Permission To Focus

Last week we exhibited at the Association for Talent Development (Formerly ASTD) conference and exposition in Washington DC. We had numerous conversations with individuals who are struggling with their productivity in an environment where there are limitless distractions. One particular interaction was truly telling.

We noticed the lady walking slowly along the aisle where our booth was located, seeming a bit lost or not sure what to do. Greeting her with a warm smile, she stopped at our booth and we began talking about her role with training and how our products and services could be of benefit. A few minutes later she commented, "This has been so nice. Thanks for the conversation." Seeing the curiosity in my face as to her reasons for making such an unusual comment, she continued.

"When I walked into the exhibit hall, I gave myself permission to turn off my phone. It felt strange, and I really didn't know what to do at first. I felt lost." She went on to explain that as she had one uninterrupted conversation after another, she found that she really felt like she was learning more than she would if she had stopped every few minutes to check her phone for notifications or messages.

How sad that she had to "give" herself permission to focus. Unfortunately, our culture has begun to define productivity as being able to manage multiple information channels at one time and be readily available to anyone whenever they need our attention. The forgotten principle here is that our best work comes when we have our physical and mental abilities aligned with the completion of one task or activity that moves us toward the accomplishment of our goals. We have confused being productive with being busy.

Give yourself permission to focus. Shut your door, turn off your phone, or shut down your email. Get away from your desk when you need to think, and don't be shy about telling others why. It will feel strange as you start working and living in ways counter to most of those around you. But just like my new friend from the exhibit hall, you will find that you have a clearer sense of purpose and direction when you align what you say is important with what you are actually doing.

The forgotten principle here is that our best work comes when our physical and mental resources are aligned with the task in front of us.