“Always remember, your focus determines your reality" - George Lucas.
If only life were that simple eh?
I don’t know about you but staying focused isn’t always as easy as it sounds. As a woman in leadership and business ownership there are myriad demands on my attention and that’s before we even consider the global backdrop that we are all living against.
Life changed dramatically in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic started, and, although we are encouraged to live as if it never happened, we are all still adjusting to life after a major existential threat.
Some of us have lived through this period of time relatively physically unscathed, but we are all changed emotionally and psychologically.
Levels of anxiety and overwhelm reported among professional women specifically are higher than ever, and anxiety and overwhelm fundamentally disrupt our ability to focus. Despite this:
There is the need to have a strategic plan and to execute it – to have clear goals and work towards them.
There is the need to uphold our responsibilities to family and friends.
There is the need to ensure that our clients are supported and are maintaining their own focus so they can achieve their own goals.
There is a need to manage our teams so that the strategic plan is delivered on.
And then there’s life – just the general rhythm of small waves and occasional tsunami’s that bring with them destruction and chaos and which take my focus and dump it in the emotional ocean.
So how can we create and maintain focus when we’re dealing with all that?
First, we must appreciate that we are all different. Our ability to focus and remain resilient is influenced by genetic and environmental factors as well as our personal trauma history.
But there are some key things we can do to help us.
1. Take breaks. Yep even if you don’t feel like it or have convinced yourself that you’re the kind of superwoman that can pull a 12 hour working day with just a crispbread at your desk for lunch. To focus effectively, our brain needs us to switch from high attention to mind-less activities, usually every 90 minutes or so.
2. Do not multi-task. Research shows that multitasking increases stress, reduces quality of work and impacts well-being. If you have to get several things done, time block and allocate only one thing to each block.
3. Create and execute a strategy for dealing with worry. Given that neuroplasticity means that we get better at what we practice, if we are caught trapped in cycles of anxiety then the likelihood is that we will get better at worrying. Anxiety really impacts focus and so when you catch yourself worrying why not try implementing the Worry Funnel approach, book in worry time so you can pay attention to the worry in a way that is time boundaried, or engage with mindfulness techniques to help distance yourself from the worry.
4. Switch off devices that go ping, ding and ring. Due to the brain’s in-built novelty bias, and the manner in which communication devices exploit this bias it is really important to switch off devices and apps that can draw your attention away from the task at hand.
5. Get enough sleep. Good quality sleep is probably the best gift you can give yourself when it comes to wellbeing and leadership, and within that, the ability to focus. Not only does sleep deprivation impact our ability to control our attention it also impacts our overall ability to adapt to change. It may be that an afternoon nap is the missing piece of your attentional jigsaw, but make sure you set an alarm and nap for no longer than 40 minutes.
6. Join my Lady Rebel Leader Community and watch my ‘Overwhelmed to on top of it all’ training in which I provide a range of techniques to help you create space between your thoughts and actions.