By Palma Michel, former CFO headhunter and founder of the Mindful Leadership program at BeYoCo
As our modern worklife environment is dominated by information overload, 24/7 connectivity, multitasking and back-to-back meetings, the ability and space to focus has become a rare good for CFOs.
While you are reading this, chances are high that your attention will be distracted by an incoming email, a text, a colleague, a thought about the budget meeting or a ringing phone. Research also shows that you will most likely follow the distraction and find yourself caught up in something else other than finishing reading this post.
In his latest book Focus, Daniel Goleman states that while the link between attention and leadership excellence remains hidden most of the time, it ripples through almost everything we seek to accomplish.
Scientific research also shows that deep thinking requires sustained attention; the more distracted we are, the more superficial and trivial our reflections are likely to be. The ability to control our impulses and focus our attention has even been found to be a better predictor of academic success than IQ.
The 2010 Science article “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind” states that nowadays our attention is wandering involuntarily 46.9 percent of our waking hours. Neuroscience also shows that multitasking is a myth and actually makes us less productive, more susceptible to errors and increases stress. The results of this have shown to be decreased performance, wellbeing and productivity.
So what can we do to improve our ability to focus?
Janice Marturano, former General Counsel of General Mills and Founder of the Mindful Leadership Institute, states that improving focus starts when we begin to notice more and more that our ability to sustain attention even when we have time and even when we intend to be focused is becoming more and more limited.
Harvard Professor Ellen Langer advises to become a first class noticer by bringing a finely honed attention to every situation and a constant infectious sense of fascination with what is going on in the moment. According to Langer, first class noticers also question assumptions, previously relied-upon rules of thumbs and averages.
For neuroscientist Richard Davidson, contemplative practices such as mindfulness meditation can strengthen areas in the brain that are responsible for our ability to focus. The way he explains it, we all know that if we engage in certain kinds of exercise on a regular basis we can strengthen certain muscle groups in predictable ways; strengthening neural systems is not fundamentally different, it’s basically replacing certain habits of mind with other habits.
If you are still reading, well done, you managed to stay attentive.
Practical tips for improving your ability to focus:
- Manage your technology instead of being managed by it: turn off instant email and text notifications.
- The next time you receive an invite to a meeting, pause for a moment and reflect if you really need to be there and create space in your diary.
- Cultivate a finely tuned attention to every situation by constantly applying a “fresh perspective” through questioning, inquiry and probing what´s going on in the moment.
- Start training your muscle of attention through concentration exercises or contemplative practices such as mindfulness meditation.