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Focus Coaching for the Distracted Manager

A recent Inc. article, The Kings of Concentration, warns business owners about the impact distraction can have on an organization. As you can imagine, lost productivity is the most costly side effect. According to the article, info-tech researcher Basex surveyed 1,000 office workers in 2005. It found that distractions cost U.S. companies nearly $600 billion per year in lost productivity.

Yet cognitive overload remains a real issue for managers – and those they manage. How can HR, executive coaches and leaders help others – and themselves – stay focused?

Notice when you’re distracted

In Daniel Goleman’s latest article for Human Resource Executive, he notes that a senior executive told him that “when his mind wanders during a meeting, he wonders what business opportunity he just missed.” Take note of how often you check email or social media when you’re stuck on a problem, or bored with a project. The same exercise goes for when you tune out during meetings.

Think about unplugging

Responding to endless alert chimes from apps, emails, or texts can be addictive. Try shutting your phone off, or closing a few windows on your computer screen for 30 minutes at some point during the day. Notice your productivity levels without the many electronic temptations.

Pay attention to attention

Try this exercise for a few minutes several times each day: select a single point of focus and resist the pull of anything else. It could be your breath, a picture on the wall, or a body sensation. When your mind wanders, just notice that. Bring your attention back to your focal point. This mental workout strengthens your brain’s circuitry for concentration.

Create a productive cocoon

Focus is crucial when you’re trying to come up with a creative solution. To help a person or team stay focused, carve out uninterrupted time for them to think, research, and plan.

Here are some other resources to help distracted leaders rein in their focus.

Articles:

A More Mindful Workforce

What Mindfulness Is – And Isn’t

Organizational Attention Deficit Disorder

The Two Biggest Distractions – And What To Do About Them

Resource Library:

Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence and Cultivating Focus: Techniques for Excellence – Daniel Goleman’s latest book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence uncovers the science of attention in all its varieties, presenting a groundbreaking look at this overlooked and underrated asset and why it matters enormously for how we feel, and succeed, in life. To answer the call for practical techniques to increase focus, Dr. Goleman created Cultivating Focus: Techniques for Excellence, a series of guided exercises to help people of all ages hone their concentration, stay calm and better manage emotions.

Working with Mindfulness –  Mirabai Bush, key contributor to Google’s Search Inside Yourself curriculum, developed and narrates these attention training exercises for the workplace. The practices are designed to help reduce stress, increase productivity and encourage creative problem solving.

Relax: 6 Techniques to Lower Your Stress – Chronic stress can disrupt almost all of your body’s processes. It’s been shown to increase the risk of numerous health problems including heart disease, sleep issues, digestive complications, fatigue, depression, anxiety and obesity. Daniel Goleman developed Relax, a 45-minute audio program to help listeners effectively and naturally reduce stress. The guided relaxation program is especially beneficial to those with stressful jobs, or those managing teams in demanding work environments. The techniques are also useful for any number of everyday stressful situations or life transitions.

 

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MindfulFilter: Can we mindfully photograph a fleeting moment?

One of the many benefits of mindfulness is how easily we can incorporate a present-minded awareness into any daily activity. How we use social media and our mobile phones can sometimes feel robotic and automated.

Our new interactive experiment, MindfulFilter, is an opportunity to pay more attention to how we use and interact with technology and social media through something we do regularly – taking and sharing photos.

This week’s MindfulFilter theme was Earth.

We saw two major trends in the photos people shared with us on Instagram: sky and light. Colorful cloud formations, rainbows and sunrises/sunsets galore.

That’s understandable.

Those fleeting moments need to be captured on the spot. There’s an unconscious drive to capture images that may not be there a second later. Perhaps we want to record and share situations that only we experience. Or we’re trying to make sense of things we don’t normally see.

With those considerations, we asked ourselves: Are we mindful of the moment we’re photographing – or are we responding instinctually without any conscious awareness?

One follower said: “I find that the process of taking pictures of such situations is incredibly mindful: you need to be cognizant of every move, every sound. It’s certainly a change from how I (we?) usually blunder through the natural world!”

