A couple of weeks ago, I had an impactful conversation with Author Curt Steinhorst about his new book Can I Have Your Attention. The focus of that interview was all about how distraction affects our work and home lives.
That interview with Curt really hit home for me. I think it's because Curt and I are in a very similar spot in life. We're both busy with our work, but we also want to be fun-loving Dads and supportive husbands. Focus is required to be successful in all of these areas.
I’m all about improvement and action. I've outlined 7 things that I'm working to improve following my conversation with Curt. These action steps will help me enhance both my work and home life.
1. Write Down 3 Things to Accomplish Each Day
At the start of each day at work, my first task is to write down the top 3 things that need to be completed that day. Three tasks might not sound like a lot, but with the typical amount of meetings, emails and work “emergencies” I have every day it can be quite challenging.
I write these down as a reminder to focus on the important and to block out the unimportant. It is amazing how many distractions try to make their way in throughout each day.
My goal is to not leave the office until I've completed those top 3 assignments. I've been at it for a week and it has helped my productivity in the office immensely.
2. Don't Allow Email to Dictate the Day
Have you ever spent your entire workday reading and responding to emails? Yeah, me too.
The funny thing about email … The more you write, the more you get. It is a vicious cycle and it never stops. “Inbox Zero” is a myth.
I'm trying something new. I'm checking my email for one hour in the morning and one hour in the late afternoon. The time in between, I'll actually get my work done! It may seem radical, but so far it has helped me complete those three important tasks mentioned above. I feel more ownership of my day.
A surprise benefit of this approach: Less email!
3. Turn off the Laptop and Phone in Meetings
In your last work meeting, how many people were on their laptops and looking at their phones? For me, it's a daily occurrence.
Words are repeated because people aren't listening. Our attention is only half tuned in and the outcome of the meeting is sub-par.
I'm guilty of this too! That's why I'm changing.
When I'm in a meeting at work going forward, I'm going to leave my laptop at my desk and put my phone on “Do Not Disturb”. This will allow me to provide my full attention to the meeting leader, my clients, or my colleagues.
4. Transition from Work Mode to Family Mode
When I arrive home from a busy day at work and my head is still spinning from the day's activities, it's tough to want to wrestle and be goofy with my kids right away. I need a breather. I need a bit of space between my workday and my time with my family. In my conversation with Curt, he and his wife called this “Minding the Gap”.
I've been working on my “Mind the Gap” routine lately. It has recently consisted of:
- A deep breath in my car in the garage before entering the house
- Change out of my work clothes
- Shut down my phone and place it upstairs away from my family
- Splash cold water on my face
- Smile, voila, I'm in family mode. Who wants to wrestle kids?!
This transition has helped me control my actions and emotions at the end of the day. When I'm not focused in this fashion, I've been seen checking work email on my phone in the kitchen with my kids hanging on my legs. Let's just say, that situation does not put me in the best mental state.
5. Limit Work Email at Home
As mentioned above, at the end of my workday. I'm turning off my phone so I can focus on my family. No email. No work calls.
On Friday at the end of the workday, I shut off my work email so I can't even see it on my phone. This helps me be a more present father and husband.
Are there exceptions to this hard rule? Of course. There are deadlines that need to be met and quick turnaround proposals that need to be developed. I find those situations are rarer than they are commonly based on the expectations I've set with my employer.
6. Ask the Kids to Help
When I'm around my kids, I want to be present and focused on them as much as possible. I slip up sometimes and find myself flipping through Facebook when we're in the middle of building an awesome Lego tower. Not cool, Dad.
I've asked my 5-year old daughter to tell me when I'm looking at my phone too much. I tell her, “I'm working on focusing my attention on you when I'm home but sometimes I get distracted. Can you let me know if I'm staring at my iPhone too much?”
This does a couple of things for our relationship. It empowers her to help her Dad and feel important. It also teaches her that there are certain times that being on your device is rude. Parenting Bonus: When I tell her to not use the iPad at the kitchen table in the future, I'm not being a hypocrite.
In this rapidly growing technological age, digital courtesy is going to be very important as my daughter grows older.
7. Device-Less Date Night
When my wife Nicole and I get out for “Date Night” in the future, I’m going to leave my phone at home. She can keep her phone with her in case of an emergency or if we need to call up an Uber. If I'm phone-less then Nicole won't feel compelled to look at hers.
Instead, we'll communicate, connect and reminisce on what life was like before smartphones. Or maybe we'll just talk about the newest iPhone … who knows!? At least, we'll be talking to each other, right?
These are 7 areas that I’ll be working on to battle distraction in my life. Will I perfectly nail all of them? Probably not, but I’m going to make some progress. I’m going to take action to improve my day.
What areas do you struggle with distraction?
What methods do you use to become more focused?
*Check out Curt Steinhorst's new book “Can I Have Your Attention?“.