I know what you’re thinking, this sounds like an article where they’re going to bemoan the existence of other people.
But until recently there was an enormous physical barrier between my colleagues and I.
Now obviously, that wasn’t great. The reason for that barrier was something we’d all like to banish.
But one thing it did provide was the ability for us to focus individually.
And OK, I’m not Elon Musk. That focus time isn’t working out the science behind landing a rocket vertically, but everyone needs focus in their day, right?
Whilst the lockdown didn’t help in many ways, it was beneficial in some respects.
Leaders and managers will notice this more than ever. The migration back to the office is in full swing. And recruitment’s probably facing a higher propensity of office-based workers than other sectors.
So how do you retain focus?
How can you make sure you’re helping those who need it, whilst still actually getting your own job done?
“Have you got a minute?”
Never just a minute, is it? And stating that, isn’t the best look for office harmony.
If you’re not careful you’ll become over-stressed, over-worked, with no time for yourself and even less time for your job.
Our CRO Adam Dale talked about this very recently on a podcast. I suggested his job title stood for Constant Response Officer. Which went down well…
Still, it’s the poisoned chalice of leadership. The higher up the chain you climb, the more reports you have, the more responsibility you gain.
And the more questions you field from those desperate for guidance.
Going to ignore their calls for help?
Course not, you’re a leader, not a shirker.
But then you’ve got Slack clicking away, email, someone’s on the phone for you, meetings, meetings, meetings about meetings, face time with clients, quick chats and that’s before we get on to wellbeing or personal time or even, dare I suggest it, time for thinking.
It’s your job to be available
Ever had a conversation with someone who’s only half there?
They’re looking you in the eyes, but it’s like their soul’s in a totally different place. They nod, even grunt a few yeses, but then say…
“Sorry mate, say that again for me?”
This is the danger of over-offering yourself. You can’t physically or mentally be in two places at once. And so, whilst it’s admirable to make yourself available to those who need it, you’re not really doing them a favour.
You’re actually doing them a disservice. They’re not getting the whole you.
How do you change this? Well, ironically, not being available is a pretty good strategy. But let me explain.
Being rushed isn’t anyone’s fault but your own
There’s a study in psychology called the Time Pressure Illusion. It’s based on the stress associated with time.
You know how you never seem to have enough time? Well… not everyone agrees.
In fact, being rushed or under pressure is something totally of your own making. And I know that sounds harsh, but stick with me…
Basically, it boils down to this… if you’re more stressed, it feels like you have less time.
When, obviously, that’s not actually true. It’s the same thinking that has people take meetings in a plank.
Time goes SLOWLY when you’re watching the clock under physical pressure. And the opposite’s true when you’re having fun and preoccupied.
Do you actually have less time? Course not. “Time waits for no man” they say. And the same can be said about speeding it up or slowing it down.
Take this for example, a study of 2,500 employees at a Tech company found those who were more passionate about their work weren’t as rushed as others.
Despite being under the same time constraints, their attitude was a lot more relaxed. And they actually got more done.
So what does this tell us?
It tells us, actually, given the right amount of strategy, you needn’t be stressing about the lack of time.
What’s actually the issue is your attitude towards time. And that with the right management, you can crack your diary a lot more efficiently. And therefore give people the time they need.
“Oh, you’re gonna tell us to focus more, that’s original.”
Well, yeah, I am. Only there’s a difference here. Because not that long ago, you could focus on your own whim. And no one was able to physically stop that. To reach over the desk. Or shout over the office.
Sure, they could call you. But not being in the same building means you could ignore it.
So now we’re back in ‘office conditions’, you need to reaffirm how you focus. And really think about how, and when that happens.
Because by halting your availability at certain times of the day, you open yourself up fully in the times you’re free.
Get confident, stupid
And here’s the most important part.
You need to be really firm with those both below and above you in the chain.
You need to have clear, concise and perhaps even physical barriers between you and other people.
So, you could buy these for example. DO NOT DISTURB lights for your office desks. Or you could have focus pods. Or just a cafe you go to. Everyone focuses differently.
But making sure everyone knows you can’t be contacted at some parts of the day is absolutely crucial. And then gives you, and them, the focus they need when you are available.
Those around you will already understand the importance of focus, because they’re in the same battle.
Better focus means being a better leader, employee, manager and boss. But it takes practice and a firm hand. And sure, sometimes it won’t be possible.
But as we regain our independence in the world, making sure that translates to office life is a battle you can’t lose. Get planning and get ahead.