Do you want to increase focus and attention? In this article, we’ll examine why focused attention matters. Then, we teach a step-by-step process for increasing focus and attention in leadership. Today’s 2.0 leaders know that leading at work is not enough. This is why we offer strategies for being a focused leader at home, at work, and everywhere you go. Lastly, we’ll provide real-life examples and conclude with thought-provoking questions to help you grow.
For a thorough understanding of how to increase focus and attention, you’ll want to read this article straight through. For a quick focus and attention boost, use the table of contents to jump to the section that will move the needle the most for you. As your virtual leadership coach, I’m thrilled to guide you in growing as a focused leader.
Now, let’s dive in!
Table of contents
- How to Increase Focus and Attention
- Focus and Attention in Relationships
- Focus and Attention Killers
- Focus and Attention in Scripture
- How to Increase Focus and Attention by Closing Loops
- Reclaiming Focus and Attention
- Focus and Attention for Leaders
- Closing Loops: The Power of Focused Attention in the Wild #2
- Closing Loops: The Power of Focused Attention in the Wild #2
- How to Increase Focus and Attention Action Items
- Elevate Your Leadership
- Continue the Conversation
- More Great Articles on Leadership
How to Increase Focus and Attention
In today’s fast-paced, hustle-bustle society, focus and attention are rare commodities. They also matter more than ever—especially in leadership! Here are three reasons why:
- If you ever had someone listen to you deeply (so deeply it could almost be felt), then you know the level of trust that unencumbered focus and attention builds.
- If you’ve had a moment of focused attention so intense that everything but the project at hand faded away, then you’ve experienced the astounding productivity boost of entering into the creative zone.
- Perhaps you were a focused listener yourself and understand the amazing synergy that results from giving focused attention to others.
If you’ve experienced any of the above scenarios or would like to, then keep reading. We’re about to demonstrate why great leaders lead with focus!
A Quick Focused Attention Win
Let’s start with a quick, focused attention win. This way, you can experience the power of focused leadership for yourself. Here’s what focused attention looks like in real life.
- First, turn your body physically toward the person you are speaking with.
- Lock your eyes into a warm, friendly gaze.
- Uncross your arms and legs. This open posture nonverbally communicates I’m open to hearing what you have to say.
- Let the other person know you are tracking the conversation by nodding your head and giving plenty of verbal “uh-huhs.”
- Finally, ask for a verbal receipt by saying, “What I hear you saying is… Is that correct?” Be sure to get the other person’s confirmation before moving on.
Attending to others in this way creates synergy and builds trust. For a quick, focused attention win, put these strategies into practice, and experience the difference for yourself.
The Focused Leader
We define leadership as getting from where you are to where you want to go and taking others with you. Most people have a mental image of how they want their home, personal life, and career to look. Leadership is about making your vision a reality and taking others with you on this journey. This will likely include your spouse (or significant other), children, friends, and coworkers.
Every good leadership book describes the importance of knowing one’s vision, mission, and values. And, in Proverbs 28:19, Scripture declares that having a vision is so important that without it, “people perish.” There is no doubt that great leaders lead with focus. They hone in on their vision and make steady progress toward where they want to go. The very best leaders do this in every aspect of life!
An Expanding Definition of Leadership
In the past, the word leadership was applied primarily to work-related tasks. However, today’s emerging leaders know better. Far too many high-achievers attained massive corporate success only to crash and burn at home, in their spiritual lives, or in their personal well-being. Leading well only at work is not enough. The best leaders don’t silo their leadership. Instead, they integrate high-level leadership principles into their home, work, and daily routines. This magnifies their success and increases their happiness because sound leadership principles are effective everywhere!
Great leaders integrate focus and attention principles into their corporate life, interpersonal relationships, outside interests, and self-care. The ultimate goal is to elevate one’s focus and attention to the point these qualities are engrained into one’s character. They simply become a natural part of who you are.
Focus and attention are powerful because they:
- Deepen our most important relationships.
- Allow us to accomplish more.
- Highten our creativity.
- Help us to feel better overall.
Focus and attention are necessary qualities in leadership because a productive leader with closely connected relationships who practice healthy self-care is far more likely to achieve success. Now, let’s look at the power of focus and attention in action.
