Tag Archives: Focus

Being Intense

FocusA couple of months ago several colleagues and I were having dinner after a long day and we were comparing notes on how our week and the project were going.  I commented that things had been “crazy and kind of…..” and I was at a loss for words.  Jack offered up “intense” as the word I was looking for to describe it all.  That was exactly how I felt.  He then commented that it was due to the fact that I was intense.

Honestly I think it was meant as a bit of a dig.  Jack tended to think I took my responsibilities a bit too seriously.  To me that wasn’t an insult at all, it was a compliment.  My role in the project was end-user training and we had just made the switch so I was really focused on making sure things were working for everyone.  The fact that I was fully focused on people’s success and experience made me a bit intense I guess.

If we are truly focused on an objective we can come across as intense or even obsessive to others.   Does that mean we should back off or tone it down?  Not in my world.  I am a believer in giving 110% to the things I am doing and I take my work very seriously.  There are people who find that intimidating and uncomfortable to be around.  When people are nervous or afraid they will act out of compliance to a request instead of getting onboard as a collaborator.  You need to know which is going to help you most in the situation, but I always prefer to work with someone who is committed to helping me instead of someone who is just doing what they are told to do.

It’s great to be focused and driving to a result or goal.  Unfortunately if we scare the folks we are working with we may end up being less effective.  Yet if we don’t appear committed or focused people think we don’t care about results.  So how do we strike the right level of intensity?

Here are 5 tips for managing intensity:

  1. Focus on one goal at a time: If you are pushing towards too many things all at once you will seem unorganized and unfocused.  At any one time work on one thing only.
  2. Remember to see the people: Often what we are doing involves others, either directly or indirectly, so remember that others can be frightened when you come on too strong.
  3. Breathe: Before you start rattling off a list of next steps or giving directions to others take a couple of deep breaths and slow down.  Going too fast will confuse people; make sure the others can keep up.
  4. Be clear on the true urgency: Just because you are excited and ready to roll doesn’t mean it’s urgent to those around you.  What is the real importance and urgency of the task at hand?  Is it critical to do now or can it be done soon?  Be clear on the true needs and people will respect your deadlines better.
  5. Smile: When you are going from meeting to meeting or talking with others smile at them and make eye contact.  When you are moving fast with your mind on the end goal you come across as remote and scary.  Relax and people will respond better to your requests.

Remember being intense means you care about what you are doing and you are focused on getting results.  Managing your intensity will allow you to pull others in with you so that you can get more done and have more fun doing it.  Focus on results and keep an eye on the people around you to make sure you aren’t burning them with your focus.  Sunlight is great until it’s focused so intensely that it starts a fire.

My philosophy: ‘Take your work more seriously than yourself’

I believe in getting things done but having fun while doing it.  As a result I’ve found most people to be willing to work with me, help me get things done even when I’m being a bit intense.  I will laugh at myself and my mistakes quickly and readily yet I’m always serious about the results I’m looking to achieve.

Have you ever been accused of being too intense?

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It’s Time to Focus

??????????????As you start your week and look at all the things that you need to accomplish each day do you feel overwhelmed?  It’s easy to get dragged down by all that requires our attention.  The key is to get a good handle on what needs to happen and make a plan to get it done.  The first step is to identify the important things that must be accomplished this week.  Then you have to create space and time to get them done.

To make the most of the time you spend on the important items you must focus clearly on the task at hand.  This can be very hard to do in this busy and noisy world.  However, there are several steps you can take to help clear the air around you to get things done.

