Three evenings ago, my husband and I ordered a pizza to be delivered from a local eatery. We were told the wait time from kitchen-to-door would be about 45 minutes. A little over 75 minutes later, the driver arrives with my husband waiting on the porch. As he approaches the vehicle, the young man steps out of his driver’s-side door and opens the door to the backseat. In a frenzied state, he turns around after looking inside his car, faces my husband and asks, “Where’s the pizza?” My husband replies, “What do you mean?” The driver, incredibly flustered now, says, “Where did the pizza go?” The driver proceeds to look under the seat (really?) and then opens his trunk. He says, “Man, I don’t know where the pizza went. What should I do?” Once again, really? My husband responds, “I guess you may want to head back to the restaurant and see if the pizza is still there.”
I realize mistakes happen. They happen to all of us. Yet, when someone neglects to perform his/her core job responsibility, is that a mistake or an error due to ineffective training? It’s neither. Instead, I believe it’s an example of a huge mental traffic-jam.
So how do you regain mental focus and become productive again? Are there strategies we can apply ourselves and also share with our co-workers to help them? The answer is “yes” and if you want a high-performing workplace culture, it’s important to apply these five practical prescriptions to fine-tune your focus:
Rx #1: Reduce distractions. While it might be as simple as unplugging from your favorite device for a bit, you might find it much more challenging to deal with a colleague who frequently interrupts your train-of-thought. One way to help mitigate this problem is to identify a specific time and place where you can be distraction-free. Be sure to schedule that time in your calendar and find a quiet spot to ensure you can maximize your productivity during that time. Maybe it is only for 30 or 60 minutes per week, but that sure beats never.
Rx #2: Focus on one thing at a time. Juggling multiple tasks at once can dramatically cut down on productivity and it becomes much harder to hone in on the details that are truly important...like remembering to put the pizza in your car. Why? Because our attentional resources are limited so it is important to budget them wisely.
Rx #3: Take a short break. Have you ever tried to focus on the same thing for a long period of time? After a while, your focus starts to break down and it becomes more difficult to devote your mental resources to that specific task. By taking a brief break, you are able to push pause on your level of concentration, helping you to regain mental focus after you have allowed your brain a rest.
Rx #4: Avoid negative emotions. Negative emotions can represent an “off-switch” for peak performance. If you work in an environment where emotions run high on occasion, you likely wonder when the next outburst will ensue. Do your best to stay clear from unnerving emotional situations and also steer away from letting your unwanted emotions escalate. If you can’t avoid negative emotions, do your best to control or minimize them as quickly as possible.
Rx #5: Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Start by getting to bed and getting up at the same time every day, including weekends. As tempting as it may be, don't try to make up for a lack of sleep by staying in bed on the weekends. Sleeping in won't make up for a sleep deficit. In fact, according to a recent Harvard study, when you snooze extra hours to compensate for sleep deprivation, your ability to focus is worse than if you had stayed up all night.
Even though we never got to enjoy a delicious piece of pizza pie that night, my husband and I did have a few laughs over the experience and I did get a great story that I couldn’t wait to share with my readers. So the next time you encounter a craving for thick-crust, consider averting a similar outcome by tossing a few ingredients together yourself, staying focused on the oven timer, while saving some dough in the process.