In meditation, practitioners refer to something called monkey mind. Monkey mind is a state of mind in with our mind restlessly jumps around from thought to thought to thought. Mindfulness meditation helps people notice their monkey mind and trains them to regain focus. When meditating the practice then is to notice when our mind wanders and to simply bring it back. If the mind wanders again, just bring it back.
The workplace is a hive of monkey mind. The primary job of leaders is to both manage their own focus and also train others to manage theirs. In the absence of this discipline the organization wanders, time is wasted, people are worn out for no good reason, and goals are not reached – or not reached as soon as they could which is a big cost.
The US Congress is quick to take up discussion of the flavor of the day, but is quick to move on and away from tough discussions like healthcare. A leader shared with me that his CEO has them working on (an oxymoronic) “thirteen priorities.” By contrast, the response of the citizenry and emergency personnel to the hurricane in Houston showed extreme focus: remove the helpless from danger and provide them with food and shelter — right now.
Some key steps to tame your monkey mind at work:
- Master your own day and calendar. In addition to normal advice of “start and end meetings on time or before”, insist on an agenda or at least start with “what will we accomplish in this time?” If you don’t like the answer then renegotiate the purpose or ask the organizer to reschedule.
- Keep your goals close and your team closer. One leader I know brings her one page strategic plan to every meeting. She insists her staff do the same. She does it to keep her activities focused and the on point. Find your way to make your goals as obvious as a post-it the size of your window.
- Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Take a look at your strategic initiatives for the year, then look at how much time you actually spent on activities related to those strategic initiatives. Like what you see? Ask your direct reports to do the same. Do you like that too?
- Determine to be prime real estate. In real estate there is an expression called “highest and best use.” Prime real estate is not used as Chinese buffet or title loan store if it is otherwise more productive as an office tower, premier hotel, or factory. Work at the level you can best create value.
- Stop using “busy” as a badge of honor. Swap busy for “productive” and see what happens. I don’t care how many hours I consult with clients. I care how much value I create with my clients.
A past client made my day by sharing recently that I had “single-handedly” saved him 20 hours per week. He still happily works a full week, but those regained 20 hours are now used on activities that improve the quality of his life and business. I imagine you can too – with focus.