Focus and Attention in Relationships
Does switching the conversation from leadership to romantic relationships feel odd? If so, it may be time to reevaluate your definition of leadership. Today’s 2.0 leaders are on a journey from where they are to where they want to go, and they are taking their families with them. As a therapist and coach, I’ve met with far too many leaders who learned the hard way. They attained significant corporate success only to discover it was not as fulfilling as they imagined. They were focused leaders at work but neglected their families, friends, and self-care.
In Matthew 16:26, Jesus asks, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” That’s a big question. Not only is achieving success not worth the price of your soul. It’s not worth the cost to your family, friendships, or health, either.
Great leadership always begins at home! If talking about leadership and romantic relationships feels odd, now is an excellent time to make a mental shift. Determine to lead with focus everywhere!
The Power of Focus and Attention in Love
It was early in our dating relationship. I knew I liked Jenny—a lot! Regarding our previously mentioned definition of leadership, I knew where I was—single and dating. I also knew where I wanted to go—I longed to fall in love, be closely connected, and eventually marry. Finally, I had a strong inkling that Jenny was the woman I wanted to take on this journey with me.
However, there was one barrier that had to be avoided at all costs. If Jenny came to see me as merely a good friend, it would be a massive leadership failure on my part. Under no circumstances could I enter the friend zone. As you probably know, once a guy gets categorized as a friend, any type of romantic relationship is out of the question. There is simply no way to escape the dreaded friend zone!
How to Increase Focus and Attention with Sticky Eyes and Epoxy Eyes
To avoid this potential relational disaster, I read an abundance of books on how to do dating and relationships well. At the time, I was working an overnight shift, where my primary duty was to remain awake. This provided a unique opportunity to drink copious amounts of coffee and dive into the research. Those nights were long yet glorious!
One book used the term sticky eyes to describe how a leader can apply focus and attention to build trust. The idea is to make your eyes sticky—but not creepy—by looking people in the eyes with a warm, gentle gaze. The term stick eyes imply a gaze that is steady but occasionally broken.
Below the sticky eyes technique was a second strategy for creating conversations with even more focused attention. This deeper level was called epoxy eyes, and the strategy came with a warning. This exact quote is not in the book, but it is what I remember. “Warning: this technique is not suitable for everyday use. Epoxy eyes—the act of directing 100 percent of our focus and attention toward a single individual in a warm, caring, positive manner—is powerful! It creates a bond so intense that it can quickly stir up feelings of love.”
I had found the focused attention strategy I was searching for. Using epoxy eyes would surely help me avoid that horrific friend zone.
Romantic Focus and Attention Put to the Test
The next evening Jenny and I went out to dinner. I decided it was time to put the epoxy eyes strategy to the test. Our beachside restaurant was casual but nice. As we waited for our meal to arrive, I leaned forward, locked eyes with Jenny, and gave her my undivided focus and attention. During our initial dates, Jenny was somewhat shy. However, as soon as I started listening with this level of intensity, our conversation flowed freely.
Soon, both of us were leaning forward. The noise in the restaurant faded away, and so did everything else. It was as if only the two of us were present. The focused attention was so powerful the rest of the world disappeared.
“Excuse me… mam… uh… mam…” A lady at the next table tapped Jenny on the shoulder. Apparently, she had tried to get our attention for some time to no avail. “Mam, I wanted to ask you a question, but before I do, I’ve just got to say, that guy you’re with… Wow, is he ever into you!” Then she went into her multi-level marketing sales pitch.
Although I was annoyed at this stranger for interrupting our focused bond, I also thought to myself, Wow! This focused attention stuff works… It really works!
The Results of My Focused Attention Experiment
While using the epoxy eyes technique Jenny and I connected more deeply than ever. With this level of focused attention, you can actually feel the results. However, until we were interrupted, I had no way of validating this experience. Now, a complete stranger jumped in and confirmed the power that focused attention brings. There was no need to worry about falling into the dreaded friend zone. By turning my full focus and attention toward Jenny, a complete stranger noticed that I wanted Jenny to be much more than a friend.
