Earlier this year, I started an AMA (Ask Me Anything) initiative with my team that has been really enjoyable for me and valuable for them. During the Town Hall I run at our quarterly team Summits (where our global team comes to Toronto for one week), I give everyone post-its and markers, and ask them to ask me anything, which I answer a few every week via Slack. I also have a Google Form setup where people can submit anonymously questions at anytime.
A few of the recent questions had a similar answer: How do you stay focused at work? What ritual and habits help you stay productive? How do you find time to be strategic on a day-to-day basis?
In a modern era where we are more connected than ever (read: more distracted than ever), I have become passionate about finding focus and calm on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis.
Here are 4 ways, all connected, that I stay focused while working:
1. Take responsibility
It’s easy to feel that we are not in control of our day, week or month, and that we are constantly reacting to others around us. The moment we place blame external to us on others is the moment we give up control and stop trying. Taking back control by being proactive, thoughtful and by just taking a moment to think is empowering and the first step to feeling focused at work for me.
You may be thinking “oh, it’s easy for you to control what you do, you’re the boss”, but it’s not. I’ve gone through many cycles where I had given up responsibility and control of what I focused on to everyone around me, be it my team, the market, our partners or even competitors. And in those cycles, you realize all you are doing is reacting and not showing up with your best self. The first step is to take responsibility and stop blaming others.
2. Find your practices
What gives you energy? What grounds you? We all have our own practices (habits, rituals or comforts) that we can remember to lean on. It may be cooking a delicious meal, hanging out with friends, watching a good movie, reading a book, learning something new or heading to the gym.
For me, it’s meditation, yoga, journaling and reading. I really do enjoy these practices while taking time away (disconnected of course) and feel energized thanks to it. However your practices don’t need to be reserved for time away, they can and should be incorporated into your everyday lifestyle. On a daily basis, I’m engaging with 2–4 of my own practices which helps me stay grounded.
3. Moments of insight
Many of the insights, breakthroughs, “aha!” moments or new ideas happen for me in those little moments of time and space between meetings, while waiting for the elevator, on the subway, in a taxi, walking to work, eating a meal or traveling through an airport.
Choosing to use those moments to reflect, versus habitually getting consumed by my phone has been a game changer. It also gives me a chance to breathe, and rest, to regain my focus before jumping into whatever is next in my day.
Remember, multitasking is a myth, you may be surprised with how refreshed you’ll feel by taking a moment to think passively versus filling those little moments with those little doses of dopamine you get from glancing at that little screen in your pocket or purse.
4. Remove distractions
I took email off my phone 5 years ago (read more about it here).
Now, removing distractions for me has been about learning how to use email and Slack effectively while I’m on my laptop, versus feeling used by them. Unlearning our habits to constantly check email or Slack is challenging but absolutely required. Here is how I use Slack without losing my mind, which has been the start of staying focused while working.
Keeping email and Slack closed by default while working has really helped and I continue to experiment with other ways to have fewer distractions on my laptop.
Taking the next step with one of the above suggestions is how I recommend getting started down this path to help cultivate greater focus, calm and peace while working.