Focus hacks for multitaskers

Tim Houlihan

In an article written a few years ago, Michael Jordan, one of the greatest athletes of all time, listed 10 rules for maximizing competitiveness. Unsurprisingly, focus was numero uno. In Jordan’s mind, nothing was more important than focus.

Without focus, nothing gets done.

Focus in communication

Focus allows the brain to concentrate on one thing. This would happen automatically if a tiger crossed our path. The adrenaline would rush in, we would work through survival options and we would have no trouble forgetting about how we’re getting the kids to lacrosse practice tonight. But at work, we have no tigers, so managers must create the space where people can concentrate. Background noise or silence? Bright light or low light? You decide. But it all starts with knowing under what conditions concentration is best.

To help your reps or team members focus, be extremely clear in your communication, intent and direction. I recently heard a sales manager end his meeting by saying, “In the end, you just need to do.” Do what, I wondered? Your team members need more than “just need to do” if you’re going to help them focus. Be specific.

In part, focus is about ignoring irrelevant information. Managers can help by speaking to what needs to get done now. Sometimes, managers must ask reps to NOT do certain things. They are likely to be more effective and more successful with direction on three things rather than 10 things.

Focus in the flow

Whatever your preferred mode of concentration, you must find a way to eliminate interruptions to attentiveness — to find your flow. For those who love to prep for the big presentation with music blaring in earphones — which is totally cool — they will be best served by having only that blaring music in their ears. Just because they don’t like quiet doesn’t mean they prefer interruption. They will find their flow in the noise.

Flow is the total absorption into what you’re doing. In other words: intense focus. Flow has received positive press in recent years and for good reason: it works. Studies on flow demonstrate that when you’re in the flow, you achieve what is otherwise unachievable outside the flow.

And when you’re in the flow, your mind will indulge in things it loves: challenges and creativity. We are spurred on, motivated and otherwise engaged by being challenged and we always value our creativity. These happen naturally when focus is at its peak. Start by eliminating distractions.

Focus leverages biases

You know what it’s like to pick up your new car from the dealership and all of a sudden, you see the very same model as yours all over the road? That’s availability bias. Our minds are looking for available proof that the new car was a good choice. When you’re focused, the same thing happens. You begin to naturally see the support for what you need to accomplish.
Your focus could lead you to new insights because of all the newly available data.

With intense focus, you’re also likely to have greater confidence in your plans. This confirmation bias automatically lends support to your intentions. Because these biases are automatic and unconscious with focus, it helps to spend some time on it.

Don’t try this at home

Here’s something NOT to do: create deadlines to enable focus. Deadlines create chaos, not focus. Sure, deadlines are important, but don’t create them for the sake of trying to help your team focus.

As a manager, your greatest asset to your team members is to help them focus. Without focus, nothing gets done.

Online Bonus: Preparing to Focus – Before you begin your singular focus session, prepare with three tricks -

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