Fast forward a decade. Jenny and I are married. Even with five kiddos, strategic times of focus and attention keep our relationship strong. And they can keep your most important bonds strong too. As a leader, use strategies like sticky eyes and epoxy eyes to communicate warmth and build trust. Focused attention communicates to your team (yes, your wife, kids, coworkers, and friends are all a part of your amazing team) you can trust me to care for you on this journey!
Focus and Attention Increases Productivity and Flow
As we have just seen, focus and attention are important because they build trust. Trust is a vital part of taking our friends, family, and coworkers on the journey from where we are to where we want to go. Another reason focus and attention matter is that they increase the likelihood of entering a state of flow. In positive psychology, flow is also known as being in the zone.
Flow is focus and attention on steroids. It’s a hyper-focused state where,
- Ideas are generated easily.
- Creativity flows.
- More work is accomplished in less time.
In a state of flow, time and space are altered. When Jenny and I focused our attention fully on each other, the two of us entered a state of romantic flow. The restaurant patrons, noise, and every care of the world faded away. We were so focused everyone could have left, and we wouldn’t have noticed. At work, flow works similarly. If you have ever honed in on a project to the point that hours passed in what felt like minutes, then you have likely already experienced a powerful state flow. One goal of this article is to help you enter into flow more frequently and more predictably.
In flow, success is palatable. Worry, anxiety, fear, doubt, and shame fade away. We become so engrossed in the activity that even physical needs become negligible. In the zone, you may work straight through lunch and not even notice.
The heightened creativity and productivity that flow provides make this an invaluable asset for leaders. Leaders will get from where they are to where they want to go faster if their week is characterized by highly-focused moments of productivity. The only problem is that today’s fast-paced, highly-interrupted lifestyle means there are more barriers to entering into flow than ever before.
Focus and Attention Killers
Have you ever heard, thought, or felt the following:
- Help! I’m slowly sinking into quicksand. No matter how many tasks I complete, my to-do list continues to grow.
- My expectations feel so vast it’s like trying to swim across the Atlantic Ocean—and I’m supposed to do this tonight!
- I feel like a bad amateur plate spinner. I’m frantically trying to keep up, but everything keeps moving faster. If this keeps up, soon everything will come crashing down.
Welcome to our new normal. It’s one with endless possibilities, ever-increasing expectations, and an overabundance of amusements. Our parents used the term rat race to describe their daily grind. However, our world is even more extreme. And I can’t even imagine the treadmill our children will attempt to run on. As a result of living in a world filled with noise, focus and attention are rare commodities, and flow is disrupted quickly.
How many times have you been in the middle of a conversation only to have the person you are speaking with pull out their smartphone? Even worse, how many times have you been that person who lost focus and gave into checking your phone? Perhaps this was in the middle of a conversation with a spouse, coworker, or while working on a big project. Either way, your focus shifted, and any possibility of entering that sacred state of flow was lost.
Or, maybe you’re like me and fall victim to this new entrapment of our culture. You know that focus and attention matter, so you don’t actually check your phone, but the buzz that alerts you of a new call, text, or email causes your mind to wander anyway. Don’t worry; this is not a tirade against electronic communication. These are only a small part of a much bigger problem. Sure, smartphones do, indeed, compete for our focus and attention, but so many other things do too.
The Loss of Focus and Attention
I love nostalgic memes. Have you seen the one that says, “If you played outside until the streetlights came on, your childhood was awesome!” Then, there are memes that show images of legos, hopscotch, and bicycles. They state, “If you remember these, your childhood was awesome!” Adults often attribute awesomeness to simpler times when their focus and attention were intact.
As kids, we didn’t play with legos while also worrying about paying bills. We didn’t ride our bikes while simultaneously trying to fold laundry, do the dishes, wash our car, and text our boss. Instead, we did one thing at a time. We gave 100 percent of our focus and attention to the task at hand, got in the zone, and had a blast!
The idea of multitasking is mostly a myth. Researchers have found that our human brains are not actually capable of doing many things at once. What we commonly call multitasking is actually task-switching. Mostly, this change in focus and attention disrupts our flow and hinders productivity. Task-switching is deceptive because it feels good. It’s kind of like racing your bike down the wrong side of the mountain. The speed feels great, but because you’re headed in the wrong direction, you’re not actually getting where you want to go.
