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Staying Focused In the Information-Driven World

June 2022
Peter Deragon
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How to be a professional and stay focused on your daily work

There are many things demanding the attention of a modern professional. 

Navigating an endless stream of notifications is a never ending job. Parsing through the relentless information highway of the internet is exhausting. Addressing overflowing inboxes is an interminable activity. Even managing internal data and communications from your own company soaks up a lot of time.

If you’re a professional trying to stay focused in the white noise of everyday life, here are a few suggestions that we’ve found to be game-changers in managing the day-to-day workload.

1. Create a Personal CTS

A CTS or “commitment tracking system” is an instrumental part of maintaining focus. Most companies have some form of a CTS for their internal communication and logistics. Individuals should do the same.

Find an organizational workflow program that you like and then create a safe haven where you can organize your life. Input every commitment, from major work projects to minor personal chores. Once in your CTS, you can organize things according to topic, priority, date, and so on.

A CTS isn’t just a nice way to stay organized. It’s a major focus tool. It takes all of the open loops in your head and gives you a place to store them — out of sight. This makes it much easier to focus on the business of the day.

2. Set OKRs to Guide You

When you do have some time to focus and work on what’s in front of you, the last thing you want to do is hesitate. If you have too many things scattered across your desk (literally, digitally, and figuratively) it can make it hard to choose what to work on next.

That’s where OKRs can be helpful. They combine the power of goal setting with analytics and accountability. OKRs (objectives and key results) start by defining the end goal that you’re aiming for. From there, you establish the detailed results that you want to achieve in pursuit of that goal.

Google’s C-suite has used OKRs for a long time to improve the focus and productivity of its entire staff. If you can combine the organizational power of a CTS with the directional power of OKRs, you can achieve near-instant focus and know exactly what you need to do every time you have a moment to work.

3. Schedule “Deep Work” Times

A constant barrage of interruptions from countless different directions ensures that you won’t be able to think during your own private work sessions. The best way to address this is to schedule “deep work” times into your day. 

These are profoundly focused chunks of time (at least an hour and preferable 90 minutes at a time) where you can zero in on one task. Here are a few suggestions for ways to incorporate deep work into your day:

Treating deep work as an actual part of your schedule is key if you want consistent focus time.

4. Be Purposeful With Communication

The counterpoint to deep work is to establish clear times of the day for the shallow stuff, too. That means finding the time to respond to inquiries, hold meetings, and otherwise get the less focused work done.

Again, planning deliberate and consistent time to do this is important for multiple reasons. First of all, it gives you the freedom to put off important communications because you know that you’ll get to them later. Second, it reassures your employees and other contacts that, even if you don’t reply right away, they know they’ll hear from you within the next few hours or by the end of the day.

In the same way that a CTS can help you let go of open loops, scheduling shallow work can avoid a mind cluttered with the concern about getting back to people or checking your inbox.

5. Avoid Infinity Pools

In his productivity book “Redeeming Your Time,” best-selling author and tech entrepreneur Jordan Raynor talks about the need to control our access to “infinity pools.” These are the sources of information that suck you in …and don’t stop flooding you with information.

Social media is an infinity pool. So is the 24-hour news cycle. Take the time to identify the infinity pools in your life. 

It’s okay to have some of these, but if you’re inundated with too many sources of relentless information, you may want to cut yourself off from some of them. This can do wonders in freeing up your mind to focus.

6. Delegate the Non-Essentials

Once you have your commitment tracking system set up, you can use it to identify high-level responsibilities. As you do so, consider delegating what is left. Delegating responsibilities is a great way to free up your mind to focus. It also keeps you from feeling overwhelmed as you try to get daily work done.

“Delegating responsibilities is a great way to free up your mind to focus.”

One of the best examples of this kind of focus-oriented activity is passing off your recruiting efforts. At Stanton Chase’s Los Angeles office, we regularly relieve C-suite executives and recruiters of the paralyzing task of finding new talent — especially when it comes to the complex process of hiring executives.

From maintaining a CTS to setting OKRs, scheduling deep and shallow work, avoiding infinity pools, and delegating responsibilities, there are many ways to keep your sanity, even in a world where news and notifications are constantly trying to plunge across your desk and distract you. 

The first step is acknowledging the need to focus better. From there, use the steps above to restore a sense of calm and concentration to your daily work.

Peter Deragon is the Managing Director of Stanton Chase Los Angeles, and as Global Practice Leader of the Supply Chain, Logistics, and Transportation Practice Group, Peter is also active in the CFO Practice Group and financial services, where he started his career.

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