Prioritization + One-Pointed Focus

In environments where it seems like there are a million things going on and you are constantly fed new requests and ideas, how do you get things done?

We can only truly have one point of focus at any given time. You are probably working on multiple projects. We all have multiple things to manage as humans every day at work and in life. We have multiple priorities but at any given time, you always must choose one focus even if just for an instant before shifting focus. Multi-tasking is a myth. Given this truth, it’s important to be able to prioritize as leaders to choose what to focus on at a given time.

 

Prioritization

+ Sustained One-Pointed Focus

= How to get meaningful things done

 

When we can prioritize and then focus on a single project or topic for a sustained period of time like 1-2 hours, we have the power to make meaningful progress on it. When I do this in a disciplined way with no distractions allowed (like while writing this post), my mind is able to focus and also unlock creative potential. We allow the subject to marinate. We don’t just make progress by checking the boxes and going through the motions but by fully focusing our attention, we improve our efficiency, accuracy, and expand the potential and impact of the exercise – I have found, through experience. For example, while working on a report or project without distractions, I’m able to finish it more quickly and also avoid careless errors. While working on a presentation without my e-mail open for constant interjections and distractions, I make more meaningful content and complete the work faster. It seems obvious but it’s something I’ve seen so many leaders not practice.

It used to be that we had to open a magazine or go home and turn on the TV to see advertisements or find entertainment. Now entertainment and outside distractions are one click away and sometimes not even a click away but in our workspace and constantly streaming in. We live in an age of distractions. Our phone has work and personal streams of content commingled. It’s tempting to open a distraction tab in our browser (Youtube, email, etc.) while we’re working on a work-related project. When we have our phone out and e-mail on, it may seem like we’re working on something but really our focus in constantly fragmented.

The First Step: How to Prioritize

Before deciding to set a time for one-pointed focus, we should decide what we’ll focus on or work on. A prioritization system is essential for any leader and I’m always surprised how many seasoned leaders don’t properly prioritize. Only you can determine how you prioritize and set your boundaries for cultivating focus to get things done. I have seen so many leaders (and found myself) struggle not because they didn’t have the skills or experience or interest but because they didn’t have a prioritization system and their focus was so fragmented. They didn’t know how to create barriers for protecting periods of one-pointed focus.

Even if this “system” exists in the back of your mind, you must have a way to prioritize. Some people are naturally better at this than others or conditioned by rigorous schooling and managing multiple projects or classes to quickly learn to prioritize their work. When working as a leader within an organization, usually first priority is requests from your direct leader or manager. Sometimes you’ll mutually agree with your leader that if something comes from upper management, that gets prioritized first, to the top of the list. Then meetings and requests with your peers and team members follow, etc, based on time sensitivity. It’s good to have your own system and even run it by your leader to make sure you’re aligned on how to prioritize requests and inquiries from different partners.

The Second Part: How to plan periods for one-pointed focus

Setting your boundaries is essential as well, even if you have a team. Setting your boundaries means putting aside time where you focus on one project or objective and you turn off your e-mail and phone, eliminating any distractions that don’t pertain to the project. If you’re in an operational role that involves constantly talking with people, turn off personal distractions while on the job to cultivate one-pointed focus on your work.

You may need to remove yourself from a distracting environment, like an open office space, where people can constantly interrupt you, for that 1-2 hour period. Putting this as a blocked time on your digital calendar and/or letting your team members know and/or an away message can allow others to know when you’ll be back. It may be hard to justify pulling yourself away at first but once you and your team member see the benefits, it gets easier and becomes a clear necessity that adds value. Sometimes larger projects or vision planning sessions require a whole day away to refocus and really make progress. It’s kind of like a work retreat.

Though collaboration (talking with co-workers, having meetings, and watching videos) can serve as inspiration for creativity and ideas, ultimately the manifestation of those ideas and growth of new ones comes from time to synthesize and make meaningful progress on the work alone. This is where discipline comes in and discipline tethered by the knowledge that by having that distraction tab closed and phone off (or away from site and hearing) that you’ll make deeper, more meaningful progress and have sustained one-pointed focus. My sweet spot for setting these periods is 30 minutes to 2 hours.

 

Prioritization

+ Sustained One-Pointed Focus

= How to get meaningful things done

 

When we get in the practice of prioritizing and setting boundaries for periods of one-pointed focus, it does wonders for productivity but also new ideas and deeper impacts. Give yourself permission and cultivate your own discipline.

Reclaim your focus. Reclaim your clarity. Reclaim your productivity. Reclaim your creativity.

How do you prioritize and cultivate one-pointed focus?

If you would like more insights and interactive exercises for prioritizing and cultivating one-pointed focus, check out my new book, Awake Ethics. The third section is all about Control of Energy: how to develop practices for optimal focus with your team members to be your most productive and also enthusiastic and engaged at work.

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