Focus and the Role of Reflective Thinking

 

 

 

 

 

 

When doing productive work and making effective decisions, total focus is crucial. However, it can be difficult to achieve in the modern world, where distractions abound—not just the annoyances delivered to you by others, but also the self-distractions inherent in an environment where a few taps on your keyboard can deliver a virtual world of distraction far more enjoyable than work. To move beyond the mere enjoyable and do what’s right, much less what’s productive and profitable, requires a significant level of mental discipline. When doing productive work and making effective decisions, total focus is crucial. However, it can be difficult to achieve in the modern world, where distractions abound—not just the annoyances delivered to you by others, but also the self-distractions inherent in an environment where a few taps on your keyboard can deliver a virtual world of distraction far more enjoyable than work. To move beyond the mere enjoyable and do what’s right, much less what’s productive and profitable, requires a significant level of mental discipline.

Willpower forms the foundation of this discipline, though it’s rarely enough on its own. Like talent, willpower is as common as table salt. We all have willpower we can exercise to some extent; and we can all do so well and properly when we care to. The trick is getting to the point of caring to, such that you apply the necessary level of willpower to focus so completely that nothing else matters. This requires adding another ingredient to the basic recipe, the self-mastery called reflective thinking. A form of metacognition—literally, thinking about how you think—this form of self-knowledge helps you realize when and how to focus on the right things in your life, job, and career.

All that said, you have no choice but to block out all those basic distractions inherent to human consciousness before reflective thinking-based focus can succeed. The higher you rise in the corporate hierarchy, the more important this becomes. Suddenly, your capacity to concentrate on your work and only your work becomes paramount, if only because your actions impact the business more completely than they ever have. A distracted, overwhelmed CEO or VP can be infinitely more damaging than a manager who can’t keep his head in the game.

Worse, the higher you go, the more distractions you deal with. Suddenly even more people want a piece of your time, and, often, they deserve one; give the extra effort to avoid wasting your time on distractions. Especially important is disconnecting yourself from your electronics, forcing them back into their original function as tools. Focus!

No matter how hard you work, if you can’t maintain a tight focus on the key activities that directly affect your organization’s success, you’ll never perform up to par. At best, you’ll be like Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen, running as fast as you can to stay in the same place. As you begin each new position closely examine your new responsibilities so that you can determine precisely what’s most important for you and your organization. Trim away everything else. Everything! The most effective workers always do the following:

• Compartmentalize issues so they’re more easily handled.

• Limit meetings and make them shorter.

• Organize and prioritize their responsibilities.

• Practice healthy life-habits to enhance personal performance.

• Learn to say no when needed, and to make it stick.

What they don’t do is micromanage. They don’t have the time.

There’s where reflective thinking really shines. Put simply, reflective thinking represents a process of learning from experience. You spend some time (it doesn’t have to be much) in thoughtful reflection, integrating new knowledge, deciding how to handle specific situations in the future, and identifying what to improve. It also includes decisions about which practices to abandon and which new ones to adopt. Every change you make to your personal or team productivity effort is rooted in this process. Self-reflection allows you to take positive advantage of your self-knowledge, specifically in how you might hone your productivity at work.

You can do your reflective thinking and the resulting winnowing on the fly if you really must, but that’s kind of like fixing your car only when it breaks down, rather than performing preventative maintenance on a regular basis so it doesn’t break down in the first place. It’s easier to avoid failure when you spend some time reflecting on the system on a regular basis so you can find and correct problems before they occur.

In other words, long-term success requires you to occasionally step back and look at the big picture so you can then hone in on the “problem children” in your workflow. If you don’t already regularly set aside time for reflective thinking, do so now. That way, once you’ve done so and worked out how to tweak your processes, you can focus more solidly without worrying about anything just falling apart on you. Put reflective thinking on your weekly or monthly to-do list as an important but non-urgent task, then keep those appointments with yourself so you can locate and fix the bugs in your workflow machine.

Reflective thinking has a second component that bears directly on your ability to adapt to the changing work environment without either freezing up or going off half-cocked. This form of reflective thinking is the opposite of multitasking—which doesn’t give you enough time to really think about your situation—and the antithesis of the “fools rush in” attitude of doing something just to do something. It helps you single-task.

When events come to a head, you can’t stand there just doing nothing; you have to quickly make a decision. Action beats meditation any day. That said, do reflect on the situation long enough to decide the best course of action, assuming it’s safe to do so. If you react too quickly, the results may prove disastrous. Study the context and gather as much information as you can before you respond.

As long as you don’t over-think things, both forms of reflective thinking will positively impact your workplace productivity, especially your focus, simply by smoothing out and tightening up your workflow. Reflective thinking about your systems, processes, habits, and tasks can help you cut wastage and improve your personal efficiency. It also helps you avoid unproductive situations and mistakes that might crash your personal productivity, even temporarily.

When properly implemented as a standard part of your thought and work processes, reflective thinking not only sharpens your ability to focus, it makes it easier to focus because your process works more smoothly, and distractions are less likely to occur. Implement reflective thinking as part of your focus mechanism along with your standard supply of willpower. Separately, both are effective elements of honing your understanding of what really matters and not letting anything lesser distract you. Applied together, they form such a strong chemical bond that are much less likely to be broken than when applied separately.

 


About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on productivity and performance. Funny, engaging, and full of real life strategies that work, Laura will change mindsets and attitudes so your people can maximize productivity, strengthen performance, and get the job done right. Her presentations at corporate events, sales kick-off meetings, and association conferences help audiences improve output, increase speed in execution, and save time in the office. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401, email [email protected]com, or CONTACT US.

Here’s what others are saying:

“Laura Stack’s session with a group of our seasoned operations managers was eye-opening. We all learned new ways to be more productive with the tools we already have. I’ve never seen each of our seasoned, experienced operations managers so engaged in a session. Many of our senior and mid-level leaders were wowed by what they learned and have already begun using the new techniques with their teams.”
—Mary Pawlowski, Learning Design, Piedmont Natural Gas

“What I enjoyed most about your presentation was that it was not only engaging but also practical in application. I’ve read everything from Covey’s system to “Getting Things Done,” and you presented time management in a way that is the easiest I’ve seen to digest and apply. Thank you for helping our system today!”
—John-Reed McDonald, SVP, Field Operations, Pridestaff

“Laura is an incredible speaker who takes practical information to improve productivity and efficiency and makes it interesting and fun! She has a great sense of humor and completely engaged our corporate and sales team. Laura motivated everyone to take steps to make their lives more productive and efficient.
—Molly Johnson, Vice President Domestic Sales, Episciences, Inc.

“Ms. Laura Stack’s program received the highest scores in the 13-year history of the Institute for Management Studies (IMS) in Cleveland! From the 83 participants, the workshop received a perfect 7.0 for “Effectiveness of the Speaker” and 6.8 for “Value of the Content.” Managers especially valued learning about task management, how to minimize interruptions, organizing with Outlook, prioritizing, effectively saying ‘no,’ how to set boundaries, and recognizing self-imposed challenges to time management.”
—Don Gorning, Chair, Institute for Management Studies Cleveland

 

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