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Make Focus Your Best Friend

The Office (NBC Series) on Valentine's Day

Today of all days is pretty bad in terms of avoiding distractions. Your co-workers are getting flowers left and right, chocolate is getting passed around, and with all the “love” in the air it’s hard to focus. So, before you get a sugar high from today’s sweet nothings, check out the great post below on finding focus.

Finding Focus in Your Work
By Ryan Harding
repost from APUS Career Services Blog

As someone who works from home quite often, I have an acute sensitivity and awareness of distraction—things which could derail an otherwise productive day. While I have been able to reduce or eliminate most distractions from my day, there are still two, seemingly inexorable forces that, every day, try to pull me into an abyss of distraction. I imagine falling into that abyss is a lot like finding yourself on the other side of an event horizon of a black hole: unable to trace the boundaries of the event horizon, a space traveler unwittingly crosses through to that inescapable region of space, only realizing his mistake after it’s decidedly too late. My two distractions actually have names: Slinky and Pogo (the former of whom is pictured above, purring while wedged into the internal framework of an old couch).

One, by happenstance, is sitting here in front of me as I write. He throws himself about my desk as if doing an interpretive dance and once settled, consciously drives his thick fur into the keyboard of my laptop. Although ultimately unknown, I can tell you his intent is to sabotage. The other, mesmerized by water, can be heard pawing at cups, attempting to drive them off of their surface, enabling her to violently attack the water as it splashes to the ground. She’s a menace. Using our many bookcases as springboards, as she throws her body into the air. I’m convinced she’s part sugar glider. At the same time every day, she begins tearing around the house. She’s a one-animal stampede. As her pace quickens, she loses traction on the hardwood floors. When she applies the breaks she hydroplanes, colliding with whatever sits in front of her. Did I tell you? She’s also part bowling ball. These are my distractions. And for better or worse, I’m stuck with them, and them with me. Even if you don’t have pets, every employee has their Slinky or Pogo—something that, although endearing, or seemingly harmless, has an innate, ineffable capacity to distract.

Dr. Paul Hammerness and Margaret Moore, writing for Harvard Business Review recently laid out a few suggestions for distracted employees interested in injecting a bit of focus into their professional life (in addition to listing the risks associated with multi-tasking).

“Tame your frenzy.” No, frenzy isn’t Slinky ripping through the kitchen cabinets driving out their contents, it’s an “emotional state”—the “feeling of being a little (or a lot) out of control,” say Hammerness and Moore. Adopt psychologist Barbara Fredrickson’s 3:1 approach to dealing with frenzy: “You can tame negative emotional frenzy by exercising, meditating, and sleeping well.”

“Apply the breaks.” Know how and when to mentally apply the breaks—don’t go skidding into walls or oncoming cognitive traffic. “Use the ABC method as your brain’s brake pedal,” suggests Hammerness and Moore. “Become Aware of your options: you can stop what you are doing and address the distraction, or you can let it go. Breathe deeply and consider your options. Then Choose thoughtfully: Stop? or Go?”

“Shift sets.” It can be difficult to, mentally, jump from one task to the next, so break them up with physical action, recommends Hammerness and Moore. “Before you turn your attention to a new task, shift your focus from your mind to your body. Go for a walk, climb stairs, do some deep breathing or stretches.”