Staying focused in today’s business world can be a challenge. On any given day, you can be sitting at your desk, dealing with potentially dozens of distractions and demands.
If you’re lucky enough to have your own office, you rule out the attention required by your co-workers around you, but, unfortunately, with today’s popular co-working spaces, a private office, or even just a private cubicle, is becoming more and more rare.
Then, you’ve got the endless stream of work-related emails, IMs, texts, calls and video meetings. They last often from the time you wake up, to the time you go to sleep, with the lines between work and personal life consistently blurred.
If you’re juggling multiple projects, things become even harder, as you deal with numerous clients, co-workers, departments and more.
Whether you’re just trying to focus on today’s tasks, or on your overall career goals, it’s not easy. However, focus is crucial if you want to set yourself apart from the crowd and get ahead in a competitive environment.
So, what’s an assertive and aspiring professional to do? Here are 11 tips from a handful of successful CEOs that can help you keep your eyes on the prize.
On Figuring It All Out
Before you can even begin focusing on something — a goal, a project, a dream — you have to know what you actually should be focusing on in the first place. Without a clear idea of what you want, you’ll never know where to start.
Jeff Bezos, the CEO, and founder of Amazon offers up some great advice along these lines. He personally uses the reverse engineering process to formulate a focused game plan. Figure out your end goal, and then work backward, until you know exactly what it is you need to do, today.
Don’t just start with a short-end goal, though; go long term like Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn. Then, plan ahead, way, way ahead. “I know exactly where I’m going to be, what I’m going to be doing for the next 15 months,” Ghosn said in one interview.
“It’s not only for me, it’s mainly for the people working for me. They know when I’m going to be in Tokyo, when I’m going to be in Paris, when I’m going to be in New York, so they can organize themselves.”
Once you have everything figured out, it becomes easier to allocate your focus and time wisely, to get everything accomplished.
Square CEO and Twitter chairman Jack Dorsey suggests giving your days a theme (if your work environment allows for such freedom and self-governance). Dorsey says he focuses on, say, marketing on Wednesdays, or management on Mondays. This allows him to accomplish big goals, without getting too hung up on the little details.
On Using Your Time Wisely
When you’ve discovered your overall goals and have a general plan for succeeding, it’s time to buckle down and really focus on the day-to-day tasks, which can often be where the going gets rough. That’s why it’s so important to use your time properly.
Most successful CEOs are very early risers, something that can’t always be accomplished when you’re staying up until the wee hours of the morning at the bar, or playing Call of Duty with your college bros. Start developing better sleeping patterns and see what it can do for your career.
“I’m usually at the office by 6:30 or 7 every morning, and it’s amazing how much I can accomplish before the ‘9-to-5 hectic-ness’ sets in,” says Gautam Gupta, co-founder, and CEO of NatureBox.
Don’t think that waking up at the crack of dawn is naturally easy for CEOs, and maybe that’s why they’re more focused than the rest of us. Some of them admit they’ve had to train their bodies to be okay with waking up earlier.
“I had to trick myself into becoming a morning person, but it worked,” said Sam Shank, founder of HotelTonight.
“I bought a more comfortable bed, moved my workouts to 6:30 a.m., always eat breakfast and channel my thoughts to the most exciting challenges ahead each day. I’ve learned that most people truly do need eight hours of sleep per day. There’s nothing impressive about getting by on only a few hours of sleep and on the contrary, it’s silly to sacrifice mental acuity for something that’s relatively easy to fix.”
If you’re not getting those crucial hours in, you could find yourself over-multi-tasking, another downfall many CEOs warn against.
“People always talk about multi-tasking, but if you want to get something done well, you need to give it your full attention. I typically bucket my day into tasks and I try not to move on to the next project until the first one is complete. Always see things through completion,” says Olga Vidisheva, CEO at Shoptiques.
If there are tasks you’re not particularly good at, or that you can’t fit into your schedule, delegate it to someone else. Need to work on a client pitch, but you’ve got some minuscule office tasks nagging at the back of your mind? That’s what the office intern is typically for.
“…A few of the things people focus on every day are just not that important. You can completely eliminate those things. Of the remaining activities, look at whether it’s something that you are uniquely qualified to do,” says Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel.
“Are you the best person to do this? If not, delegate it. By ruthlessly paring down my list like this, I’m able to get a lot accomplished every day — while delegating many things to other people who are better positioned to take care of them.”
On Working With Others
While Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer may have sparked controversy when refusing to allow her employees to work from home, she did have a point. Working with others can help the entire company become focused on a singular goal.
“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together,” Mayer said.
Along these lines, refuse to isolate yourself at work, even if you’re focusing on your own personal career goals. Remember that working with a team to help your company succeed will result in better overall performance in your current job and open doors for future opportunities.
However, be sure that while you’re surrounding yourself with your coworkers, that you’re also surrounding yourself with the right people. You don’t want to end up in the circle of employees who are known for slacking off or causing problems. You want to be one of the up-and-comers.
Paul Howey, CEO, and founder of Talkroute says “My number one goal is to surround myself with people much smarter and more talented than myself.”
The old adage holds true — you become your friends, and you want those individuals to be just as focused and determined as you are.
On Winding Down
If you don’t recharge your batteries every now and then, it’s going to become increasingly harder to focus on anything at all.
Take a page out of Evernote CEO Phil Libin’s book, and carve out a few hours of the day or a certain space that’s a no-work zone.
“Like everyone else, I used to just work on airplanes —I’d use that as a time to catch up on things,” he said. “And I stopped. I basically said when I’m on a plane, I won’t work. I’ll read, I’ll play video games, I’ll sleep, I’ll watch movies, but I don’t work. It makes me look forward to flying. I can get off a long flight, and actually be kind of relaxed.”
However, a quick wind down doesn’t have to take hours. Just a few minutes can be enough to reset your work day.
“We’ve all done it — you fall behind or get distracted when you have a hectic work schedule. The best thing to begin learning is how to reset yourself. Once you figure out how to snap out of a distraction and get back to work, it’s easier to stay on task and maintain your productivity. If you don’t learn how to reset quickly and often, you’ll get held back,” says Doreen Bloch, CEO of Poshly Inc.
No Matter Where You’re At in Your Career
Regardless of if you’re just starting out at your first “real” job out of college, or an old pro in an upper management position, staying focused requires constant self-care. While the tips above can definitely help, if you find a technique that works best for you, stick with it. A big part of career success is staying true to what you think is best.
Maybe you disagree with Marissa Mayer’s view on working from home. Maybe you differ from Phil Libin, and love to work during flights. Tailor your work habits to fit your needs, but be flexible enough to try a new method if something’s not working for you.