We have all noticed that our attention is in constant demand. Multiple communication channels, myriad interruptions, and technological distractions can keep us from bringing our full presence to our work. At Vervago, we have recently re-named a category of question, formerly Go/NoGo Questions, as Focus Questions, reflecting the growing importance of controlling our energy and attention in our work.
This growing prominence of Focus Questions for the quality of work is reflected in psychologist Daniel Goleman’s recently-released book entitled Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. Goleman distinguishes between inner focus – giving attention to our own self-management; other focus – attuning to other people’s perceptions and feelings; and outer focus – our ability to give attention to the larger forces in the organization and market. All three types of focus are important for success at work.
Focus Questions are defined as those questions that allow us to more precisely ask about how we are using our time, energy, and attention – the questions that help us tap into those dimensions of attention and focus Goleman describes as crucial for success and excellence. In addition to helping us manage meeting participation, Focus Questions also help us tap into whether a task is a good use of our time, whether we have made the correct priorities, why we are motivated or lack motivation, how tuned in we are to others and their motivations, and whether or not we have the mental and emotional capacity to see the big picture and do our work to our fullest potential.
By asking about all these factors, Focus Questions help us see and manage our mental ecology – the ecosystem of mental energy, emotional energy, motivation, purpose, priorities, and clear-minded capacity we have at any given moment to engage in thinking and make decisions about what is important. As work becomes more interdependent, we have to think about the quality of others’ mental ecology and our collective ability to focus as well. Asking more precise questions about our mental ecology is crucial for managing it with more skill.
THIS MONTH’S PRACTICE
- Ask yourself this precise Focus Question: Am I clear-headed enough to think about this now? Set an alarm and answer this one Focus Question each hour for a week. Track your answers by time and in relation to different kinds of tasks. Looking at the data will help you gain insight into times of the day and tasks when you are minimizing or maximizing your inner focus and your own mental clarity, how well you are focusing on others and retaining empathy, and when in your day you have the most capacity for outer focus that helps you see the big picture of your work.
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