On a typical work day, you’re likely to find phones ringing, emails dinging and instant messages needing workers’ attention.
And those are just the things in their immediate vicinity distracting them from focusing on their tasks. Others might include sounds from operating machinery in the building.
These distractions can be detrimental to focus and lower output in the long run. To encourage focus amongst teams, leaders and team managers can look into any of the following tactics.
Projects should be carefully planned with a clear objective and both short term and long term goals. When people don’t know what they need to do, this scatters their focus. Team members can end up prioritising tasks that are not critical or dedicating time to tasks that are not theirs to tackle.
Before a project commences, all team members should know their role and its importance to the end goal. The project plan should also clearly indicate who everyone reports to and who they can ask for help when they need it.
In addition, a progress report that shows how much time is left for each task should be available. Tasks that are complete should be marked as such.
A carefully designed and well decorated office can be good for bringing some cheer into the workplace but it can also work to the detriment of focus.
Studies reveal that when there is competing stimuli it can be hard to focus. Research also backs up the fact that interruptions increase the amount of time it takes to perform a task. Therefore, office managers should aim at an environment that is clutter free.
Teams should also be encouraged to declutter their desks. Not to organise them, but to declutter, because one man’s chaos is another man’s map. Emphasis should be laid on limiting the number of items and not on having them all in a particular order. You might consider the Marie Kondo way and urge teams to only keep items that ‘spark joy’.
Manage meetings better
Meetings are often criticised for being time drains and focus eaters but they don’t seem to be going away any time soon. To limit their downsides and encourage focus, carefully plan for them beforehand.
Share an agenda so that participants know what to expect and assign roles so that you are sure everyone present is engaged and paying attention. Most importantly keep meetings brief because people can only pay attention for a while before their minds begin to wander.
Have conversations with your team
Team leaders may need to dialogue with their teams to get to the bottom of what encourages focus and what makes it suffer. It might come to light, for instance, that the team prefers to have brainstorming sessions in the morning rather than in the afternoon.
Sometimes focus can suffer due to personal matters in a team members’ life. In one-on-one conversations, leaders can encourage self-compassion for those team members who might be struggling and make changes that might better support them.
Respect individual differences
Even though you are a team, a team is made up of individuals and what might work for one employee might not work for another. You might find some employees are more productive in the evening while others are more so in the morning.
Where possible, give employees the leeway to work within their personal rhythms. To pull this off, a team needs to have great communication. This also requires managers to pay attention to the different personality types of their team members.
Foster a culture of learning and self-development
Share reading and learning resources that your team can consume to expand their minds and learn how to improve their focus. These can be articles, journals or TED talks. However, you should also support them in taking advantage of these resources by opening up a time in their schedules.
A too tight schedule might only leave employees with room to work and rest when they go home. At the same time, a schedule with a few hours blocked out on Wednesday afternoons to do whatever they please might not get them to dedicate that time to learning.
Along the learning journey, employees may come across techniques like time blocking which improve and encourage focus. This method breaks the work day into chunks in which a worker will focus on a task for a few minutes (the exact time varies depending on the individual) and then have a break to refresh before repeating the process throughout the day.
Time blocking is said to work because it allows workers to concentrate deeply on one task or a set of tasks, cutting out the need to multi task.
In times of uncertainty, address the uncertainty
It can be hard to focus when the future of the company is in question. In previous months, the global pandemic has led to so many job losses, a situation that has left even those who are still employed wondering about their future.
Other situations that can create uncertainty for teams include mergers or the exit of leaders. To encourage continued focus, acknowledge the situation, share information, and encourage dialogue with team members to allay any fears they might be having.
This could include a group discussion and one-on-one chats. Doing this will put your team at ease and in the right head space to focus on their work.
In order to be more focused, people actually need to do nothing sometimes. Rest improves some of the brain’s functions and boosts memory. Being at rest might improve creativity and lead to improved problem solving.
Not all methods of resting are created equal though. Taking a walk, a nap or meditating is better for rest than say, watching a movie or playing a video game.
Focus is a precious commodity and managers should continuously encourage it amongst teams. The solution lies in looking holistically at workplace policies and practices and offering team members the support they might need.