In task-switching, there is indeed speed. Our minds and body move fast. But speed and true productivity are entirely different things. For the new leader, the goal isn’t simply to move fast and get a lot of stuff done. Good leaders know that accomplishing the right things matters most!
How to Focus on the Right Things at the Right Time
One focus and attention key is honing in on the right things at the right times. For example, the right time to focus on work is when our physical body is actually at work. The right time to focus on our family is when we are at home with the ones we love. And the right time to focus on our physical, mental, and emotional health is when we have time-blocked our schedule for these activities. The ineffective leader, on the other hand, will:
- Think about spending time with their family and feel guilty for not being with them while at work.
- Stress about work when he is at home.
- Worry about family and work while he engages in healthy self-care activities.
Unhealthy leaders have a divided focus. This divided attention hinders us from getting from where we are to where we want to go.
Focus and Attention in Scripture
When it comes to the power of focused attention, God said it first. Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” This is the mindset of the leader who enters a state of flow. His or her attention is wholeheartedly on the things that matter.
Good leaders know their brain is not hardwired for multiple activities at once. Task switching may feel productive but actually slows the project down. So the new leader stays focused, honoring God by working wholeheartedly on one task at a time.
How to Increase Focus and Attention by Closing Loops
As we have seen, focus and attention are vital parts of leadership. Focus and attention connect us to our spouse, family, and coworkers. These important character qualities increase trust and help us be more creative and productive by rewarding us with a heightened state of flow. As kids, most of us found joy in finding a project (often one that involved creative play) and wholeheartedly committing to that. When we reflect on our childhood, we see that focus and attention not only allow us to be creative and get more done, but these qualities also infuse our journey with joy!
Now that we have seen just how important focus and attention are, one big problem remains–actually increasing our focus and attention. Knowing what we should do is one thing. Taking action and actually getting our mind and body to do what we want is another. After all, if we could simply will ourselves into increased focus and attention, most of us would. But it’s never that easy. This is where closing loops come into play.
Focused Attention, Flow, and the Closing Loops Metaphor
Closing loops is a simple strategy for reclaiming one’s focus and attention. To understand the importance of closing loops, imagine a computer with hundreds of browser windows open. Each widow represents a task to complete. Perhaps a window to your website is open because you plan to make some tweaks later. There are 5-6 widows open to stores your plan to shop at. A couple browser windows lead to news articles you want to read. Plus, there are emails to check, movies to watch, bills to pay, and books to read.
With so many browser windows open, the computer gets bogged down. It runs slower, acts a little goofy, and will eventually crash. Now, imagine this computer is you. Mentally, you may have ten, a hundred, or a thousand browser windows open in your to-do list. Some have been there for weeks (if not months or even years). Perhaps, every time you walk into your office, you think to yourself,
- I really do need to get my files organized.
- I should also hang some pictures.
- And I need to clean this place up.
That’s three open loops right there. Every workday, you are starting your day with divided attention. Imagine how great it would feel to check all three of these tasks off of your list. Then, when you walk into your office, your first thought can be, This place looks great. Now it’s time to get to work!
Closing Loops to Free Attention Unites at Home
Imagine how great it would feel to come home and truly be present. Instead of worrying about the multitude of tasks left undone, you are ready to enjoy life with family and friends. Whether you are enjoying a meal together, engaging in a favorite hobby, or binge-watching four straight seasons of Netflix, your downtime is guilt-free because you deserve it. Your motto is Work hard and play hard. The way you live up to this motto is simple.
- When you are at work, 100 percent of your focus and attention is on your most important work tasks.
- At home, your number one priority is your family.
- Finally, when it comes to closing loops (or completing the multitude of tiny tasks that pull your attention away from the things that really matter), that is where your full focus and attention are placed.
Closing Loops and Batching
Batching is the process of compiling similar tasks together. It’s an excellent productivity strategy, and you’ve probably used it without realizing it. For example, Jenny, my amazing wife, will cook all of her holiday treats on the same day. This, of course, is far more efficient than cooking chocolate chip cookies one day, chocolate-covered Oreos on day two, and no-bake cookies a few days later. Batching all of her Christmas treats into one day allows her to focus, get into the baking zone, and only clean up once.
