Marketing, musings, and the future

The Gift of Focus: 3 things to make you more effective today.

Having survived the putative end of the world in December, I have moved into 2013 with aplomb only to find myself here on January 3 sitting in a jury lounge. Like many of you, I read my jury summons with dread: would I be chosen? Was it one day or five? How can I plan my calendar if I don’t know?

But today, I found quite pleasantly, that the jury lounge had given me a gift: the gift of focus. As a marketing exec and parent, a typical day finds me flying between meetings, getting kids to do homework, and squeezing in time to exercise. And don’t even talk to me about multitasking–I can simultaneously be in a meeting, instant message, and be creating a powerpoint at any given minute. But today my job was to sit and wait; and so, armed with my computer I sat and got more done than I had in a long time.

It turns out that in a study of 6,000 people, it was found that only 10% of them say they do their best thinking at work. Why? So I did a quick scan of the literature and it turns out that if you look at how the brain works, you get some clues as to why.

1) Multitasking feels good, but Unitasking is better. David Rock, author of “Your Brain At Work” says of multitasking: “It reduces our intelligence, literally dropping our IQ,” Rock says. “We make mistakes, miss subtle cues, fly off the handle when we shouldn’t, or spell things wrong.”  In fact, every study I could find on multitasking indicated that performance at tasks was significantly reduced.

2) Meetings and Interruptions. After an interruption it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back on task. Twenty-three minutes? I hope I’m below average on that one because otherwise with my average interruption time of every 10 minutes, I may never get back on task. No wonder it felt so good to sit in the jury lounge and just work. So if you have the email feature that pings you whenever an email comes in….turn it off; its not doing you any good.

3) Deep focus is like a box of chocolate, when its gone….its gone. Experts estimate that we each only get about 6 hours of deep focus per week. Repeat–per WEEK, not per DAY.  So you need to figure out what tasks require that deep focus and ensure that you are allocating it to them in your week. I have learned that I do my best thinking in the morning about creative stuff. So my mornings have become sacred and I avoid scheduling meetings then unless I must.

Finally, somewhere along the way, I figured out that if I’m really stuck on something, a change of scenery or locale will often offer me the ability to focus again. At least that’s how I justify sitting in Peet’s coffee tapping away on my latest assignment. Focus might have been my best gift this holiday season. And Jury duty? Jury duty was out by 2:30 but the lessons learned on focus will hopefully stick with me a little longer.


4 comments on “The Gift of Focus: 3 things to make you more effective today.

  1. aviatrixkim
    January 10, 2013

    Great post! Even though it totally interrupted what I was doing.

    • merrilyndatta
      January 10, 2013

      Well, make yourself a cup of tea with the 23 minutes it will take you to get back on track. Ha.

      • aviatrixkim
        January 10, 2013

        I am using that 23 minutes to do a series of alternating pushups, crunches, squats, and wind sprints.

  2. Andrew
    October 12, 2013

    Nicely expressed. Regarding the 6 hours of deep focus of week, I think this can be significantly more as long as you are given some space. The problem is int he company I work for there is constantly someone screaming for your attention to deliver something that has, in my opinion, low value or a report that doesn’t really matter, budget adjustments that won’t make a difference, and other tasks that steal time.

    The challenge is that you can not plan deep thinking sessions. There is no set time for it, it just happens, so when yesterday I was in the zone, I just sacrificed delivery of a series of must-have-today tasks that my boss was expecting. The progress I made on the creative brief was totally worth it, but unfortunately I will probably hear about the mundane budget analysis and other tasks not completed.

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This entry was posted on January 10, 2013 by in Who and What and tagged , .


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