1. Suggest a question for us to answer

Q22 Skills?

 Posted by at 3:34 pm on 27 January 2013  Thinking  Add comments
Jan 272013

What skill would you like to learn or develop?

At the moment, I would like to be better at focusing my attention on whatever I am working on. In the course of a workday I can be interrupted many times, by phone calls, emails, and by other people.

When it comes to the interruptions of email or the phone, I can manage those – just turn them off for a while. People interruptions are a bit harder to manage, but generally speaking my colleagues don’t interrupt just because they can – there’s usually something that needs my input or attention. And I don’t find people interruptions as difficult to manage as the self-interruptions.

Even writing this post, I interrupted and disrupted myself numerous times, so that it took ages to write. I have to look things up while writing (fact checking is important, right??), alerts popped up on my screen, and oh, I’m thirsty…

I have been working on strategies to develop my ability to focus or concentrate.

Unfortunately there’s no simple, magic bullet answer. What am I doing to build on this skill?
Road with hairpin turns through mountain valley
I’m reading: 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Rights Things Done by Peter Bregman has been useful. Also been dipping into Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours by Robert C. Pozen, Paid to Think: A Leader’s Toolkit for Redefining Your Future by David Goldsmith, and that oldie (but a goodie) The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.

I’m practicing some of the suggestions Peter Bregman makes:

  • Being clear about what I want to focus on, and what I don’t (I can’t do it all)
  • Having a clear plan and referring to it often (I have a tendency to write plans and then file them away neatly, never to be looked at again)
  • Being specific about when and where I’m going to do what I’m going to do (otherwise it all slips into the never-never; this also helps with that other problem: procrastination)
  • Building in time for the “day-to-day follow-through” (very important for me, as I am usually juggling way too many balls)

Alas, this is not something I can just learn and apply once to have everything perfect for ever after. It will be an ongoing journey, and one that I will have to commit to, and tweak as needed. So I’m also trying to keep track of what I’m doing, what works, and what doesn’t.

One of the most effective tools I use at work is LeechBlock, which stops me from “accidentally” browsing websites which I know are time-wasters for me. I’m also going to be setting regular alarms (one of Bregman’s tips) to help myself refocus during the day.

Thinking about my answer to this question, I looked back over my personal blog and the topics I have blogged about over the years. I can see what what I have wanted to learn has changed over the years. Beginning in 2005, and for quite a few years after that, I wanted to learn more about various technologies. I looked at blogging, RSS, wikis, Second Life, bibliographic management software, microblogging, ereaders…
Gradually it’s shifted, so I am no longer really particularly interested in learning about technology. Learning about technology is not so important for my job either, except where it helps me be more effective or productive in what I need to do.  Over the years I think I have developed good skills in the area, though, so it’s not particularly difficult to pick things up, nor is it hard to stay informed – I’ve got good systems for keeping informed and up-to-date.

It’s also interesting to consider that most of my learning at the moment focuses around “soft” skills that fall into the categories of management or leadership. A lot of these skills rely on my developing a high level of self awareness. They’re also not always easy things to learn or improve.

In previous years, I’ve learned things for fun, like tai chi and the Dutch language. I’ll be open to learning something for fun this year!

Photo by Horia Varlan.

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