There are common threads that all strong and great leaders share. The threads will follow along a trail of self-awareness, being able to communicate consistently and clearly, and genuinely caring about their team. But, one area that is often not mentioned — but is ever present — is focused.
When a leader has focus, they’re able to put a spotlight on any of the goals they’ve set, in all of their different areas of expertise. The focused leader won’t let anything distract them from reaching their goals. Laser focus demands prioritization with the ability to see the bigger picture — and a leader works on what they’re good at.
Additionally, a focused leader will help guide employees in a definite direction so that the team knows the collective goals they’re working towards — right now. As a result of extreme focus, high self-awareness, strong communication skills, and understanding — the focused leaders can understand the needs of their employees and motivate them to develop creative solutions. But, how can you become a more focused leader?
Start with these 10 tips that can be put into action today.
1. Early to bed, early to rise.
It’s not exactly a secret that the most successful people in the world wake-up early. Getting up early doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to set your alarm for some grisly hour like 4 am. It means waking up earlier than everyone else.
When you wake-up earlier, even if it’s just 15 minutes, you have the chance to plan out your day and review your calendar quietly. If you begin your day earlier, you can reflect, write, exercise, or catch-up with industry news. In short, waking up in the quiet of the morning sets the tone of your day. Instead of scrambling frantically, you’re calm, cool, and collected enough to concentrate on what really matters.
Having a quiet, productive morning also ensures that you’ll always be the first person in the office. Arriving early not only sets an example, but it also gives you a chance to check your emails and organize your day.
The good news is that you don’t have to shock your system to start waking up earlier completely. Tonight, get to bed five minutes earlier. This way you can wake-up five minutes earlier tomorrow. In a couple of days gradually move up to ten, fifteen, twenty, or even thirty minutes until you’ve reached your desired wake-up time.
2. Strengthen your mental focus.
No matter how hard you fight it, staying focused is no easy task. Even if you reduce distractions, like turning off email notifications, the brain only has so much focus energy. Research out of Britain found that the average attention span is just 14 minutes.
Thankfully, gaining hyper-focus is similar to a mental muscle. Your brain needs to build your “focus muscle” so it can become stronger; the more you work on building it up by taking the following steps:
- Assess your mental focus. Taking stock of your current mental focus gives you a better understanding of how strong your mental focus is at this time. For example, if you’re continually daydreaming instead of working, then you need to start strengthening your mental focus.
- Eliminate distractions. Turning off your email and other notifications, like social media, is a start on eliminating distractions. But, the most efficient way is to block out a specific time and place when/where you’re left alone. Having privacy prevents interruptions like phone calls or employees requesting a minute of your time.
- Stop multitasking. Doing more than one thing at a time isn’t effective. Multitasking slows you down. Focus only on one thing a time.
- Be more present. I’ve struggled with not living in the moment. Instead of being concerned with what’s happening right now, I’ve harped on the past or worried about the future. Mindfulness and meditation have helped me to live in the now so that I don’t waste my mental focus on what I can’t control.
- Take short breaks. Yes. There are a million things you have to do. But, you need time to recharge and refocus. Take frequent breaks throughout the day so that you can clear your head and improve your mental focus.
- Keep practicing. Even if you start today, building your mental focus takes time. Be patient and keep improving your mental focus through consistent, daily practice.
3. Define the Most Important Tasks (MITs).
As a leader, it’s vital that you’re organized. Of course, when you have a laundry list of items that deserve — or screams for your attention, defining your most essential tasks is easier said than done.
When you are defining your MITs, one solution is to identify your most important task for the individual day first thing in the morning. As Lou Babuta explains, “your MIT is the task you most want or need to get done today.” You can alter this slightly. For example, you don’t have to limit yourself to just one task.
Your MIT could be the top two or three items that need to get accomplished today. The idea is that no matter what happens, these are the tasks that you’re going to focus on today — and you will get them done. But, how can you prioritize these tasks and still handle all of those less important matters?
I suggest you try out the four D’s of productivity.
- Do. Only work on the tasks that are important and can only be worked on by you. These tasks should be the ones that move the needle and progress towards your goals.
- Delegate. These are important or urgent tasks that can be handled by someone else. It’s a simple way to free up time so that you can focus on your priorities without neglecting them.
