Why Staying Focused at Work Matters — And How to Do It
By Maddy Osman on Jun 05, 2019
As someone who’s worked extensively in sales and running a business, I spend a lot of time thinking about, well, time.
My success is heavily tied to meeting expectations, whether self-induced or otherwise. I’m constantly working around deadlines, delivering quality deliverables, and scheduled calls. And making it all possible is less about having more minutes to do so as it is about using the minutes I do have well.
Productivity breaks down in ways that are almost too subtle to notice, sometimes. Shallow work that involves quickly switching from one task to another without finding a point of completion might be your greatest time and energy suck — it’s certainly one of mine.
This is where we come full circle to the idea of time. Tools exist for making your job easier in sales — for giving you more time in the day. But it’s on you to make the most of that time. It’s on you to focus at work on what really matters.
The Benefit of Staying Focused at Work
Alright, the answer here might seem obvious. When you’re focused at work, you get more done. Easy peasy. Next section, please.
But you’re actually negatively impacting more than just the work in front of you when failing to focus. And by “focus,” I mean literally zeroing in on one single task. People often trick themselves into thinking that they can switch back and forth between various projects — and that in doing so they’re getting more done.
This isn’t necessarily the case, however. Multi-tasking is not an asset when you’re up against what author Cal Newport refers to as “attention residue.”
When you’re constantly logging into different systems, checking in on open tabs, and switching processes in mid-stream, your attention is never truly given to the task at hand. It’s worth noting that it takes time to check in and get started with each new frame. Over time, constant multitasking decreases your ability to do a job to the best of your ability — let alone do it in a timely manner.
You probably aren’t as good at seamlessly switching frames as you might think you are.
How to Stay Focused at Work
If multi-tasking is decreasing your sales productivity, staying focused at work is a step in the right direction.
For salespeople, this may seem impossible when faced with endless proposals to generate, emails to send, and meetings to attend. But there’s a methodical way to tackle what’s in front of you. There’s a way to increase your performance by minimizing the need to quickly glance or “check-in” elsewhere.
In his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport — an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University — outlines his strategy for accomplishing more with less through heavy focus. Specifically, he provides four rules necessary for achieving a state of “deep work”.
Deep work can only be maintained when you work deeply — duh. What Newport gets at with this first rule is that you need to take ownership of the situation.
You can’t simply sit back and wait for more time to fall in your lap. Or put a to do on the back burner because you’re not in the mood to do it. These are excuses.
Staying focused at work requires effort. You have to prioritize a job well done rather than just a job done. One of the easiest ways to approach this is through time-blocking. Instead of just listing a bunch of tasks to knock out in a day, you should assign them specific timeframes for execution. A mix of willpower and systems turn deep work into your normal work.
How many times have you had discussions with friends prompted by the question: What did people do before smartphones? Can you imagine the level of eye contact people had to maintain just to stay entertained?
People have been conditioned to hate boredom. They will do anything to avoid it and in doing so, the ability to focus has suffered.
If you find yourself automatically reaching for your phone at every moment of inactivity, see what happens when you don’t, instead. The more you can lessen that Pavlovian effect to seek out stimuli at the first signs of boredom, the better equipped you’ll be to knock out even the most mindnumbing work tasks.
Get Off Social Media
Social media is relevant to any app you choose to spend time on throughout the work day. Newport argues that people need to get more intentional about what platforms they choose to be active on because they ultimately only serve as distractions.
Similar themes are portrayed in Sarah Knight’s Magic of Not Giving a F*ck Ted Talk, or the KonMari method of tidying. When you choose to be conscious about where your time, energy, and money is going, other areas of your life benefit because of it.
So before you justify the value of need to watch your followers’ latest stories on Instagram, ask yourself what doing so really gets you. Especially when you’re up against the promise of a potential sale and a larger commission check in your pocket.
Minimize Shallow Work
If deep work requires your utmost attention, shallow work is just the opposite. These are the administrative tasks — replying to emails, scheduling emails, and updating leads — that don’t need a high level of brain power to get done.
Unfortunately, these are the items that can prove most time-consuming. And because they’re low-impact from an effort standpoint, it’s easy to prioritize them when playing the avoidance game. While you can’t get rid of this type of work completely, you can work to minimize it throughout the day with the right tools and processes.
Reduce Frame Switching
Understanding that in many cases, multitasking actually reduces productivity, it’s important to fight the urge to constantly switch frames.
To be sure, this is easier said than done. But one way to improve your focus in sales involves using tools that reduce business busywork around switching tabs. Cirrus Insight offers a sync between Gmail and Salesforce that automatically logs related activity. It empowers you to work in your inbox and avoid double data entry.
Final Thoughts: Why Staying Focused at Work Matters — And How to Do It
Ultimately, staying focused at work is equal parts willpower, intentionality, and third-party tools. Building your sales team around the agile mindset can also help in the focus department.
Are there any specific strategies you’ve found most helpful in minimizing distractions throughout the sales workday? Let us know by tweeting the team at @cirrusinsight.