Elim­i­nate dis­trac­tions that are keep­ing you from get­ting your work done with these four solu­tions.

6 min read

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The fol­low­ing excerpt is from Dr. Nadine Grein­er’s book Stress-Less Lead­er­ship. Buy it now from Ama­zon | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | IndieBound

It can be hard to con­cen­trate. Even on your best days, you’re sur­round­ed by dis­trac­tions. When you strug­gle to con­cen­trate, you can’t focus on what needs to be done, you waste time and you stress your­self out. It’s time to review some solu­tions.

Relat­ed: The 4‑Pronged Approach to Address­ing Your Stress

Lay out the work and stick to it

When you embark on a task with­out a plan, it’s like going on a road trip with­out a map. You need to know where you’re head­ed. A key part of exer­cis­ing your cog­ni­tive fin­ger is to plan.

What to do? Before start­ing an activ­i­ty, cre­ate a detailed plan of action. What do you need to do? How much time can you devote to it? Do you require any addi­tion­al sup­port? Map out your task from start to fin­ish, and don’t for­get to sequence tasks and num­ber them. This will ensure you don’t over­look any­thing.

If you’re inclined to pro­cras­ti­nate and can’t seem to get start­ed on your plan, tell your­self you’ll work on it for only 10 min­utes, start­ing in 10 min­utes. The dread of start­ing is often greater than actu­al­ly exe­cut­ing the task. The plan won’t be per­fect the first time, but that’s OK — at least you’ve start­ed. And once you’ve final­ized your plan, com­mit to it whole­heart­ed­ly. Don’t give in to inter­rup­tions!

Exam­ple in prac­tice: Here’s a cau­tion­ary exam­ple that show­cas­es what can hap­pen when you fail to plan. A few years ago, Hershey’s was gung-ho about get­ting viral atten­tion online and made the rash deci­sion to change its logo from a three-dimen­sion­al Hershey’s Kiss to a two-dimen­sion­al one. Had the com­pa­ny tak­en more time to plan, it might have real­ized that it need­ed to do some con­sumer mar­ket­ing tests first. When the new logo hit, it didn’t resem­ble a deli­cious choco­late treat. Instead, peo­ple com­plained that it looked like a piece of poo!

Relat­ed: How to Over­come Stress and Attract Great Employ­ees

Give away time-consuming work

You could eas­i­ly spend all your wak­ing hours on time-con­sum­ing work. Time-con­sum­ing work is like steroids for stress — the oppo­site of what you want. Your suc­cess depends on your abil­i­ty to del­e­gate as much time-con­sum­ing work as pos­si­ble.

What to do? Embrace del­e­ga­tion and plan­ning. Start each week by tak­ing note of the peo­ple around you, their skills, and their time avail­abil­i­ty. Then map out the most time-con­sum­ing work you have on your plate and align it to their skills. Make sure these employ­ees are capa­ble of tak­ing on the work. If they’re not, take some time to coach, train and pre­pare them for the task — or, bet­ter yet, assign anoth­er man­ag­er or employ­ee to train them.

When it comes to del­e­gat­ing, “I can do it faster myself,” is a ter­ri­ble excuse. It only results in you being over­loaded and unable to con­cen­trate. “I can do it bet­ter myself,” is just as bad. It doesn’t allow oth­ers to take on more respon­si­bil­i­ty, be rec­og­nized, or gain skills.

Exam­ple in prac­tice: Esteemed Amer­i­can phil­an­thropist Eli Broad has built KB Home and Sun Amer­i­ca, two For­tune 500 com­pa­nies. Broad cred­its much of his suc­cess to being able to del­e­gate. He sees the inabil­i­ty to del­e­gate as one of the biggest lead­er­ship prob­lems. He advis­es lead­ers to focus on the most impor­tant tasks and find a way to del­e­gate any­thing else.

Pay attention to where your mind wanders

Everyone’s mind wan­ders. It’s nat­ur­al. But unless you’re in a high­ly cre­ative field, mind wan­der­ing can dis­rupt pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. It’s in your best inter­est to pay close atten­tion to where your mind is ven­tur­ing.

What to do? The next time you find your mind wan­der­ing, go with it and take a moment to reflect. Where is your mind head­ed? Is it a pas­sion area? Is it an under­ly­ing wor­ry? Jot down a quick note and sched­ule some time in your cal­en­dar to think about it lat­er. If you’re prepar­ing for a big pre­sen­ta­tion at work and your mind keeps drift­ing to wor­ry­ing that you’ve for­got­ten to lock your front door, it can derail your focus. Take action. Phone a neigh­bor, or make a quick trip home. When you return, you’ll be bet­ter able to focus on the task at hand.

Relat­ed: 5 Ways Your Chron­ic Stress Is Affect­ing Your Busi­ness

Exam­ple in prac­tice: One of my clients is a for­mer VP at a fur­ni­ture sales busi­ness. He approached me with con­cerns that his mind often wan­dered to think­ing about store design. He always looked for­ward to the hol­i­day sea­son. He loved to vis­it the stores and see their hol­i­day set­up designs and dec­o­ra­tions. This was clear­ly a pas­sion area, so we decid­ed to take action. The VP enrolled in a three-month inte­ri­or design class, which ulti­mate­ly led him to clinch a pro­mo­tion in oper­a­tions, then a pro­mo­tion to COO. Pay atten­tion to where your mind wanders—it’s like­ly try­ing to tell you some­thing.

Do nothing

It’s impor­tant to stop and take a break occa­sion­al­ly. If you’re con­stant­ly in ready-aim-fire mode, your fight-or-flight response is always switched on, and your cor­ti­sol lev­els will be sky-high. Some­times the only way to get your cor­ti­sol back down to healthy lev­els is to stop. Doing noth­ing can be a recipe for suc­cess.

What to do? Carve out 10 to 15 min­utes. Find a qui­et space, close the door, turn off all your devices, and even close your eyes. Focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale. Let all your wor­ries, fears, and appre­hen­sions float away. After 15 min­utes, you’ll find you’re able to con­cen­trate more effec­tive­ly. That brief reprieve can be just what you need to regain a state of bal­ance.

Exam­ple in prac­tice: When­ev­er I have a full-day on-site vis­it sched­uled with a client, I proac­tive­ly build in 15 min­utes to do noth­ing. Dur­ing those 15 min­utes, I devote myself com­plete­ly to inac­tion. I find a com­fort­able place, turn off all devices, and sit down. I close my eyes, focus on my breath­ing, and lis­ten as the oxy­gen flows through my lungs. When I resume my work, I feel reju­ve­nat­ed and ready to tack­le what­ev­er comes next. There’s a hid­den val­ue in emp­ty time.

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