- Delete. For tasks that are neither important or urgent, you may want to delete them. Getting rid of non-essentials keeps your to-do-list lean and mean.
- Delay. Finally, for tasks that you must address but aren’t tied down to a deadline — revisit them later when you have availability.
4. Develop a “triple focus.”
Daniel Goleman, a science journalist, best known for his best-selling book Emotional Intelligence, states that having a single-minded focus on goals isn’t enough. Instead, leaders need to develop a triple focus to address human concerns. According to Goleman, leaders “need strengths in three areas of focus: self (inner), people (other), and system (outer) awareness.
“Inner focus attunes you to your emotions and intuitions, guiding values and better decisions,” writes Goleman. “Other focus smoothes our connections to the people in our lives. And outer focus lets us navigate the larger world.” The challenge, however, is finding the right balance and “knowing when to use the right kind of focus at the right time.”
When developing a triple focus, begin with your practice on your self-awareness to build your inner focus. Then, take the time to mentor and advise your team to build your other focus. As you step into your practice for outer focus, step-out of your comfort zone and expand your network.
5. Limit your information intake.
It’s true that information is knowledge. At the same time, you’re constantly bombarded with data from the moment we open our eyes in the morning to when we drift off to sleep. A massive amount of information may not seem like a significant concern. But, you need to set limits on how much knowledge you’re consuming. Absorbing vast amounts of data can overwhelm the emotions and the brain because we can only handle so much.
It has been found in studies that when the information load becomes too much, the prefrontal cortex of the brain shuts down. This closure of even a small portion of the brain is a big deal for leaders since this is the region of the brain responsible decision-making and controlling emotions.
Schedule times throughout the day when you completely unplug and disconnect. Even better, occasionally plan a weekend that’s free of technology, such as camping, biking, or just spending times with friends. Try to make it a point only to absorb information that’s useful if you are always under an information overload situation.
6. Stop being a people pleaser.
“I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked,” Michael Scott once said in “The Office.” “I have to be liked, but it’s not like this compulsive need to be liked, like my need to be praised.”
While we all want to be liked to be our co-workers, the fact of the matter is that that’s not our job to make anyone like us. We’re here to lead, inspire, and keep everyone on the same page. Does this mean you have to be cold and mechanical? No — be friendly and engaging. The point is that when you’re more concerned about being popular, you’ll lose focus on what really matters.
7. Don’t micromanage.
One of your key responsibilities is to manage the broader picture of your business. However, there’s a big difference between knowing the details within your organization and obsessing every little detail. When you’re busy micromanaging, you’re completely immersed in the micro details that are outside of your scope. As a result, you lose track of your MITs and goals.
Letting go is never easy. But, if you’ve hired the right people for the various jobs within your company, you can stop being involved in the smaller roles that do not deserve your time and energy.
8. Let technology serve you, but do not become submissive to technology.
Technology has made life more comfortable. I’m able to automate a ton of recurring tasks that used to eat up a good portion of my day. It’s also helped me more easily connect with my virtual team and network. At the same time, being plugged-in 24/7 can be distracting and draining. There have been times when I sit down to work only to receive an email, social media update, text, or even an urgent call for a meeting that turns out not to be as critical to me.
Having these insignificant interruptions pull me out of a specific task can cause a complete loss of my focus. By all means, make the most out of technology. But, don’t let it control your life. You don’t need to be connected every waking hour.
9. Reflect, remember, and regroup.
Even if you aren’t in a leadership role, there are three simple ways to become a more focused individual:
- Reflect. In the morning, quietly think about your priorities. Setting precedence early in the day helps you set your intentions and kicks off your day with a purpose.
- Remember. As the day goes on, your attention is pulled in multiple directions. Take a breather and use simple triggers to remind you of your intentions. Your reminder can be as easy as placing an inspiration quote on your monitor, bathroom mirror, or office refrigerator.
- Regroup. Before jumping from task-to-task or meeting-to-meeting take breaks to regroup — even if it’s just for 30 seconds. During this time take three deep breaths and refocus by asking. “What do I want to accomplish?”
10. Use a coach.
Finally, if you’re struggling with focus, then reach out and connect with a coach. Since they’ve already been there and done that, they’re a valuable asset who can guide you in how to start focusing on the few most important things.