Reclaim control over your time and attention
Many business owners or leaders of fast-growing companies think they have time management
challenges, when in fact they have focus and leading people issues. The daily, in-the-moment
demands such as meetings, client emergencies, the teams - "just a quick question" social media, emails, or other issues — constantly distract you from what will make or break your business growth.
Those daily distractions can sometimes be the most difficult test of your leadership skills. How you handle distractions impacts your productivity and the vibe of your culture. If you snap at every distraction, your team starts to lose respect for you because they feel invalidated and ultimately look to you to lead by example.
The foundation of the most important leadership skills—emotional, organisational, and strategic
intelligence—is focus and attention. Directing team members attention towards strategy and
innovation, business leaders must first learn to focus their own attention on themselves, on others, and on the larger world. Focus and attention are never obstinate and never disrespectful.
Every leader must cultivate this awareness in the proper balance because failing to focus inward
leaves one undirected, failing to focus on others leaves one ignorant, and failing to focus outward
may cause one to be caught off guard. The good news is that almost any type of focus can be
A few of our clients are skilled at setting clear boundaries and implementing personal tools to
manage distractions, however the method of reducing interruption to their work ends up alienating the team, and before they know it a negative, highly controlled, and innovation-destroying culture starts to emerge. Helping our clients and their teams prevent their cultures from spiraling out of control, plus dealing with their egos, unhelpful habits, and emotional and mindset blind spots is a balancing act, requiring patience and respect. As a leader, it is imperative to not only be self-aware of how you handle distractions inwardly, but also how you will garner the right outward response not only for yourself and also from others.
Distractions can appear to be impossible to avoid and accordingly causes a substantial loss in
productivity. The average professional is interrupted every eight minutes, and employees spend 28% of their time dealing with unneeded interruptions and attempting to get back to completing tasks. So, how do you reclaim control over your time and attention?
Here are five strategies for overcoming distractions and regaining focus:
A. Set Daily Priorities & Timeframes
The first step is to set daily priorities and timeframes in the following areas
Sales & Marketing – spend 25% directing your team
People, Cash, Operations, & Culture – spend 40%
Clients and New Business – 25%
Business Coaches & Advisors – 5%
Future Vision – 5%
6. Delegation – If you invest daily in your people, hire the best people, and manage your
company culture and processes, you will have the luxury of allowing your employees to
make decisions, take the lead, and complete their tasks without the need for micromanagement.
Business owners do not need to be reminded of how email, texting, social media, the Internet, and other distracting technology are taking over our lives. Email alone is exhausting. On average most business owners spend approximately 28% of their time managing it. The average CEO receives 200 to 300 emails per day. The focus ends up being on clearing the inbox rather than delegating, implementing processes to boost efficiency, and leading your people so that the business and cash flow keep growing.
B. Reclaim Your Focus by Controlling Your Impulses
The second step is to reclaim your focus. Daniel Goleman investigates this very issue of why people become distracted in the first place in his book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. He explains that our brain’s prefrontal cortex, the outer layer that controls your executive functions (concentrating, planning, and synthesising), is constantly at odds with the sector of your brain where your impulses arise. When we are interrupted or need to shift in tasks, our emotional reaction is either negative or positive. If negative, we experience inward feelings of frustration and stress, which then produces a negative outward response that makes your team feel, “she doesn’t value me and is unable to control herself.”
When we don’t communicate effectively and implement clear processes and helpful boundaries, our teams do not know how to approach and work with us. Consider it as a good and bad angel sitting on either side of your shoulder, whispering into your ears.
The challenge is to find ways to ignore that dark angel on your shoulder and remind yourself that
your impulses are coming from a part of you—the mischievous and defiant part—that wants you to be distracted and stressed. Your locus of control will only increase when you learn how to control your feelings and how you respond to others, instead of being a slave to your emotions and allowing external events, people, and situations to control you. Controlling your impulses will lead others to respect you more. When the urge to switch your attention arises, you must summon the strength to return to the task at hand and not buy into your feelings and alienate anyone in the process.
