Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

3 Truths About Keeping Our Focus In A Sea of Distractions

These days, it seems all of us are grappling with an increasing number of distractions popping up during our workday. While some can be trivial or annoying, others can turn out to be more pressing and demanding a shift in our focus and attention. It’s the latter that I’ve been dealing with and which gave rise to the thoughts below on how we might better address this fracturing of our time, focus, and attention.

Over the last few days, my girls – and as is inevitably the case, my wife and myself – have been fighting off a bad case of the flu. While taking care of the kids when they get sick is par for the course in parenthood, it can still be a major disruption to one’s work planning and schedule. And although it’s easy for others to sympathize with how such distractions can impact your productivity and focus, it doesn’t change the fact of how it can still be frustrating to see the workload increase because of your diminished capacity.

Of course, this is the very nature of distractions – they distract us from accomplishing what we originally set out to do, by pulling our attention away to other tasks than the one we wanted to complete. As I tried to juggle the demands of work, kids and trying to fight off this bug myself, I came to recognize the following truths we all have to grapple with in this growing sea of distractions:

1. When surrounded by distractions, it’s important to evaluate tasks against desired goals
One of the common themes on my blog has been the importance of giving ourselves more time to reflect and review what we’ve accomplished and where we want to go next, as opposed to the current short-term focus that has most organizations simply reacting to market conditions.

As I deliberated on whether I’d have to take a few days off work or not, my first thought was naturally on what tasks, meetings, and assignments would be impacted by such a decision. And yet, rather than using that as the sole basis for determining how I’d manage this week, I asked myself how important were the various tasks to my goals. In other words, which ones really mattered and would have a big impact on my long-term goals/plans?

Likewise, when faced with a number of distractions all trying to carve a piece of your attention, ask yourself which ones truly deserve your attention, as opposed to simply trying to draw your focus away from what matters. Admittedly, it sounds odd to try and assess your bearings when faced with a large number of distractions, until we recognize that it’s under those conditions that we’re at the greatest risk of going off-course

2. When your head is not in the game, it’s time to shift to working on those less desirable tasks
When I sat down to write my next piece for my blog, I already had an idea of what I wanted to write about. And yet, no matter how much I read my notes and the rough sections I’d already written, I just couldn’t get the pieces to connect as they should. Feeling frustrated and tired, I put away my laptop and started catching up on some easier, mindless tasks I never seemed to have the time for.

Now, this didn’t help me complete the tasks I had on my ‘To-Do list’, but it did give me the satisfaction of feeling I was doing at least something productive with my time. Similarly, if you feel yourself getting frustrated by how the various distractions on your plate have you stuck in neutral, recognize that your energy and focus is not where it needs to be to get that work done and shift your attention to tackling some of the more mundane tasks you have lying around.

3. If even mundane tasks are hard to do, then it’s time to take a break
No matter what kinds of distractions are currently surrouding you, we all intuitively understand that we have work that needs to be done. Unfortunately, no matter how rational or understandable this might be, it doesn’t change the fact that sometimes, there’s just no way we’ll be able to get our minds out of neutral and back into drive.

In these cases, the truth is that we’re better off simply accepting the fact that we got too much going on and instead of pressuring ourselves to get going, it’s better to look at this as an opportunity to take a short break before you pick up where you left off.

Granted, none of the above truths will help you to diminish the number of distractions that will appear in your workday. And given the current growth in communications technology and inter-connections between various global markets and industries, it’s unlikely that the amount of distractions we’ll face will decline anytime soon. However, by recognizing and implementing the three approaches above, we stand a much better chance of not only keeping these distractions at bay, but preventing them from steering us away from our shared purpose.

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  1. On March 13th, 2012 at 11:55 AM Jim Matorin said:

    Funny Tanveer, when my head is not into the game, I do a creative task which picks me up. Now I know why I am backed up on mindless tasks. Want to switch?

  2. On March 13th, 2012 at 12:45 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hmm, interesting Jim. I can see that being another way to try and sharpen your focus away from all the distractions. On an interesing aside, after I put aside the piece I had planned to post today and started working on some mundane tasks, my mind started building some of the connections which ultimately lead to this piece.

    I guess that reinforces the point that creative results don't require our full attention all the time, but giving our minds that needed downtime to reflect, sift and review in order to put all the pieces in place.

    Thanks for sharing what you do in these situations, Jim. And no, I think I've had my fill of mundane tasks so I'll pass on the switch.

  3. On March 14th, 2012 at 4:32 PM @timage said:

    Appreciate the suggestions. I think a break is warranted no matter how I feel unless it's something that I'm passionate about and clearly in "the zone."

    A five minute stand up and stretch break every hour or so keeps my productivity level higher than charging through until everything's done. I have been known to set alarms and reminders so that I'm sure to take breaks.

    Some of my best work occurs when I'm able to walk away from it for a few moments and then return to it with fresher eyes and renewed energy.

  4. On March 15th, 2012 at 5:00 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Tim,

    Like you, I'm a big fan of taking regular breaks as opposed to pushing through till the day is done. Not sure why, but somewhere down the line we've confused working hard as being the same as working smart.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this piece.

  5. On March 18th, 2012 at 10:11 AM Chris Barker said:

    Hello Tanveer! Family, work, and man's chores simultaneously overlapping with each other-a total sea of distraction! I couldn't agree more. You're right, sometimes we force ourselves to commit to every tasks at hand because we oftentimes confuse working hard as working smart but if we really stop and put everything in a microscopic glance, it only boils down to the most important things-the ones that matter in the long run! And if the simplest task appears to be hard-there no other solution than to take a breather. Great job!

  6. On March 19th, 2012 at 4:08 PM Jane Merilan said:

    Interesting post. I want to say that there is a good Russian proverb – "every man have to work and every man have to rest"

  7. On March 19th, 2012 at 5:25 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Jane for sharing that quote. Glad you enjoyed this piece as well.

  8. On March 19th, 2012 at 4:37 PM LinkAttach said:

    I like your method of prioritizing your tasks. Also it you are not focused enough to do higher priority things not to just skip to the break time. Try to get other things on the list done so that the list becomes smaller and then you will have time for breaks. Everybody battles distractions in there own way.

  9. On March 19th, 2012 at 5:30 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    That they do; the key I've found is always evaluating the tasks you're working on against what it is you want to accomplish. If the work doesn't contribute or help get you one step closer to your goal, it makes little sense to expend whatever energy, focus or attention you have at that moment on it.

  10. On March 19th, 2012 at 9:37 PM Chris Barker said:

    Right Tanveer…i even agree to Jane here (just down below)- we need rest as much as we need work! There's a lot in life that we have to juggle that is why we need to prioritized…the ones that are essential..

  11. On March 24th, 2012 at 8:21 PM James Martin said:

    If distractions come, you must take yourself in control. Please don't get affected in order for you to stay focus in what you do for delivering a very good result. Stay focus!

  12. On March 29th, 2012 at 10:43 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks James for sharing your thoughts on this piece.

  13. On March 29th, 2012 at 6:10 AM Michelle said:

    I love the post. I think anyone can benefit from these tips. Whether you're in a packed office or working from home with a toddler running around, you can be sure your concentration levels are at risk.

  14. On March 29th, 2012 at 9:05 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Michelle; glad you enjoyed it. And you're right, it doesn't matter what our work environment is, we are all susceptible to having distractions veer us off course.

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