“Over 100 emails a day, 30 plus meetings a week, travel, 11 people reporting to me—and all of their needs; then try and do some actual work—so many distractions that I worry I might miss something important.”
Most leaders I coach deal with this type of thing, and more. They would agree that it’s critical to understand how you keep an insightful, real-time focus on what's important amid the din of daily demands. How does it work for those who have found a way to do this well?
Athletes call it “Field Awareness,” and pilots call it “Situational Awareness.” It’s also been referred to as “being in the zone.” Imagine it as an ability to monitor, manage, and bypass distractions in a systematic manner. Things then seem to slow down, and perception becomes sharper.
Distractions are the enemy of Situational Awareness. I know, it sounds good when you say it fast, but how do you minimize them? Consider these tools, which can be repeated over time, and adapted to what works for you:
1. Make a picture, map, or list of everything you need to know, manage, or decide about your enterprise at a high enough level for it to be a one-pager. Use larger boxes (or fonts, if you tend to be textual rather than visual) for large areas of necessary focus, and smaller for others. Identify which ones are problematic in terms of clarity, priority, or focus—what inputs are you missing? In what ways is information reaching you in a distracting, rather than clarifying manner? Make changes accordingly.
2. When you have a major issue or problem that’s distracting you from other things, it’s important to put it in its place. Try this: imagine an icon for it—something that represents the gist of it—and put it on your mental shelf, next to other things like it. In your reflection, imagine yourself walking away from it, then coming back to it, taking it off the shelf, considering it, and putting it back. Make sure when your reflection is done, it’s on the shelf. Answers will come when you STOP trying to force them.
3. Spend some time daily or weekly time quietly reflecting, rather than “doing.”
4. Monitor your daily distraction level: on a scale of 1 to 10, where are you? Highly distracted (10) or highly calm and focused (1)? Something in between? Once you track this for a while, try capturing a few words about what triggers increases and decreases in your distraction level. This will help you manage it more effectively.
If you take on the task of actively managing and minimizing distractions, your level of Situational Awareness will increase, and you will find greater capacity to achieve and be more fulfilled as a human being, and a leader.