Leaders who can focus inwardly have a competitive advantage: they can function in chaos, much like great generals who can see through the confusion of battle. When a company is growing, it can be chaotic. Similarly, a good general understands that a battle never goes as planned, so they must maintain composure and focus in order to perform real-time adaption.
C. Dealing With Staff & Lead By Example
Without your staff, you will not reach business milestones or objectives and the cost of replacing key staff is detrimental to both business growth and culture. Communicate with your staff in a composed way so that they understand why and when not to interrupt you, this is a basic relationship management technique. Give them a time when they can get their questions and concerns addressed and practice this daily. At the beginning of each day, share with your staff or key reports what you are working on and when you need to be left alone to focus without interruption.
An effective strategy is to hang a note on your door and close your door when you absolutely must not be interrupted.
Open door - “Available – come on in!”
Closed door - “Really concentrating – but if it’s really important…”
Closed door - “Working on an insane deadline – try me after X o’clock.”
Set priorities for your daily to-do list and train yourself to pick up where you left off after an
interruption. Don’t let the interruption be an excuse to lose sight of your goals or lose control of your emotions.
D. Control Your Wandering Mind
According to one Harvard study, we spend nearly half of our waking time thinking about something other than what we're supposed to be doing. We're on autopilot, and our minds are wandering, partly to avoid the effort of concentrating on something. The key to increased productivity is to recognise when your mind wanders and refocus your attention.
This entails paying attention to your thoughts and recognising when they begin to wander. This
allows you to manage your focus and redirect your thoughts when you make a mistake. Rather than allowing yourself to continue meandering over to social media to check your newsfeed,
you actively put a stop to this distraction.
Consider the "Pomodoro Method" in which you gamify your distraction by setting a timer where
you will be completely focused on a task for a period of time, such as 45 minutes straight, after that, take a 10-minute break and distract yourself to your heart’s desire, but only for 10 minutes.
E. Nutraceuticals & Other Wellbeing Hacks
Growing evidence indicates 30 minutes of daily self-reflection, dietary changes, certain nutrients,
and bioactive ingredients can benefit and protect cognition, memory, focus, and executive function. Additionally, a new wave of research is identifying ways to improve the peak performance of people between the ages of 18 and 69, as modern living in the knowledge economy tests individuals’ capacities to handle increasing stress and demands for higher productivity.
In a study of 148 active-duty US Air Force airmen, who underwent a 12-week placebo-controlled trial in which some of the airmen received a nutritional beverage containing protein, DHA, lutein, phospholipids, vitamin D, B vitamins, and a muscle-promoting compound called HMB. A sequence of tests revealed that the airmen, whose active duties involve a great deal of physiological and psychological stressors, were able to improve strength, endurance, mobility, and stability in the study, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports. According to a series of cognitive tests and training regimens, subjects improved in several measures of cognitive function, including memory, information processing speed, and fluid intelligence.
Staying focused is critical as a business owner or leader of a fast-growing company. A high-growth leader must prioritise four areas: people, processes, strategy, and cash. If the task at hand is not directly related to one of these items, you need to reconsider your priorities. Without a team, how you focus will mean nothing. The ability to train and retain the best team possible will be the key to your success or the cause of your failure as you navigate through the journey of growing your enterprise. Some learn the hard way that your only true source of sustainable competitive advantage is people, so treat them very well.
Anybody can duplicate your products or services, but nobody can duplicate your team.
When properly leveraged, they are an unstoppable force for growth and success. Leaders can cultivate the primary elements of focus and emotional intelligence by focusing inward and focusing constructively on their teams and managers.
The message is loud and clear; a focused leader is not the one who is preoccupied with this quarters dozen or so milestones, or the most brilliant systems thinker, or the one who is most vested into the company’s culture. Focused leaders are able to command their entire range of attention: they are in touch with their feelings, they control their impulses, they use language and tone correctly, they are aware of how others perceive them, they understand what others require from them, and they can eliminate distractions and also allow their minds to briefly wander freely.