Multitasking was once thought to be the pinnacle of efficiency.
Now, a new generation of researchers and workplace experts argue that focus is the secret to productivity, innovation and compassion.
When we focus, we’re more likely to be “in the moment” with people and appreciate what they do. We’re also more likely to finish our work quickly and thoroughly so we can relax in social settings.
Why ‘Cognitive Overload’ Saps Gratitude
In his article “How Distractions and Cognitive Overload Hurt Business,” Inc. staffer Brian Dumaine explains how entrepreneurs are embracing the tenets of the “focus movement.”
A two-frame illustration accompanies the article: in one frame, an explosive cloud of emails, apps, tweets, messages, appointments and deadlines obscures the face of an employee. In the next frame, the employee’s face is revealed as his unnecessary distractions evaporate.
[Tweet “Focus clarifies our vision. We can see solutions, people and our gratitude for them more clearly.”] Lack of focus is a costly problem in today’s workplace, and technology is often the culprit. Experts estimate damages at hundreds of billions of dollars a year in lost productivity, according to Dumaine.
“Email alone is overwhelming,” he writes. “Icebreaker, a consulting firm, reckons you spend about 28 percent of work time managing it. The typical CEO gets about 200 to 300 emails per day. Some chief executive clients of Icebreaker had banked up to 70,000 — yes, 70,000 — unread messages.”
None of this is exactly a revelation in 2015. We’ve all heard the jokes about people who are glued to their smartphones all day. Often, the joke’s on us!
What is a revelation? The comprehensive benefits of focus. Eliminating distractions doesn’t just make us more productive, it makes us kinder and smarter as well.
Mental discipline is the best way “to home in on what really matters to your business,” writes Dumaine, citing the research of Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel.
Becoming more compassionate “requires the ability to focus deeply and constantly on yourself and on those around you,” Dumaine writes.
7 Steps to Better Focus & Better Workplace Gratitude
Mental focus is a skill, and our distracted brains need training to relearn focus.
Here are seven tips for you and your team as you build focus and sharing workplace gratitude. These recommendations are based on the research and teachings of author Daniel Goleman, Google’s “Jolly Good Fellow” Chade-Meng Tan, neuroscientist Michael Merzenich and others.
1. Learn the three types of focus: Inner, Other and Outer. Inner focus is the ability to quietly pay attention to your true self; other focus helps you zero in on what others are saying, doing and feeling; outer focus is on what’s happening in the world at large, but taking in only what’s relevant to your business. Which type is most challenging for you?
2. Experiment with paying full attention. Try doing only one thing at a time, even in situations where multitasking may seem harmless (like watching TV while exercising or checking email during a “boring” meeting).
3. Take an action of gratitude. What do you notice in this state of paying full attention? Do something with what you notice! For example, if you notice a colleague’s helpful input or an intern’s innovative idea, tell them right away how much you appreciate their work.
4. Be forgiving of yourself. It’s natural to get distracted, especially when we’re so accustomed to multitasking. If you find yourself getting distracted, just bring your brain back. Refocusing is “like doing bicep curls for your mind,” Chade-Meng Tan says.
5. Find a “focus buddy.” Make a commitment with a partner to routinely check in and keep each other on track. Give each other gratitude-related “homework” — such as writing three quick notes of gratitude each morning as your coffee is brewing. Share what you’re learning, and listen to your partner.
6. Practice listening and validating. This works best as a group exercise with your whole team. Partner up and for three minutes listen carefully to one partner talk. After the partner is done, say, “What you just told me is important. Would you mind if I repeat it back to you?” Try this in everyday interactions.
7. Keep at it! You’ll get better with practice. The more you focus, the more your brain releases noradrenaline, a chemical that helps us concentrate.
For more great tips and insights into building a vibrant culture of workplace gratitude, engagement and appreciation, be sure to download our free downloadable Gratitude Guide today!
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