Pay Attention! Performance and the Ability to Focus

Simon is a rapidly rising star at his HR consulting firm. He’s approachable, likable, and people naturally gravitate to him. His work is thorough and on time. His CEO has noticed that Simon has the ability to get to the core of an issue — really get to the essence of a client’s challenges and their needs.

No doubt, there are several characteristics that separate Simon from his peers, but one of those qualities is his ability to focus — to simply pay attention.

We are continuously bombarded with information. Emails, texts, phone calls, social media, news feeds, a crushing to-do list, and more are ever-present distractions. Our ability to concentrate and pay attention has declined to dangerously low levels. Simon is described by his colleagues and clients as a good listener, engaged in meetings, and someone who gets the truly important things done — all signs of superior focus.

Daniel Goleman’s book Focus, The Hidden Driver of Excellence makes a strong case for the benefits of focus — essential ingredients for both professional excellence and personal happiness. One of Goleman’s key findings is that focus is like a “mental muscle.” The more you exercise focus, the more control you have over it and the stronger your focus becomes.

Focus occurs in two realms: one is related to interacting with people and your external environment. The other is related to getting work accomplished. Think of building focus as a place where emotional intelligence and personal productivity work hand-in-hand.

Emotional intelligence speaks to the need to build self-awareness, empathy, adaptability, and the ability to manage conflict. For more about emotional intelligence, read Arden Coaching’s ”Don’t Be Clueless — Emotional Intelligence and Self-Awareness;” “Strengthen Your Social Awareness Skills to Become a Great Leader;“Leadership, Emotional Intelligence, and Self-Management;” and “Managing Relationships: Peak Emotional Intelligence”

“Mindfulness is fundamental to emotional intelligence — being present and in the moment,” said Maren Perry, president of Arden Coaching. Perry says one way to build mindfulness is through meditation. “Not just sitting in easy calm or relaxation, meditation trains you to watch your mind get distracted over and over (and over) and bringing it back to one point of focus — your breathing, an image, a special word or phrase. Practicing this skill in meditation pays off as your focusing muscle gets stronger in real life.” For more about meditation, check out “Just Breathe!” by Arden Coaching’s Lyne Desormeaux, PSYD, PCC. For more about mindfulness, check out “Mindfulness in the Workplace” by Laura Hansen, PCC.

Personal productivity is tactical behavior that paves the way for better focus — put away your smart phone when you’re in a meeting; turn notifications on your laptop off; and eat breakfast to start your day.

When Perry works with someone in an executive coaching engagement, she strives to to develop professional skills and reshape underlying behaviors to improve leadership capabilities, communication, and performance. Perry’s expertise helps improve and leverage her client’s emotional intelligence and productivity.

“If you wish to develop your focus and your ability to pay attention, it’s critical to make sure you are working on what really matters,” adds Perry. “For real change to take place in any aspect of your life, you need to understand and evaluate your patterns of thinking before you can commit to a new course of action.” Learn more in Arden Coaching’s blog, “What Happens in an Executive Coaching Engagement?”

Exploring Focus for Yourself

  1. Identify one behavior you could change that would help you stay “present” and focused on the moment at your meetings. Practice that new behavior over the next month.
  1. Select two productivity tactics to help you concentrate and stay on track with your work. Put those productivity hacks into practice for the next month. Here’s a start on some ideas:  “23 Best Productivity Hacks of the Year.”

As Goleman notes, the mental muscle of focus can be exercised to grow stronger, so practice, practice, practice. Over time, you’ll find your ability to concentrate, focus, and stay in the moment improving — as will your productivity and level of work.

To learn more about executive coaching, focus, and building leadership skills, contact Arden Coaching at [email protected] or 646.684.3777.