4 steps to improve your focus—and 1 to avoid

Staying focused is a battle by itself, but doing it when your brain is conditioned to defy concentration makes it even tougher, Jack Kosakowski writes for the Harvard Business Review.

Kosakowski is today the CEO of the American divisions of Creation Agency, a sales and marketing consultancy, and SkillsLab, a sales and marketing education provider.

But getting to where he is now wasn't easy, Kosakowski explains. Because of his ADHD, he grew up having trouble maintaining his attention and was often messy and disorganized. But, he writes, he was able to overcome those challenges because of a few habits he developed through trial and error.

Based on his experience, Kosakowski shares five of his tips anyone can use to regain focus.

1: Find your passion

If you don't enjoy what you're doing, that's just going to make it harder to stay engaged in it, Kosakowski writes. For him, his passion is social selling—which accommodates the kind of quick verbal and written interactions he most enjoys. If you figure out what keeps your head in the game, that's exactly what's going to happen, he writes.

2: Use a whiteboard

Not knowing what to focus on is a step toward a day full of distraction and empty accomplishments, according to Kosakowski. He keeps a two whiteboards near his desk: a smaller, closer one for his short-term tasks, and a larger and mounted one for his longer-term tasks. His writes that keeping these in his line of sight helps him stay focused and that a similar task-oriented strategy will help you focus as well.

Just 35% of managers are engaged at work, Gallup finds

3: Manage your time

Without paying attention to when and how you do your best work, you won't be able to keep your focus for very long, Kosakowski writes. He does his long-term tasks on Wednesdays, then saves the other four days for the short-term tasks. He uses his whiteboards to remind himself of the long-term projects he's working on and doesn't let himself break the schedule.

Having self-awareness as it relates to the times you're at your best will help you keep your attention on what matters, he writes.

4: Don't try multitasking

Kosakowski writes that trying to give your precious attention to too many things at once will only help your mind wander away—especially when you're speaking with someone. For example, when he's on the phone, he puts everything else aside and focuses on the conversation. This is easier during video conferencing, he writes, because it forces him to put that focus on display.

Kosakowski also tries to listen intently to every conversation for key points, which he writes is important for his line of work, where success comes from relationships. Not only will doing one thing at a time help you personally stay focused, it also lets any audience you have know that you care about what they're saying, he writes.

5: Get a focus partner

Even if you try all of these things, your mind may still wander, Kosakowski admits. That's why he recommends having someone hold you accountable. For Kosakowski, that person is his wife, who is also a business partner. She keeps an eye on his whiteboard and makes sure he doesn't stray too far from his calendar.

Kosakowski writes that you should be open and honest with someone with similar goals about any problems you're having focusing, so that person can help you. You may even find out that your focus partner is having the same issue, he adds (Kosakowski, Harvard Business Review, 9/6).

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