Tips:

  1. Know your peak time.  When are you most productive? Is it early morning, late morning, or afternoon?  Use this time to get the things done that need the most attention and focus.
  2. Block time on your calendar.  Schedule an appointment with yourself to get work done during your peak time.  This will allow you time and space to focus your attention on the important tasks.
  3. Tune out.  Close your email, turn off the ringer on your phone, and close any instant messaging programs.  This is time to focus so eliminate or minimize distractions.
  4. Get your energy up.  Do something that will raise your energy level.  Listen to music that gets you charged up, take a quick walk at a brisk pace, close your eyes and get yourself centered or whatever works for you.
  5. Just do it.  Now that you’ve cleared time and distractions sit down and get to work.  Keep your mind on the task at hand and table other thoughts that come wandering in.  If needed make a note and get back to work.
  6. Celebrate completion.  Take a minute to relish the feeling of getting it done!  Check it off your to-do list and now it’s time to get moving on the next item.

If you start the week with a plan of how and when you will get things done, starting with the important items you will be much more successful in reaching those goals.  Know that things may come up that change your plans and force you to reorganize your time.  That’s okay.  If you have identified the big items to get done you will keep them in your sights and get them done.  The smaller, less important tasks will be the ones that move around instead of the important ones.  It’s easier to make room for the small tasks than it is the big ones.  Start big and work your way down.  You will get more done than starting small and working up.

Plan to focus and then work your plan.  Have a great and productive week.

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It’s Summer – Are You Present?

Now that summer has officially started have you partially checked out of work?  It’s not uncommon for people to get distracted by the thoughts of time off, fun weekend activities, family events, etc. during the summer months.  However, as part of a team you need to be fully engaged to get things done.  When others are gone you might be covering their tasks in addition to your normal duties so you need to be on top of your game.

How do you get on top of your game when the days are longer and there is more to do outside of work?  Here are a few tips to help you stay focused at work, get done quicker and enjoy your time out of the office.

  1. Plan your work.  It’s always a good idea to have a plan for what needs to be done and when, but when you are covering for others it becomes critical.
  2. Work your plan.  Now that you have a plan, follow it.  Make sure you look at your to-do list each morning and at the end of the day to ensure you are on track.
  3. Block time.  Create blocks of time, could be 30 minutes or 4 hours, to get the important things done on time.  Schedule this time in your calendar so you know you need to focus and get stuff done.
  4. Stay flexible.  Allow time for the unexpected and the new items that are sure to come your way.  When you are covering for someone else there are sure to be surprises that need attention, so make room in your plan to handle those items.
  5. Know your limits.  Be aware of how much is on your plate already so when you are asked to take on more work temporarily you know how much time you have to give.  If you must cover and it will impact your own deadlines keep people in the loop.
  6. Get clarity.  When asked to take over for someone, be sure you know in detail what MUST be done while they are gone and what would be nice to have done.  Plan to handle the musts and if possible knock out some of the nice to haves.
  7. Be clear.  As you ask others to cover for you, be clear on what needs to be done and by when.  Focus on getting only the critical items dealt with in your absence.  If possible get things done ahead of time, so there is very little for people to handle while you are gone.
  8. Take lunch breaks.  When you are swamped it’s easy to skip lunch to get more done before quitting time.  This just leads to additional stress on your body and mind.  Take the break!  Even 30 minutes away from the computer, phone and your desk will help you recharge for the afternoon push.
  9. Have fun.  Remember getting away from work is a great time to relax, unwind and recharge your energy.  Make time to enjoy the important people in your life.
  10. Show appreciation.  Let the people who are covering for you know you appreciate it.  We all like to know our efforts are noticed and appreciated.

If you show up and are engaged each day at work you will get more done and it will be easier to take time away to enjoy all the fun things summer has to offer.  Avoid mentally leaving the office before you are physically gone.  Be there for your team and they will be there for you.

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When You Are Grateful Do You Show It?

Thank you noteThis past weekend was Memorial Day here in the US which is a time for our country to stop and say thank you to all of our military, past and present.  It’s a wonderful way of acknowledging the gift of service these men and women give to the rest of us.  We also have many other, less formal, days of recognition throughout the year like boss’s day, admin assistant day, grandparent’s day, etc.  Why limit our thanks to a handful of days a year?

