Survey after survey, bolstered by anecdotal evidence from virtually all my executive
clients, indicates that work is expanding almost exponentially. There’s no end to this trend in sight, and the stakes are increasingly high for executives who must deliver solid business results from whatever project or assignment they have taken on. You need an edge to keep up, and it had better be a sharp one if you want to sustain peak performance.
The top three challenges faced by executives today are time pressure, financial
pressure, and the imbalance they feel between work and life. They often feel out of control, as though they are perpetually reacting to events. To help clients regain a sense of control, of “authorship” of their own lives, I frequently begin with the development of a critical skill: focus. The ability to focus on what’s important, when it’s important, is one of the things that distinguish successful from unsuccessful executives.
Focus is a learned skill, and it also can be practiced until it becomes habit. And, as with any other habit, it lives in the body, our biological being. That’s important, because most people tend to think that focus is strictly a mental process, and a matter of emotional self-discipline. When we talk about someone being “unfocused”, we often conjure an image of dishevelment and incompetence, almost a morally deficiency.
Focus, when practiced well, is not about homing in on one thing to the exclusion of all others. It is an essential element in what is often called “flow”, and it involves agility and grace, the ability to move almost seamlessly from one thing to the next with a minimum of settle time. And the key to developing this kind of focus is what I call “attention training” – the physical practice of mastering a mental shift. Here’s how it works:
- In order to focus, you have to set aside all the things you arenot going to focus on – you have to define the universe of what’s important by eliminating the unimportant. Begin by tracking all the things you do in a day, a week, a month, and choosing not to pay attention to the distractions.
- Choose one important matter to attend to for an hour or more each day, working
with a clearly articulated goal in mind, one that includes both a time element and a quantitative measurable outcome. While you are working, if something else comes up, turn it away until your focused work session is complete.
- As you increase your ability to concentrate on this one matter for a prescribed period of time, add another important matter, treating it in the same way. Use
physical actions – turning off your phone or computer, closing your door, asking your assistant to screen calls and visitors – to reinforce your focused attention.
- Limit the number of important matters you will attend to to three, and as you reach your goal for one, move another new matter to your set of three. As other matters come to your attention, pass them on to others, or turn them away.
At the beginning, you may believe it is impossible to control this much of your time in a day. If you treat this practice as a conscious choice, though, and put physical structures of support in place, you’ll begin to build the muscle for focus. After a while, this way of attending to what matters will become habitual, and the habit will be reinforced when you enjoy the fruits of success. By training your attention, you’ll
develop a felt sense of greater autonomy and control in work and life, and you’ll discover the secret to sustained peak performance.
Are you satisfied with your ability to focus? What if you could direct your attention where it’s needed, whenever you wanted to? If you’ve got a big challenge confronting you now, or you just want to get better at self-management to prepare for future challenges, let’s talk about how coaching can work for you. Call (410)626-6008, or email email@example.com.
A parallel physical practice is to focus on a simple daily activity – such as washing the dishes – and as you are doing it, pay attention to only what you are doing.
- Notice the flow of the water, its temperature and how it feels against your skin.
- Notice each piece of food as it is being swept off the
plate and down the drain. Notice the weight and shape of the plate, its feel in your hands.
- Notice how you are standing, the width apart of your feet and the curve of your spine.
While you are attending to the physical sensations of washing the dishes, as you notice other thoughts coming up, turn them away and bring your attention back to what you are doing. You may experience this as a physical action.
This practice is commonly used as part of “mindfulness
meditation,” and its power in developing focus has been well-documented.
48 percent of American executives admit to having a messy desk, but claim to know where everything is. 12 percent say that although their desk appears organized, they have no idea where to find anything.
A recent survey found 35 percent of those surveyed had taken at least one sick day in the past year when they weren't really sick. One in 10 had done it three times or more in the last year. The survey also says one in four of the respondents consider sick days equal to extra vacation days and treat them as such.
More than 97 percent of MBAs are willing to forgo some money to work for an organization with a better reputation for corporate social responsibility and ethics,
according to a study by Stanford and University of California/Santa Barbara. The survey found that on average, MBAs were willing to forgo 14 percent of their expected income.
A new book, Citizen Cyborg, by Dr. James Hughes raises serious questions about how society must come to grips with technologies that can improve human senses, intelligence and life spans, allowing people to become superhuman – “transhuman.” In the workplace, new technologies will help workers integrate computing and communications onto and into their bodies and brains, with wearables and implants.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, in his new book, The Choice, identifies the coming of "human enhancements" as one of several developments that will accelerate the divide between the wealthy few and the developing world.
Your Signature Path: Gaining New Perspectives on Life and Work, by Geoffrey Bellman. What I like about it: This is not a new book, but it’s a
favorite I turn to again and again in my work with executive coaching clients who care about making a difference in the world. The author focuses on the importance of work in a fulfilling life, and provides numerous self-guided reflective exercises aimed at integrating the two.
Executive Coach, Strategy Consultant
Principal, Bloomfield Associates
Leadership Presence, by Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar. What I like about it: The authors are professional actresses who offer a fresh approach to building a more effective and authentic leadership presence. Each chapter focuses in on a key quality or trait – such as presence, flexibility, empathy,
expression, awareness – and shares engaging tools and techniques from the acting world that readily translate to the business world. Who would have guessed that success on the stage and in the boardroom have so much in common!
Executive Coach, Founder
Acuity Legal Consulting
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“Too bad all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving cabs and cutting hair.”
— George Burns
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Beth Bloomfield will be the featured speaker at the November 11 meeting of the Institute of Management Consultants, National Capital Region. The title of her presentation is “Mastering Your World: Secrets of an Executive Coach”; come to this interactive program with a current challenge you are facing in managing
your work or your consulting practice, and be prepared to get some on-the-spot coaching. Beth will also explore how you can fit executive coaching as a value-added service into your own offerings to your current and prospective consulting clients.
Beth will also present a similar program at the November 17 monthly breakfast meeting of the Annapolis chapter of Women in Insurance and Financial Services (WIFS). For more information, call Diane White at (410) 263-2492.