I recently observed a worker in the back lot of a rental car lot by my gym. He completely washed, vacuumed, and dried an entire car with one hand. The whole time his other hand was occupied by a cell phone.

Lack of full attention to the task at hand is a rampant problem for organizations – and not just on the back lot. It occurs with high frequency for leaders at all levels. The effects can be substantial.

There are many possible sources of lack of focus for the task at hand. Constant connection with technology is a common source, but there are many others. See the list below for some others that might have you working as if you had one hand tied behind your back.

  • Monkey mind. An over-stimulated mind constantly moving from one topic or possibility to the next will always crowd out the immediate and important.
  • Being too helpful. Worrying too much about the needs of others before meeting your own tasks leads to scattered effort and incomplete tasks. Open door is good. Open door at specific times is better.
  • Always alerted. The buzzing, dings, and associated noises for emails, voicemails and texts were designed to be helpful. Excessive noise alerts often lead to generalized anxiety that “something is happening.”
  • Flexible priorities. A one hour future planning meeting turns into two hours and pushes out a 1:1 with a key report out to next week. Could the first meeting been wrapped up in the time budgeted to take care of the present?
  • Pity parties. Nothing can take the focus off the present quite like wallowing in the past or how the situation is just one more example of how we have been wronged. If you can’t 100% break the pity habit, limit it to five minutes or less and move on.
  • Poor ROE (return on energy). Wasting energy on lots of low value targets and on internal emotional churn leaves little energy for the important and results in a terrible ROE.

Which of these seem the most important to you? Are the other sources of lack of focus that you have seen?

Photo Flickr Creative Commons