Most people know that batching in baking just makes sense. So why don’t we batch similar tasks together in other areas too? This is where closing loops come into play. Here’s how this process works.
- First, set aside ten minutes to brainstorm all the tasks that need to be completed—from big to small. Be sure to write down every open loop—or incomplete project—you can think of. There are no wrong answers in brainstorming. The goal is to generate lots of ideas fast.
- Next, set your timer for another ten minutes and batch your tasks. You might batch together all the bills that need to be paid. Create a category for yard work, home repairs, cleaning, incomplete office tasks, etc. Also, I suggest adding a category entitled “Loops That Can be Closed Fast!” In this section, the tasks may not be similar, other than the fact that each one can be completed in five minutes or less.
- Now it’s time to start. If possible, time-block an hour of your day. Then, let the loop closing begin. Start with your list of items that can be completed quickly.
- As you close each loop, focus on progress, not perfection. Remember, doing something is almost always better than doing nothing, and likely your best will be good enough. Close one loop to the best of your ability, then quickly move on to the next task.
The goal of starting with the easiest tasks first is to build up positive momentum. Momentum is a powerful ally. At the end of your loop-closing hour, you will likely feel energized and like you have begun to reclaim your focus and attention. Now, you’ll need to decide what to do next, and there are two options available.
- You may want to keep going. After all, momentum is on your side, and you are finally getting those pesky tasks crossed off your to-do list.
- If it’s time for a break, be sure to time-block your next loop-closing session. Time blocking is important because if it’s not on the schedule, there is a good chance it won’t get done.
Reclaiming Focus and Attention
Closing loops is how to increase focus and attention. After you’ve completed an hour of loop-closing or more, take note of how you feel. Likely, your mood will be lighter and energized. You’ve just gone from having a hundred mental browser windows open down to fifty. While fifty mental widows may still feel like a lot, you’ll immediately notice life runs more smoothly because you’ve just freed up a ton of memory.
At home, you may notice that focus and attention flow more freely. After all, it’s easier to use strategies like sticky eyes and epoxy eyes when there are not a million little things also clamoring for your attention. Finally, you may notice that during periods of downtime, you are finally able to relax because you know you deserve it. Relaxing is easier when your to-do list doesn’t feel like death from a thousand paper-cuts.
Focus and Attention for Leaders
Effective leaders are focused leaders. Closing loops is a simple strategy that flows into all areas of leadership.
- Closing loops and self-leadership: Closing loops ties into self-leadership because it allows us to work hard and play hard. I’ve heard it said that 60 percent of success comes from simply showing up. Leaders who close loops and free up focus and attention can show up each day with a positive attitude. Closing loops allows these leaders to be gritty and avoid burnout.
- Closing loops at home: A home, the leader with closed loops has freed up attention units for the people who matter most. Contrary to popular belief, attention is finite. There is only so much of it to go around. Closing loops allowS leaders to get the little stuff done so they can be 100 percent present for the most important people in their lives. As cheesy as it may sound, one of the best presents we can give to others is the gift of our full presence.
- Closing loops at work: Closing loops allows you and I to find flow more easily. After all, getting fully engrossed in the tasks of the day is far more likely when hundreds of small tasks are not vying for our attention. It also allows us to free up mental energy for coworkers. This is necessary because, as leadership expert, John Maxwell so aptly says, “Nothing of significance is ever accomplished alone.”
Closing Loops: The Power of Focused Attention in the Wild #2
What if I told you closing just one loop might be enough to significantly elevate your leadership? If you don’t believe me, consider the following true story of loop-closing in the wild.
To increase his productivity, the mega-church pastor would make phone calls on his drive home from work each evening. There was just one problem. As soon as he walked in the door, his wife and kids would clamor for his attention. After all, they had been waiting all day for daddy to come home. Of course, the church board member also wanted the pastor’s attention—and rightfully so. They were in the middle of a conversation. This created a stressful situation for everyone, and as tensions rose, the wise pastor knew something needed to be done.