There’s also an opportunity for the viewers of the photographs to practice mindfulness. When viewing some of this week’s #earth photos, for instance, we took a few extra seconds to examine different elements in the image, such as different shading in cloud formations or patterns in sunbursts. Elements we would usually notice, but not really look at closely.

The additional time we spent really seeing the image, or parts of it, allowed us to notice emotions that arose while looking at the photos: curiosity, awe, joy, jealousy (I wish I was actually there right now!), and so on.

Take a look at some of our favorite photos below.

rainbow

sky

nevada-from-sky

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What comes to mind when you look at these images?

Please consider taking part in our social experiment. It’s easy to participate.

MindfulFilter-Onesheet

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Summary of Daniel Goleman’s Facebook Q&A

On Tuesday, January 28, Daniel Goleman hosted a live Q&A on Facebook for his latest book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, and his CDs Cultivating Focus: Techniques for Excellence, and Focus for Kids and Focus for Teens. Below is a recap of the exchange.

Q: I’m curious how to balance the three types of focus in the fast-paced high tech world. It seems there are fewer and fewer spaces for having a focused, connected conversation that embraces empathy and compassion.

A: Good question. The faster the pace, the bigger the challenge. It does take a bit of non-goal focused time to tune in and connect with the other person. You may not be able to do this on every phone call, but it’s worth doing at some point during the day or week, especially with people you work with continuously. A genuine connection, one with mutual empathy and interest creates a better container for communication when the pressure is high. You might find this article helpful > Focus on how you connect

Q: I am currently working on a venture to help students focus on school work (through the use of mindfulness and creating focused environments for doing school work). I noticed you have several teen podcasts. How do you recommend teaching these to young students? I know that young adults are beginning to realize the importance of mindfulness for daily life, but what is the best way to approach this with elementary/ high-school students?

A: I’m thrilled to hear that you’re doing this. I think it’s important to understand that young people can learn to improve their focus, and that this also makes them more ready to learn. This seems a logical next step to add to curriculum in schools everywhere. I think it’s important to do this in an age-appropriate way. I’ve seen second graders in Spanish Harlem lie on the floor with their favorite stuffed animal on their tummy, and watch it rise on the in breath, counting 1, 2, 3…, and same on the out breath. Five minutes of this made the classroom calmer and more focused for the rest of the day. I know teens who have actually gone on retreats, and done this much of the day. The benefits are very real at the brain level, shifting moods toward the positive, enhancing concentration, and speeding recovery from stress arousal. Here’s an Edutopia video about “Breathing Buddies.”

Q: Why do we see so much variation in kids’ ability (or lack of) to manage those three types? Nature vs. nurture?

A: Our ability to focus on ourselves, on other people, or on the world at large, is a combination of nature and nurture, but mostly nurture. For instance, kids with ADHD may get that label because adults don’t realize that the attention circuitry of the brain continues to develop from birth to the mid-20s. Adults think seven-year-old kids should act like 12-year-olds, and give them the diagnosis on ADD. However, teaching kids to focus and getting them to practice focusing can help them concentrate when they need to. But schools don’t do this. They expect kids to have the skill. We should nurture these abilities in children by helping them along. Here’s a sample track from my Focus for Teens CD.

Q: What is the relationship between focus and grit?

A: Grit is the term psychologist Angela Duckworth uses for the ability to keep your focus on long term goals and strive for them despite setbacks. The ability to focus is the center this capacity. Cognitive control, being able to focus on one thing that’s important and ignore distractions, is essential to every step toward that larger goal. Both grit and cognitive control can be classified as self-regulation, which is a major part of emotional intelligence. This article might be of interest to you > How children learn self-control

Q: (Question from Dan Goleman to the group): Does anyone have a manager with empathy deficit disorder? (Participant response): I have had a few, very smart, but also very driven by his own needs. I survived being fired by focusing on what they did right, but staying silent when I didn’t agree. Not easy while trying to keep my sense of honor alive and well.

