ARTICLES • 10-06-2012
If the oil in your frying pan starts burning, you may have the instinct of using water to put out the fire - it would make it much worse. I think it's fair to say that high performance productivity has similar intuitive traps where the clever thing to do will go against what you feel tempted to. I'll mention two frequent intuitive traps: communication responsiveness and busy-ness.

Communication responsiveness vs productivity

If you are a commercial delegate and don't pick up a call from that difficult-to-reach client, it may mean loosing a good opportunity! Probably not very productive, since your job is getting those commercial opportunities. On some jobs, good communication responsiveness helps accomplishing the mission.

On the other hand, many jobs (even those) require a good deal of deep-focus activity. And if you blindly keep valuing responsiveness over focus, you may find yourself unable to really do the job. Maybe your "communicators" are happy to reach you easily and get very quick replies to their e-mails but sooner or later they will be unhappy if the work itself is not timely delivered. You may then even fall in the trap of further communicating to manage crisis... more people involved, more justification calls, more cc's messages, more emergency-meetings... In some cases, this could be like putting water in burning oil.

Having unanswered e-mails, calls, sms's, can intuitively make you feel somehow at fault. It's like you've made an implicit promise of answering everything or being available all the time. Maybe it's a kind of pressure coming from failing others' expectations. Maybe you just love being "the hero".
Don't fall for that intuition without first assessing solidly: What is your job really? What did you promise? What did you say you would assure? What is it that, in the end of the day, will really matter for the role you play in the company? How do you measure that and in what way is your communication responsiveness helping you towards those results? Should you experiment some adjustments?

Some quick tips on communication responsiveness

Consider going for reliability instead of quickness: answer always, but in a paced fashion, specially for e-mails (try replying only twice a day). Strongly discourage emergency requests by e-mail or other "slow-paced" channels.
Too much emergency communication tends to be a clue for lack of planning.
Too much communication as a hole tends to be a clue for unclear responsabilities (and/or inefficient status reporting).
If you think you receive too many e-mails, consider sending less, or responding slower (on average, one receives about 2-3 times the number of messages one sends) - just stop feeding the fire.

"If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!"


Busy-ness vs productivity

Multitasking a bunch of stuff can get you an intuitive feeling of speed and efficiency. But heavy busy-ness is not at all synonym of optimal productivity. Doing a lot of stuff means nothing in itself. It will all depend on whether you're doing valuable stuff or not. Maybe it's not your fault that you have so many things pending, but it's definitely your job to choose priorities wisely. Go for less options and more focus!

Focus as Awareness

A final comment on Focus. If you are tranquil, and your mind thinks of nothing else, your walk in the park is different. You connect in a wider and more complete way. Like neuro-biologist Carol Shively said: "the grass hits us greener (...) and you're 10 times more aware of every single sensation". Your communication gets richer, you think faster and better. You feel more, you live more, you are more aware! Take awareness as an important achievement factor! Build trust in your choices and surrender yourself more to each moment...


Chapter summary

Experts agree that focus is a crucial tool for high productivity and conclusiveness. It is a measure of attention, valuable and limited. Safety plays an important role in focus distribution. Multitasking and interruptions can be serious threats to high levels of focus, and even limit your focus-depth, making complex issues difficult to fit in your regular activity. Focus depends heavily on your context, because a part of you reacts automatically to external inputs - take care of your surroundings. You may feel intuitively pressed to answer everything that comes to you, but high responsiveness may get in the way of good performance. The same goes for busy-ness. Clear your mission, goals and metrics. Old intuitive habits may seem the logical thing to do, but sometimes aren't very helpful. Keep trying different things, and measure the impact on the real results, not just the "feelings".
Focus will ultimately depend on how sure you are that you're doing what you're supposed to, whether it's addressing a report or playing with your cat. Build that trust and grow tranquility and awareness as a fundamental state of well-being.


1. Improve safety of choice
Keep a good collection of what you are not doing, building trust on each moment's bet. It always takes a final leap of faith, even some bravery, to dive into whatever you choose, forgetting everything else for a bit.

2. Pace new inputs evaluation
New demands will weaken the trust of your choice and make you reassess options again. Keep them paced, with some kind of rhythm, like traffic lights, holding them outside your world until you are ready for more. Turn off any kind of e-mail alerts, checking it fewer times and at more regular intervals. New thoughts and concerns will also pop inside your mind, distracting you from full focus. Be attentive and write them down, to be assessed later.

3. Have a "tunnel mode"
Frequent interruptions and focus redistribution may limit your focus depth. Use at least a part of your day to deep-focus high-value activities. Allow yourself to disconnect from everything(!). Be creative: try for example scheduling meetings with yourself in hidden rooms.

4. Reduce responsiveness
Having unanswered e-mails, calls, sms's, ..., can intuitively make you feel somehow at fault. Resist it. Go for reliability instead of quickness: answer always, but in a paced fashion, specially for e-mails. Strongly discourage emergency requests by e-mail (or other "slow-paced" channels), and remember that too much emergency communication usually means lack of planning or unclear responsibilities.

5. Reduce options
Dramatically reduce options in front of you. Close windows and tabs on your pc. Remove paper documents from your desk. Hide your huge todo-list and make a quick guide for the day with max. 2 or 3 options. Be proactively in charge of narrowing focus options towards what you really want to accomplish.

I hope you've enjoyed this first chapter - FOCUS. I would love to have your comments on this...

- Did you review yourself in some examples? Which?
- What was your favourite TRICK until now?
- What obstacles make some TRICKs difficult or even impossible in your special case?
- What other TRICKs do you recommend concerning FOCUS?

Thanks for the feedback!...

Next chapter is: ACTION ORIENTED.
I'll begin with an article addressing the ergonomic distinction between deciding and executing and how that may be impacting your todo-list "doability".

Until then, try a TRICK!...

Gonçalo Gil Mata


|T| Close windows - fewer visible options ...>>

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