The solution was simple. This pastor decided he would close all work loops before entering his home—even if this meant finishing the call in his driveway. Here’s what happened over the next few weeks. First, the church board members were taught to respect the pastor’s time. They learned that when he called in the evenings, they had his attention until he pulled into his driveway. Then, the conversation needed to wrap up. Once the pastor walked through the front door, he was truly home. His wife and kids were able to run to him with open arms knowing that he was ready to greet them with open arms and truly be present.
Finally, this pastor felt better overall. Coming home had transformed from tense to joyous. As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Entering the house fully present set a positive tone for the rest of the night.
Closing loops is a strategy. It’s a tool for getting your focus, attention, and life back. Today’s leaders know that focus and attention are rare commodities. They are becoming even rarer as the speed of everyday life continues to increase.
Closing Loops: The Power of Focused Attention in the Wild #2
“Hey honey, what are you doing today?”
“Mostly, I’m closing loops.”
“Good for you! You’ve been busy lately. Good luck with your loop closing, and I’ll see you tonight!”
Welcome to a typical conversation in the Jurchenko home. No, it’s not an actual, word-for-word conversation—but it’s close. For Jenny and me, the phrase closing loops is a common language. The two of us agree that making time for the people and projects who matter most is valuable. When my to-do list starts to bog me down, I don’t need to explain to Jenny why I’m racing around completing menial tasks. She knows I’m on a mission to free up attention units so I can be fully present with her and the kiddos later in the day.
In short, the term closing loops provides us with a common language for getting on the same page fast. Similarly, I’ve been a part of a major corporation where closing loops were part of the company culture. When a manager asked, What’s your number one priority for today? A response of I’m closing loops, was not only acceptable but it was also applauded.
How to Increase Focus and Attention Action Items
- Make your closing loops list and take action. Create a focus and attention experiment by taking note of how you feel before and after checking items off your loop-closing list. Then, make loop-closing a daily habit.
- Integrate the phrase closing loops into your vernacular. Teach this phrase to your coworkers, family, and friends. The more you use this phase yourself, the easier it will flow (both the phrase closing loops and the action of checking items off of your mental to-do list).
Elevate Your Leadership
Elevate your leadership by closing loops fast. This way, you free up attention units for the people who matter most!
Continue the Conversation
Now that we’ve examined how to increase focus and attention, let’s dive deeper. Use the questions below for additional reflection and discussion.
- On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your focus and attention? One means you feel like a computer with hundreds of browser windows open. A ten means that your memory is free and clear to focus on the things that matter most.
- Have you ever had someone listen to you so deeply that it could almost be felt? If so, describe what this experience was like and how it made you feel?
- Have you ever used a technique like sticky eyes or epoxy eyes, where you’ve given 100 percent of your attention to someone else? If so, describe the experience and the results. How did you feel, and how did the other person feel when attended to?
- What is your first impression of using the strategy of closing loops to free up attention units for the people and projects who matter most? Does this strategy make sense to you? Why or why not?
- Who needs your attention and focus most right now, and why?
- During your downtime, are you able to relax? If not, what would it mean to you to free up attention, unites, and feel like you truly deserved time to rest?
- Who will you teach the phrase closing loops to? Remember, according to The Learning Pyramid, one of the most effective ways to integrate new information into your own life is to teach it to others.
- Finally, what is your loop-closing motivation? If you could free up attention units at home and at work, what would this mean for you both personally and professionally? In what ways would your life, relationships, and career be enhanced?
Now that you’ve heard our thoughts on how to increase focus and attention, we’d love to hear from you. It’s your turn to keep the conversation going in the comments below!
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2 thoughts on “How to Increase Focus and Attention so You Can Lead Better”
Jed, this post is packed with fabulous information! Thank you. Focus and attention are invaluable, and we have to be intentional if we’re going to grow in these skills. I read a book this fall called, Deep Work, by Cal Newport, that revamped my thinking about focusing and not multitasking. I’m planning to come back and chew on your insights a little bit at a time. Thanks for breaking down the many aspects of leadership.
So much wonderful information, Jed! I definitely struggle with focused attention all the time! So I am finding some great tidbits to employ for myself. Thanks for sharing and linking with me.