Leadership
By John P. Schreitmueller


Monday morning. Turn on the computer. Look at the emails. About 17 issues sitting there, all ready to sponge away your time. There go the top 5 things that needed attention today. There go the important things upon which you intended to focus. More stress.

Sound familiar?

This scenario greets most business owners, executives and professionals every business day… and on so many of those days not officially categorized as “business days,” like weekends and vacations. Losing focus due to “business emergencies” and other issues is one of the most common complaints we hear in our coaching and counseling practices from basically very smart and energetic people. Losing focus amounts to more than a crisis in productivity. It adds to levels of stress that are already through the ceiling for many individuals.

As in the case of so many challenges facing leaders, there is no magic bullet to make the focus problem go away. But there are tools, and when utilized faithfully, they can significantly boost focus and reduce stress.
  • Block Time. The workday goes by at the same rate each day. With so many calendar tools available, it is amazing more leaders do not use them to maximize their time and productivity. A calendar system, like Outlook, does not exist merely to schedule meetings and phone calls. It exists to help you block time for administrative work, reading, emails and other events to which you must pay attention. Beginning this week, block time each day to read emails, catch up on required reading and other tasks you typically have not scheduled formally. Treat the time you block with great respect. Refuse to allow that time to be hijacked by other people or issues, unless a true emergency exists (we’ve talked about “emergencies” recently).
  • Live in Time-Tight Compartments. Handling emails, for example, is a very real challenge. Most busy leaders receive hundreds of emails a day, and even after sorting out the junk that still gets by firewalls and other preventative devices, there are literally dozens of legitimate emails demanding attention. For almost everyone, spending a typical 10-hour business day handling emails is not an option. So, as you learn how to block time, set aside 30 minutes or an hour maximum to handle emails. You will quickly learn how to prioritize them. The ones you cannot handle within the time you block will wait. You can apply this tool to business reading, answering phone calls and other tasks as well. It takes discipline up front, but pays dividends over time in productivity and reduced stress.
  • Close the Door. Next time you go to an appointment with a physician, try opening the door to the doctor’s private office or a visiting room and see what happens. You could also try a similar stunt at an attorney’s office, accountant’s office, or other professional’s office. Those doors are closed for a reason: the professional is with other patients or clients… or is utilizing time with the door closed to catch up on notes, phone calls or other important business. YOU can do precisely the same thing, and prevent so many of those time-wasting office “chats.” We do not suggest living as a hermit, or cutting off important communication by always being behind a closed door. But the door is there for a reason, and you have every right to use it legitimately to help you stay focused on the tasks at hand.
  • Have Lunch. I worked in Europe a great deal, and was always amazed at the manner in which European business executives found time for lunch. And the European executives I worked with were incredibly productive leaders. American executives, taught from childhood that lunch is something to be “over and done with” love to either skip lunch entirely, or yell into cell phones while consuming junk food. Not only is this unhealthy and stressful, it is counterproductive. We do not suggest long, leisurely lunches that are simply not possible given the hectic pace of business. But taking reasonable time for lunch, even when meeting with clients or internal stakeholders as formal lunch events is not on the schedule, breaks up the day and provides critical time to reflect. If the day is not on track, a lunch meeting with yourself offers the opportunity to make adjustments. If things are going well, lunch is an excellent transition to the second half of the business day.
  • Plan, Plan, Plan. Going in to the office, whether at home or elsewhere, without a plan for the day is like a pilot launching skyward without a flight plan. You are navigating in the blind, your alternatives are not defined, and you are headed for an unpleasant experience. “Plan your work and work your plan,” is a saying often utilized in grooming business development professionals… but it actually applies to all functions. Whether you have access to technology-based planning programs or simply utilize a legal pad, writing out your top priorities for each day is more than a drill: it is a serious executive skill that yields consistent, positive results. Having 50 priorities for each day is an impossible task and will lead to more stress and sense of disappointment. Having 4 or 5 key priorities, some of which are broken down into phases across several days, weeks or even months, is a rational, effective approach. Try it and use it.
Staying focused is, in large part, a function of time management and personal priorities. When you take ownership of your time, it tends to be less subject to getting stolen or hijacked by others, emails, phone calls or “business emergencies.”


John P. Schreitmueller, PCC, ECP-BC is CEO of Resolute Consulting Group LLC. His Atlanta-based practice specializes in helping business owners, executives and professionals achieve their authentic business and personal goals.

 

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