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June 1, 2015 How To

How to manage your focus and energy

While business leaders work diligently at managing people and projects, most find it difficult to manage their own focus and energy. It's no wonder, given that today's rapidly changing business world throws myriad distractions and draining challenges at us all.

Electronic communications are a top culprit. With mobile devices enabling us to electronically communicate in a variety of formats 24/7, we communicate more but “connect” less. We are not “really connecting” with others, or ourselves, as often as we should to maximize our energy and focus and thus our effectiveness and mojo.

Another aspect of today's business world that drains leaders' energy and focus is the open-door policy many of today's leaders practice. The intention is to be more accessible and transparent than leaders of the past. Yet the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Leaders have little heads-down time and end up doing much of their work after hours.

Mitigating the distractions

Here are a few suggestions to decrease the number and duration of distractions and energy-draining challenges that you face. Taking these steps can help you focus your energy where it's needed most.

 • Create uninterrupted, closed-door times: These might be two, one-hour segments a day. Make your staff aware of these times. One executive I worked with only scheduled the first half hour of any given hour for meetings so he can take the second half of the hour to work on results.

 • Put electronic communications out of sight: Make it impossible to hear and see all the incoming emails, text messages and phone calls. This is also important when you meet with people. It shows you are giving them your undivided attention.

 • Set up the layout of your office to minimize distractions: Place your desk so you face away from the door and windows where you can see people walking by. Also be sure to de-clutter your office, create a simple filing system and limit the mementos on your desk. Anything within your sight is sure to distract.

 • Create a four-quadrant to-do list: Rather than one long list, use a four quadrant format with “Business” and “Personal” on one side and “Short term” and “Long term” on the other. This helps get everything on your mind on paper and helps you prioritize what you need to do in a given time period.

 • Work in cycles: Think of each day as several sprints rather than one marathon. Take short breaks between tasks by walking, stretching, reading an article or taking care of a personal action item. Reward yourself for the heads-down work and don't deplete yourself. Save part of the day for non-work activities.

 • Do the most difficult thing first: If you don't, it will be on your mind all day. It usually doesn't turn out nearly as bad as you think.

 • Work on one thing at a time rather than multi-tasking: Strive to complete two or three things each day that are most critical so you have a sense of accomplishment. This is much more energizing than partially completing many tasks, which usually proves to be frustrating.

 • Help others minimize the drag they place on your time: This includes giving people time limits for meetings. Consider using formats or forms for people to submit before meetings on the topic they want to discuss, why it's important, the options and their recommendations. This will likely require you to coach your staff, but in the long run, it saves a ton of time.

By applying these same principles to your situation, you may discover that you can create significant cost savings or perhaps new revenue for your company. At the same time, you just might make your work situation a lot less stressful for yourself and those around you.

Doug Packard is CEO and owner of Renaissance Executive Forums in Maine and New Hampshire and Doug Packard Consulting in Portland. He can be reached at

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