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Are you too unfocused to be effective?

There are times when you absolutely HAVE to stop, take some time and think. And not just because it’s January and you have a new planner and it’s the traditional time to set goals. This is nothing to do with new year’s resolutions either. No, thinking is grounded in good business practice that is relevant all day long, all year round.

We all understand the principles of valuable time management. We segment parts of our day broadly into our essential categories. But each day comes with a list of things to get done. It is busy. We are caught up in busyness which we then exacerbate by being attached to our phones, laptops, ear phones and other ‘essential’ paraphernalia. The digital addiction, such a huge distraction, together with the ‘to do’ list, is killing our ability to think.

“Engaging creatively requires hitting the reset button, which means carving space in your day for lying around, meditating, or staring off into nothing. This is impossible when every free moment—at work, in line, at a red light—you’re reaching for your phone. Your brain’s attentional system becomes accustomed to constant stimulation; you grow antsy and irritable when you don’t have that input. You’re addicted to busyness.”

[Derek Beres,]

What seems to be lost in being “connected” is really irreplaceable time gained to focus on projects.

[Cal Newport, Deep Work]

To a certain extent I find we thrive on being busy. We wear our busyness like a badge of honour, telling our colleagues, friends, family how busy we are. It becomes a sign of our self-worth. Ticking the boxes. Getting things done. It gives us a tremendous feeling of well-being. Until it doesn’t.

Sometimes, in a hectic lifestyle we might find something that throws us out of kilter and makes our productivity falter. It could be personal, it might be work politics or it could be that everything is just too much. One of my friends runs a charity and found herself doing everything – too busy to delegate. Too busy to work out a new solution. It was only over a glass of wine with a particularly pragmatic male friend that they worked out what was fundamentally out of balance and how it could be fixed. In this instance, life-changing delegation skills were needed, but the solutions aren’t always that obvious. One ‘stop and think’ session has led to her having many, many hours freed up each week.

“The idea is to balance linear thinking—which requires intense focus—with creative thinking, which is borne out of idleness. Switching between the two modes seems to be the optimal way to do good, inventive work.”

[Emma Seppälä, Stanford University]

Working out the answers or seeing things clearer can be approached in a number of ways: in a one-to-one situation or a group setting, formally or more casual. But what is vital to any kind of clarity and resolution is the ability to think. You have to put aside the time your situation deserves to be allowed to reflect and reframe it. As the quote suggests, dividing your time into linear (intense focus) and creative (relaxed) thinking is a good way to see results.

It’s something we practise at Cadman HR – through one-to-one coaching and our group sessions at The HR Agenda. We can pose questions that require some form of focused attention but we provide the space to allow creative and free-flowing thoughts to formulate around them.

“many of the world’s greatest minds made important discoveries while not doing much at all. Nikola Tesla had an insight about rotating magnetic fields on a leisurely walk in Budapest; Albert Einstein liked to chill out and listen to Mozart on breaks from intense thinking sessions.”

[Derek Beres,]

At our most recent HR Agenda group session we talked a lot about how it is OK to admit to needing to share our challenges, to share and learn from each other and it is most definitely OK to not have all the answers! As HR professionals especially it can be lonely and a lot is expected of us.

Maybe stepping back from your own busyness is something you need to do, to carve out some time and space to make yourself more effective. Who knows, you could find yourself trying something new that throws a whole lot of light into your day – more time, better results, easier relationships…

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