A: Sorry to hear about your bad bosses. The best ones pay attention to the feelings and needs of direct reports in a fashion that’s like good parenting. This lets people feel secure enough to take smart risks, to innovate, to be creative. This leadership style has great return for companies. Learn more about this in my discussion with George Kohlrieser.

Q: What is the main obstacle to focus?

A: There are two obstacles to focus. Both of which have to do with how we manage our inner world. First: emotional distractions. These are the things in our lives, often relationships, that trouble us, but we can’t stop thinking about. Rumination is the most powerful distraction. On the other hand, thinking them through, and let the worry go is a good thing. Second: mindlessness. Our mind wanders and loses focus. The good news, mindfulness can be strengthened like a muscle. We can develop a habit of monitoring our attention and bring it back to what’s most important. Read more about this concept here > The two biggest distractions – and how to avoid them

Q: What’s the connection between focus and discipline?

A: Another word for self-discipline is cognitive control, a term neuroscientists use for the ability to hold our attention on the one thing that’s important in the moment, and let our distractions go. For instance, do your homework before getting to the Xbox. This is sometimes called impulse control. This ability has been found to predict a child’s financial success and health in her 30s better than IQ, and better than wealth of the family she grew up in. This article might be helpful > How focus changed my thinking about emotional intelligence

Additional resources about focus:

PODCASTS

Focus and education

Focus and leadership

Focus and everyday life

Daniel Goleman on The Diane Rehm Show

Sample Focus for Teens track

Sample Cultivating Focus for adults track

VIDEOS

Daniel Goleman’s Google Talk on Focus

Daniel Goleman on HuffPost Live

Parents teach focus

The importance of downtime

Breathing buddies

Three kinds of focus

Attention is like a muscle

Focus, flow and frazzle

Focus and compassion

ARTICLES

Cultivating a focused workplace

Organizational attention deficit disorder

Perfect practice makes perfect

Leader’s empathy deficit disorder

Focus on how you connect

Attention and creativity

Systems blindness

The two biggest distractions – and how to avoid them

The focused leader

Three types of focus

How children learn self-control

Cognitive control online

Benefits of a productive cocoon

Attention regulates emotion

Focus and emotional intelligence

Four basic moves to strengthen focus

Mindful.org Q&A

Special bundle package: Save 25% when you buy Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence and Cultivating Focus: Techniques for Excellence.

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Boost bottom lines: manage workplace stress

A recent Forbes article shared positive data revealing ROI (return-on-investment) for companies offering employee assistance programs designed to help workers better manage stress, enhance well-being, increase engagement, and boost performance.

Organizations that received the American Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award for efforts to promote employee well-being and performance reported an average turnover rate of 6%, as compared to the national average of 38%. Gallup‘s Q12 employee engagement assessment also concluded that companies with higher employee engagement outperformed competitors by 22% on their financials. And companies that made it onto the Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list had annualized stock market returns performing 2X better than general market indices, according to Great Places to Work.  As these articles suggest, organizations can receive a number of benefits from providing emotionally intelligent support for their employees to help manage stress at work:

Manage organizational attention deficit disorder. Ideally people working as a team are going to be attuned to each other. The star performing teams have the highest harmony, and have certain norms for maintaining that harmony such as:

  • They are very aware of each other strengths and weaknesses.
  • They let someone step into or out of a role as needed.
  • They don’t let friction simmer until they explode.
  • They deal with it before it becomes a real problem.
  • They celebrate wins, and they have a good time together.

– Match a person’s tasks to his or her skill sets. The more a challenge requires us to deploy our best skills, the more likely we will become absorbed in flow at work.

Attention regulates emotion. the more we strengthen our circuitry for concentration, the easier it becomes to let go of emotional hijacking and return toward a flow state. Resilience is defined as how much time it takes to recover from being upset. The quicker your recovery, the more resilient you’re going to be.

For more personal and professional mindfulness resources, visit our Mindfulness page, or listen to our free podcasts from our authors.

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