This past Saturday my son’s scout troop place small flags on the graves of veterans in two of the local cemeteries under the direction of a gentleman from the American Legion.  As the boys finished up he thanked them for their help in recognizing our veterans.  Before we left my son went over to him and thanked him for his service to our country.  The look of surprise and appreciation in his eyes was worth the moment it took to nudge my son into action.  To have a teenager go out of his way to say thanks obviously meant a lot to him.  This happened during a time when, as a country, we go out of our way to say thank you to the military members.  It reminded me that sometimes the small gestures mean more than grand events.

As leaders we should be looking for ways to appreciate the people around us.  Saying thanks for a good job, thanking someone for their extra effort, congratulations on a project well executed, complimenting someone on a good idea, recognizing that a person stepped up to solve a problem, the list is endless.  Often our organizations have formal methods for rewarding and recognizing people.  While these are great and needed, the simple human contact of personally looking someone in the eye and saying “Thank You” means more to them.  I still have a hand written thank you note a senior manager wrote to me after a project I worked on over 15 years ago.  It made me feel good to receive that acknowledgement of my contribution.

Studies show that people will do the things that are recognized.  If all we notice and comment on in our daily interactions are mistakes, problems, and challenges then we will get more mistakes, problems and challenges.  If we spend time recognizing the often quiet work well done, problems solved without help, challenges met then we will get more work well done, problems solved and challenges met.  We get what we focus on most.  This is also the time for a personal touch, not an electronic one.  If possible thank the person face-to-face.  It doesn’t have to be in front of a group or a big production, just stop focus on them and share your appreciation.  If you are dealing with people who work remotely from you, make the phone call and only discuss your appreciation.

Also, make sure to do this as close to the time the event occurred as you can.  This amplifies the meaning of the thanks.  It is possible that you will not learn of it for a while, that’s okay as long as you jump on the chance to recognize the behavior.  You can say “I just heard about what you did … Thank you.”  It will still carry enormous power.

Simple acts of gratitude will earn loyalty from your team.  They will know that you appreciate them and they will respond in kind.  Take the time to recognize the good in your team.  As well, look for ways to say thanks to your boss and your peers.  All of us could use a kind word, and the further up the ladder you go the less often you hear them.  Go first and show your gratitude.

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Filed under Communication, Leadership, Team Building

Are You Interested or Interesting?

ListeningWhen you are interacting with others what is your mind set?  Are you looking for their reaction to you or are you looking to learn more about them?  The first approach is egocentric and means you are more concerned about being interesting.  The second approach is focused on others and means you are more concerned about what the other person has to say.  If you think about past experiences, when someone listened to you it left you feeling much better than if they spent the time talking about themselves.

Truly connecting with people means that you must be concerned with what is going for them, and interested in what they have to say.  It’s a two way street.  You hear them and they hear you.  If one of you is doing all the talking then there is no real connection going on.

This issue can show up during an introduction or during an interaction with someone you know already.  If you are a boss and are meeting one-on-one with an employee are you doing the talking or are you listening?  It’s important to listen more than you talk when you are engaging with someone.  It gives them a sense that you value what they have to say which leads to them feeling valued.  Even if you are giving feedback or direction it’s important to take the time to listen to their perspective on what you shared.

Additionally as a leader you need to be interested in what is important to your team.  This means that you have to take the time to listen to their concerns and issues.  If you are genuinely interested in what is going on with others, they will feel respected and trusted.  If you are consistent in this approach people will trust you to be there for them.  You have shown that their interests matter to you.

You don’t have to have all the solutions to their problems, in fact its better if you help them find their own solutions.  One of the best bosses I ever had would let me vent about a situation and then ask me how I was going to handle it.  He rarely offered solutions, unless I specifically asked and even then he would find a way to make me figure it out.  During that same time I had regular contact with another manager who when you shared your problems he would jump in to solve them.  While I was frustrated with my boss on occasion because I would have loved some guidance, I actually felt more empowered and valued in that relationship.  I liked the other manager a lot, and yet at times I felt like he didn’t trust me or my team to find the solution.  While I liked both of them, I respected and trusted my boss more because my success seemed to matter more to him.

