Can you focus long enough to read this entire blog post without being distracted? Most people (70%) report they cannot, especially when they are at work. The fact that the skill of focus is in short supply is a problem for the organization and for you. Fortunately, it’s one you can solve by building the skill of focus.
I know. I have experienced both extreme distraction and the benefits of honing the skill of focus. This was the most dramatic outcome at work for me when I started a daily mindfulness practice: I have become happier, less stressed and radically more productive.
Focus for Productivity
Distractions can amount to hours a day of lost time. When this happens to many employees, the company’s productivity can suffer.
In fact, productivity growth has dropped dramatically in the US in the past 10 years vs. the previous 10 (see chart). I suspect the always-on culture of expecting immediate responses on smartphone, email and Slack is a culprit. Another culprit I suspect is a lack of office walls. Sometimes when I’m on a call, I get distracted just hearing the background noise in the other person’s open office!
Another research study by the University of California Irvine showed that it took people over 20 minutes to regain focus once they had been interrupted or distracted. Also that people make more errors after being interrupted. So add it all up and there is a huge hit to productivity.
Do you feel lucky to get anything done some days? That’s why. You are fighting to focus in the face of many distractions.
Focus for Wellbeing
It’s not just the organization that benefits. More focus at work will benefit each individual that gains the skill. After an interruption, people speed up their work and feel much more stressed. No wonder you feel time pressure, frustration builds, and you are more likely to make errors. That can feed a negative mindset.
In my experience, being more focused leads me to feel calmer, happier. So the skill of focus is one that I and many others have found leads to the feelings and life outcomes we want.
Learning to Focus
Your work environment is as it is. Rather than resist that reality, the wiser path may be to consider how to build a new skill of concentration and focus. Even if the company decides to reduce distractions in the workplace, focus will be an essential skill for your productivity and wellbeing.
Focus is one of the foundational skills you learn with regular mindfulness practice. Traditional objects of attention include the breath, a point on the body such as the feet, or sounds in the room. These are often the best starting point to learn to focus. They are simple and always present, so you can practice with them every moment of every day.
However, you can practice focus with specific tasks at work, too.
Practice for Focus at Work
Practice: next time you approach something you expect to take half an hour or more to complete, use that task as your focus of attention. Every time you are distracted or your mind wanders away from that specific task, notice it and gently re-focus.
Reflection: At the end of a half hour you may want to consider how many times you “did the rep” to bring yourself back. You don’t need to count them. Just appreciate the good workout – and consider whether you did anything to keep yourself more focused.
I find this particularly useful and telling with tasks I do not enjoy. Historically, I would catch myself spending more time away from the task than in it. Sometimes, that still happens. Yet noticing it helps me re-focus.
I continue to build the skill of focus for productivity and wellbeing at work. How about you? Do you have a shortage of the skill of focus? Could more mindful focus help you feel less frustrated and get more done?