I think we have all been there… trying to do our job, focus on what we need to get done, putting up with irrational people… all the while wanting and wishing we were wearing flip-flops or sitting on the beach. During my working years, when getting ready for work, I often asked myself, “If I could do anything in the world today, what would it be?” I have to admit there were too few days that my answer included driving through rush-hour traffic to go to the office. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy my work – I can truly say that I did – however, there were days when my mind simply was someplace else.
How about you? Are there days when you’d just rather not be dealing with the challenges and issues you face everyday? How can you restore focus and engagement on one of those days? Here are a few things I have done that helped:
- Physically prepare – One of the primary reasons individuals lose their focus is that they are not physically able to focus. Sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, and other health issues can rob us of the energy to be at our best during the day. Personally, my diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea made a significant difference to me. Of course, I am often tempted to cancel that with my constant search for full candy jars. That aside, getting good sleep without relying upon caffeine to get you through the day is important. Likewise, a good, nutritious breakfast, and a healthy lifestyle make a difference in our ability to stay mentally strong throughout the day.
- Find your own productivity time zone – Everyone, including those that are physically prepared, have a critical “productivity time zone” in which they are most productive each day. My zone is early in the day. However, I know many individuals that have their most productive times in the late morning or early afternoon. Others function best late in the day and tend to be at their very best even into the late night. Everyone needs to understand when they hit their zone and focus much of their “get it done” efforts during this time. You may need to use this time to meet with colleagues so you can be at your best. Or, you may need this as your quiet time to accomplish activities that require your best attention. Find, understand, and use this critical period of the day to accomplish 75% of those things most critical for the day.
- Make a “to do” list… every day! – I have found that I am most effective when I have a list of this that must be done each day. Making a “to do” list helped me tremendously. When you have 3 – 5 things you know you need to accomplish each day, it tends to keep you focused even when your mind is someplace else. Don’t allow yourself to “relax” mentally or physically until these critical items are completed.
- Avoid distractions – The greatest risk to your focus and engagement at work is distractions, whether from people or technology. Most productive people schedule quiet time that allows them to focus on critical tasks without interruption. I often blocked time on my calendar for just this purpose. You tend to “own the time” more when you can literally block it on your calendar. Technology also tends to distract us. When involved in a critical task or meeting, it is best to simply keep your smart phone in your pocket or someplace out of reach. Forcing yourself to keep it away until you complete your “to do” list is another way of eliminating this distraction. Yes, this is easier said than done, but it might be a necessary step on those “flip-flop” days.
- Consider your “serve” – When your mind turns to the beach or the golf course or your kids or challenges in your life, it is often because your focus is on yourself or what you need to do outside of work. Your focus becomes internal rather than external. The best way to reverse this is to move your focus onto others. Find a way to serve someone else. Find a way to make a difference for someone else. You’ve seen the John Wooden quote here many times, but it is worth repeating: “You cannot call a day a perfect day unless you have done something for someone that can never repay you.” When you mentally shift from your own situation or desires or problems to someone else, you tend to improve your ability to refocus on those things of most importance.
- Find something easy or fun to accomplish – We often become distracted because we are involved in something that disinterests us or in which we see no real value. When we get something accomplished, even if it is a quick and easy item, it tends to re-energize us and help us refocus. When you are in one of those disengaged ruts, find a task that can be done quickly and get it done. Often, this will allow you to be more productive for the rest of the day.
- Suck it up and just do it! – Finally, life is not necessarily easy or fun all the time. There are days and times when we simply need to slug through it. When I find myself in one of those “I don’t want to be here” days, I would often think of the work life my father faced. He was a welding contractor in the oilfield in southern Illinois. He worked five days a week PLUS half a day every Saturday all year. He received one week of vacation each year. He worked outside in every kind of weather and often came home caked in mud, cold, or miserable from the summer heat. Yet, he simply knew that was his job and his way to serve his family. He never complained or expressed a desire to quit. He just kept going… every day… for 40 years until his body just wore out. He didn’t enjoy an air-conditioned office with free coffee all day, catered lunches, and “tough tasks” like writing reports. His time was true “work”. When I felt sorry for myself, I merely thought of him and the sacrifices he made that I could have a job like I had.
So, the next time you feel yourself a thousand miles away from the task at hand, think about trying one or more of these suggestions that helped me remain focused. There is a time when you can and should wear flip-flops, but those times need to be other than when your employer needs you fully focused.
Have a great day! Remember, it could be your best day yet… there is still a chance!