Focus: Are you paying attention?

Focus on you task
Focus on your task

“Are you paying attention?!”

Do you remember a teacher asking you that when you were at school? The same question can be applied to your project. Almost as important: “are you allowing yourself to pay attention?”

The work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggests that we are at our most productive when we experience a state he calls “Flow”.

What we need for “Flow” and what “Flow” gives us?

“Flow” is also known as “being in the zone”.

There are some requirements for achieving this state:

  • We have to be able to give the task we are working on our full attention – we have to be able to “lose ourselves in our work”.
  • The task has to be within our capabilities.
  • The task must stretch us, but just the right amount.

Csikszentmihalyi  proposes that achieving “Flow” gives us some real benefits:

  • By doing something which is stretching us, in a sense we are being our most productive.
  • The Flow state itself is pleasurable and therefore our work becomes its own reward!

Focus helps us find “Flow” in our work and projects:

The idea of “Flow” has some implications for those of us who manage projects, those who are “workers” and those (like me) who do both.

  • People are most effective when they are allowed to concentrate on one thing. Multi-tasking makes people less efficient.
  • The “Flow state” is fleeting and takes time to achieve. Interruptions and distractions make it harder to achieve.

Both of these have implications for the working environment and project organisation.

  • Work should stretch people.
  • As they get better at performing a task, then they should be assigned progressively more challenging work.

These points mean that the choice of who is performing a task is significant, both for the project and for the person.

Where do you start?

A good place to start is with yourself. Begin by arranging your work so that you create opportunities to focus – to concentrate on one task at a time and experience Flow.

Do this by “time-boxing”. Set aside time specifically for the task and eliminate distractions and interruption. Find a way of doing this which works for you.

Eliminating interruptions need not mean being uncommunicative. Communication works best when you give it your full attention. People appreciate it when they see they are the focus of your attention.

Try it! Focus and go with the flow!

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