The amazing thing about being genuinely interested in others is that they will respond by caring about your interests.  Putting others first shows that you are willing to help them reach their goals and objectives.  In turn they will want to know what matters to you and will help you with your goals and objectives.  Focus your efforts in being interested in others instead of being interesting to others.  You will get more trust, respect and assistance in return.

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Sharpen Focus to Achieve Goals

Businesswoman standing on a ladder looking through binocularsTo reach your goals you must focus on them.  Focusing involves two unique steps, sight and sharpness.  Like using binoculars you must first look in the right direction, get the object in your sights.  Next you have to adjust the binoculars so you can see the object clearly.  Focusing on your goals requires the same two steps.

First you must know what to look at, what is the goal you want to accomplish.  What are your long term and short term goals?  What things do you need to do to reach these goals?  At this stage it is important to step back and look at where you want to go and what path you want to take to get there.  If you want to have a balance in your life between work and family then you will need to create goals around how much you will work or how you will prioritize family involvement.  Start with the high level goals such as “Spend more time with my family” and “Work less on weekends”.  Now you have an idea of what you will be focusing on, and it’s time to get clear on what that means.

Once you know what your goal looks like you need to sharpen your focus.  This goal must be something that you have clearly defined.  You know what it is, you know what it looks like, how your life will be different, and how you will feel upon successfully reaching it.  This is similar to the idea of adjusting the binoculars to get the image clear in your sights.  The more clearly you can describe and visualize the goal and life after reaching it the easier it will be to bring it into focus.  This means more than just saying “I will spend with my family”.  It means being crystal clear such as “I will be home for dinner with my family at least 4 days each week and I will not work on weekends”.  The second version is much more specific and it’s easier to see if you are meeting this goal.

The first step is to identify what is your goal and then you get clear on what it means to you.  Taking these two steps will help you take action.  You will know where you’re headed and how you are going to get there.  It takes vision and clarity to reach your goals so improve your focus by defining your goals and getting clear on what that goal means to you.  Once you have these in your sights you can create the action steps needed to reach them.  You will be on your way!

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Quote for April 16th

It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.
Aristotle Onassis

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5 Tips to Increase Your Concentration

ConcentrationIf you are like most of us there days when you just can’t focus on what needs to be done.  You sit and stare at the computer in a futile attempt to get you brain engaged.  All of us have days like this, how we overcome these slumps is what differentiates the highly productive from the average.  There are projects and tasks that require us to concentrate to ensure they are done well and without mistakes.   Being able to focus your concentration when needed is a skill that will help increase your productivity.  Concentrating can be improved with practice and habits.

Here are five tips to help you increase your ability to concentrate and focus more effectively:

  1. Close email and chats:  The pop-ups from these can be very distracting. They create a false sense of urgency so close them when you are focusing on tasks and plan time later to go through everything.  The frequency that you check your emails will depend on how timely your responses must be.  Many people can get by with checking in once an hour.
  2. Take breaks:  We can only focus for short periods of time, so allow for a short break periodically.  Plan on a 5 – 10 minute break every hour and your productivity will increase.  This can be used to check those emails, but make sure you get back to work on the task at hand.
  3. Switch tasks:  Alternate between high attention and low attention tasks.  This gives your mind that break it needs to refresh and stay at peak performance.  Use the breaks to help recharge.
  4. Plan your peak time:  Take time to figure when you are most productive.  For some it’s the morning and for others it’s the afternoon.  Then plan to do the items that require the most attention and focus during the time of day when you are at your best.  Everyone has a peak time when they really get things done.  Use it wisely.
  5. Deal with worries:  It is hard to focus when we are worrying about other things.  These worries range from deadlines to personality conflicts and everything in between.  When you find your mind wandering off to worry, write down the issue and set aside time later to address it.  This will free your mind from holding onto it and it allows you to concentrate on the current task now and problem solving the worry later.

