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For focus sake

It happens to us all, we sit down with the clearest intention to get something done only to be distracted by something else (maybe a notification on our phone, an urgent email, a favourite song on the radio or anything really).

Before we know it, we've lost not only time to the distraction but the additional effort needed to refocus on our original task. In small amounts, we might not think about it too much, but these 'Focus Costs' add up not just in terms of time and effort but also in terms of the quality of our outputs.

Imagine that an individual has the equivalent of 100 points of focus that they can dedicate to any task. Unless they have zen-like concentration, the world around them is set up to suck those points from them - 5 points lost because they are hungry or tired, 10 points lost because they are worried about their family, 20 points lost because they have two competing tasks due at the same time, 30 points because they don't really understand what they need to do... the list goes on. Before you know it, they are applying only a minimal amount of focus to the task that they were expected to ace. That doesn't sound very effective to us...

Many of us realise these things but rarely do much about it; that may be fine when it comes to our own time but think about how much time and quality is lost to 'Focus Cost' in total in a business....believe us it's a lot.

How does Focus Cost manifest itself in business?

When it comes to business, there are lots of ways to create 'Focus Cost'; let's talk about some of the most common that we come across in business:

1) Too many things going on: We recently worked with a small company that has less than 30 employees; they were struggling to deliver all the IT projects that they had mapped out and wanted help to determine if they needed to expand their IT team. After a quick audit across the business we discovered that they had over 160 different projects on the go, each deemed important by somebody at some point but all expected to be delivered by the same members of the small IT team.

Now, let's be clear, they never set off with the intention of coming up with 160 projects but as time passed and the business grew these just popped up. It was a complete surprise to the leadership team that they had quite so many and it became apparent that was the key problem. Nobody had ever counted, let alone made an effort to stop projects and the end result was that a massive backlog was growing, impacting the quality of delivery and creating long lasting morale impact across the business.

2) Conflicting priorities: In the case of the company above, with a bit work, we were able to rationalise the list down to a more manageable 40 projects but in some cases this isn't always easily done as many businesses just find it hard to say no.

At another client, they realised that they were attempting to conduct too many strategic projects that involved change, so we put together a special steering group whose sole purpose was to reduce the number of projects by a third so as to give them a better chance of achieving their main strategic goals.

We started off by removing all the projects that didn't directly align to one of their strategic goals and this got the list down drastically. The problem was however that when it came to the crunch some of the strategic goals were directly conflicting with each other sending mixed messages to the business. Until we resolved that conflict, they were relying on the business making their own calls as to what to prioritise and this left them with a very piecemeal approach often with one project eroding the work of another and some important projects being left on the shelf.

3) A lack of clarity: Another common focus challenge that we come across is where companies are not clear enough on their strategy or project outcomes, meaning that too much is left to interpretation by the teams delivering the work.

In many cases, teams are too frightened to seek clarification or bluster on regardless of not being 100% clear on what they should be doing. This means that not only is rework often called for, as teams address the challenge they believe exists, but this lack of not-really-understanding-the-problem can drive down motivation and ability.

4) Additional 'focus barriers': "Every little helps!" goes a saying but equally "Every little hinders!". It's been scientifically proven that every additional process step or barrier reduces the likelihood of tasks being completed (let alone adding more time to the task).

If you look around your business, there are thousands of these 'focus barriers' that we are either creating ourselves or are perpetually there and we take them for granted.

We're talking about things like:

- broken equipment or poorly rolled out new technology that detract from the task at hand

- unnecessary meetings that add little but take away time

- office politics that add stress on people every time they enter the office

In addition, many individuals create 'focus barriers' for others in the way they work; examples such as:

- poor version control and filing meaning that work is lost or written over

- unstructured emails that aren't clear what they are requesting

- overly long presentations and documents that could be much shorter and to the point

When it comes to it, there are lots of ways to address these 'focus barriers' but they seem so small that we often don't think about them or deem them worth challenging.

When you put all these together, there is a lot of potential for 'focus costs' in your business; before you know it, they've stolen more than half your focus points and suddenly what you want to achieve seems less and less likely to happen.

With this in mind, isn't it about time you say FQ and finally focus on the focus costs, so that you can unlock the success you deserve?

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