Strategies for better focus and work performance.
After a long two years, how we work is once again shifting. But this time it’s a move back to the familiar routine of office life – either in a fulltime capacity or a hybrid mix of business and home office. Dusting off the work clothes and seeing colleagues and clients can be a big change, but also an opportunity to evaluate your work habits. What are the potential pitfalls that might gobble up your time - what changes might help with your productivity?
In a recent Canadian survey, nearly 60 per cent of respondents say they lose up to two hours of productivity daily because of distractions at work. When asked to identify the main distractions, chatty colleagues were the biggest productivity drain, followed by noisy, open concept work environments and time-wasting meetings. On top of that, it’s estimated that the average Canadian now spends just under two hours a day on social media - providing the perfect recipe for consuming more than half the day.
Connecting values to focused living
Constant distractions can feel like a daily tug of war for your time. But, regaining control is more than possible, and it starts with awareness, boundaries, and discipline. David Grice, business technology consultant with Manulife Securities, works with advisors to help them discover better ways of working more efficiently.
“Often a lack of focus leaves you feeling scattered, and a great place to start finding focus is identifying your values,” says David. “Think about and identify your value system when it comes to work and family. Think about why you are here, what you want to focus on, and put more time and energy into that.”
Gerry Bickerton, a Vancouver Island-based advisor, says by keeping his personal values front and centre, he stays on track with his to-do list.
“I think if you ask most parents, their number one value would be to provide a life for their kids that’s better than what they had,” says Gerry. “And I’m fortunate to be in an industry where I can work towards achieving that value while also helping others achieve their financial success. When I’m at work, I’m laser focused on the tasks at hand – answering client calls, meeting preparation/conducting client meetings, putting together reports – and then at home shifting my focus fully on my family, and not allowing work to become a distraction during my personal time.”
Take charge of your technology
Thanks to technology, it’s never been easier to stay connected. But if your day feels like a constant barrage of emails, text messages and meeting invitations competing for your attention, it might be time to assign some boundaries.
“Like many industries, advisors are always on alert for new emails and text messages, and then react immediately if it’s a client,” says Gerry. “That behaviour of answering messages immediately makes a big impact on productivity. Stopping what you are doing to answer an email really takes away from whatever the task at hand might be – preparing for a client meeting, creating a report, researching industry trends, etcetera.”
“It’s learning to say no, and it starts with your digital distractions, says David. “This can be a work in progress, but an easy first step is turning off notifications. Every time you hear that ping or buzz, the mind is pulled away from the task at hand.”
Turning off notifications is a good start but consider implementing a more robust strategy – especially for email. The average busy professional receiving about 120 messages a day can translate into a staggering 2.6 hours daily spent on reading and responding to email. Every interaction with email pulls away focus from the task at hand, which can mean even more lost productivity. An achievable first step might be to start limiting how often you engage with email – consider checking that inbox only once an hour.
“I think when advisors hear the advice that they should only check emails two or three times a day, there can be the tendency to feel stressed – that they aren’t providing the best service for their clients,” says Gerry. “But in reality, you will find that productivity, as well as focus, improves. You can provide a better focused response to your client, and the anxiety generated by the internal belief that you need to provide an answer immediately disappears. You are in better control of your daily schedule.”
The same can be said for social media – is the time spent scrolling beneficial and supportive of your values?
“I recently evaluated all the social media platforms I was using and analyzed how much they were contributing to my core values. And the short answer is that they weren’t,” says Gerry. “I was just spending a lot of time scrolling through feeds – time that could have been spent with my family or working on business projects. So, I made the decision to turn them all off. I now spend more time with my kids and on my business processes.”
“Social media can be a fantastic part of a business, but as an advisor you really don’t need to be on it very often to still have an effective social strategy. You can delegate tasks to a team member and take advantage of scheduling posts,” says David. “It’s important to understand that you have the power to control it, rather than having it control you.”
The Pomodoro Technique
Another effective method for bringing structured focus to your workday is something called the Pomodoro Technique. Through disciplined time-management, you train yourself to become hyper-focused for chunks of time.
“It’s really about blocking time and planning out your day, and this daily planning happens in advance, not on the fly,” says David. “In my planner, my next day is mapped out. There’s no opportunity to allow distractions to fill in the gaps. I know how my whole day will flow.”
“Generally speaking, you can work hard in a focused manner for about 90 minutes and then your productivity starts to decline,” says Gerry. “So, then I take a five to 15 minute break - get outside, do some stretching, recharge and then I’m ready for another 75 minutes of focused, productive work. By adopting this strategy, I find I’m much more productive getting through that single task, getting the work completed faster and more efficiently, and I feel healthier for it.”
You are essentially training your brain to focus for short periods of time. Over time, this method of work can help to improve your attention span and concentration. And by taking regular activity breaks, you can help to sustain your creativity and motivation.
Today, there are more distractions that require more discipline than ever before. And even though it can feel hard to implement new work routines, the payoff can come in your ability to buckle down and achieve the goals that you value most.
Interested in learning more about better ways to work? Check out Manulife’s Art and Science of Focus - a series of free videos featuring David Grice and Gerry Bickerton.