If you plan how you will deal with distractions it will help you when it’s time to get serious about concentrating on the task at hand.  Establish methods that help you reduce the interruptions and carve out time to spend on the high attention tasks.  The more you make focusing a habit the easier it becomes and the faster you will recover when you find yourself getting pulled into the interruptions.

Increasing your ability to concentrate requires a plan and methods for dealing with the daily distractions.  When your priorities are clear, you know what needs your undivided attention, and you have methods for clearing your mind and reducing distractions you will increase your productivity and get more done.

What is your favorite method for staying focused?

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To Lead Change Stop Pleasing Everyone

There is an Aesop Fable that illustrates the impact of trying to please everyone (see below).  When you are leading change in your organization it can be tempting to make sure everyone is happy and on board with the change.  Realize that is not going to happen, so stop and focus your efforts where you will get the most benefit.

People will fall into three groups when it comes to change:

  1. All for it from the start
  2. On the fence
  3. Against it no matter what

There are always a group of people who will agree to change quickly and easily.  These are the folks that will help you get rolling.  Be sure to keep them engaged and reward them for their support.  They will require little effort to gain buy-in. 

Then there is a group of people who will not agree to change.  These are the nay-sayers in the organization.  Once the change is in place and proven successful they may come around, but rarely before then.  Often these folks will opt out of the change and leave the organization during the process.  It’s tempting to spend time convincing them to get on board.  However, this is a waste of your time.  Keep them informed of what is happening and how it will impact them.  Hold them accountable for the new processes/ procedures that affect them.  You can’t shut them out but you can’t win them over either.

The group on the fence is by far the biggest percentage of the organization.  They will be open to the new ideas; they just want to see if it will work and will last.  They may be on the fence because there has been too many change initiatives that are “flavor of the month” activities with no staying power.  Why commit to something that will be different next month.  This is the group you need to concentrate on getting of the fence and on your side.  Since they can be almost 50% of the organization then they have a huge impact on the long-term success of the change you are making.

So what to do?  Here are basic change management steps that will help you get through to the fence sitters.

  • Have a clear vision.  Be able to articulate a clear picture of the new world and why it matters.
  • Communicate often, and then even more.  Communicating the purpose of the change, the impact on people, the progress being made and any successes is critical.  When you think you have said everything to everyone, start over again.
  • Get people involved.  Obviously if half of the organization is sitting on the fence then you will need to have some of them helping implement the change.  Bring them in and make sure they feel valued as team members.
  • Listen to concerns.  You must find out what concerns people about the change.  You may have answers for some of the concerns, you may not.  Listening will give people the chance to be heard.  Also, you may identify obstacles that were unknown to you previously.
  • Get feedback.  Part of the listening process needs to be a structured method to get feedback on how things are going, what impact the change is having on people and how it can be improved.  Again, ideas may surface from the sidelines that will improve the situation and help diffuse problems.
  • Celebrate quick wins.  Early on find areas of the project that can provide quick wins.  Celebrate these publically and recognize the efforts of those involved.  This will make it attractive to people to get involved. 

Overall, remember that any change will trigger emotional reactions within the organization.  This will mean as the leader you must address those issues to ensure success.  The six steps above will help you do that and get the fence sitters on your side.

The miller, his son and the ass (Aesop Fable):

A miller and his son were taking their ass to sell at market, when they passed a group of girls, who laughed at how foolish the miller was to have an ass and yet be walking. So the miller put his son on the ass. Further down the road they passed some old people who scolded the miller for allowing his young son to ride, when he should be riding himself. So the miller removed his son and mounted the ass himself. Further along the road, they passed some travellers who said that if he wanted to sell the ass the two of them should carry him or he’d be exhausted and worthless. So the miller and his son bound the ass’s legs to a pole and carried him. When they approached the town the people laughed at the sight of them, so loud that the noise frightened the ass, who kicked out and fell off a bridge into the river and drowned. The embarrassed miller and son went home with nothing, save the lesson that you will achieve nothing by trying to please everyone.

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Filed under Change Management, Leadership