Leo Babauta – USA
2: the problem of others
In a perfect world, you could learn to beat the urges that defeat you and create an environment of focus … and just focus. But we live and work in a world with other people, and that can make finding focus difficult.
Often, our lives aren’t completely under our control. Sometimes, others can stand in our way, or just make things tough. Often other people can make a big impact on our ability to simplify and create. Let’s take a look at some of those types of situations, and some solutions that can help.
If you work in a service industry, finding focus by cutting out all distractions might seem impossible. After all, you have to respond to customers pretty much immediately, and ignoring them in person or not
responding to their calls or emails isn’t really an option. Someone in the service industry must be on their toes, and work non-stop, often multitasking the whole time.
Sure, but there are some choices:
- While you’re serving customers, do only that. Don’t also deal with other problems, if possible, or work on other tasks. Be in the moment as much as possible, dealing with each customer while fully present. You’ll do a better job for the customer and connect much more deeply on a human level. It’s hard to do well on a customer call if you’re also dealing with emails, or serve a customer in person well if you’re also looking at your iPhone.
- Try to serve one customer at a time. This isn’t always possible either, but when you can do it, it’s much better — for the customer and for your sanity levels. Deal with one customer’s email at a time,
one call at a time, one customer in person at a time. When possible.
- Find some time on the job for focus. If you have other things to do than deal directly with customers, try to separate the two responsibilities, so that you can deal with customers during one part of your day and find focus during another part of your day. Even if it’s just for 30-60 minutes, clearing distractions can make a big difference.
- Find ways to reduce the load. While customer problems and requests are always important, there are ways to reduce the demands on your time. Automating is a good example — allow people to order or file something online, for example, instead of filing the orders with you manually, or find other online solutions to the things you handle on a regular basis. Putting up a Frequently Asked Questions on a website can help reduce problems and questions. Outsourcing customer calls might be an option. Narrowing your services can help. All of these are dependent on you having control over the business,
but if you do, consider the many alternatives that might reduce your workload and interruptions.
- Find focus in your personal life. If most of your life is spent dealing with non-stop customer problems, complaints and requests, then you might try to find a time for calm, without distractions. Don’t be connected all the time, don’t be on the phone or doing text messages — cut off from the distractions, slow down, find solitude, and let your mind rest.
If you have staff or co-workers who rely on you, you might be constantly interrupted (in person, by phone, via instant messages, by email) by people who need decisions made, conflicts managed, problems solved, requests fulfilled.
So how do we find focus with these kinds of constant, urgent interruptions? There are many possible solutions, and not all will apply to everyone, but here are some ideas:
- Remove yourself as a bottleneck. It’s almost impossible to find a moment of peace when all decisions, all problems, must come through you. So train others to make these decisions. Set guidelines
for making the decisions so that they’d make the same decisions you would in those circumstances. Set criteria for calling you or interrupting you, so that only decisions above a certain threshold of importance will come to you. Find others who can handle the problems, instead of you. Sure, it’ll mean you have less control, but it’ll also mean you have fewer interruptions.
- Set hours of unavailability. Set office hours, or hours when you must not be interrupted except for absolute emergencies. Then you can deal with problems/requests at certain times of the day, and focus during other times.
- Delegate a backup decision maker. If you’re a manager/owner, set up a second-in-command, so that when you’re away from the office, or if you take a few hours off for uninterrupted time, problems can still be solved. Train the second-in-command so that she knows how to make the decisions appropriately.
- Set expectations. Staff or coworkers only interrupt you because they have the expectation that you’ll respond and that it’s OK to interrupt you at any time. If you change those expectations, you can channel the requests/problems to a time that you want to deal with them. For example: tell people that you only check email at 3 p.m. (or whatever works for you), because you need to focus on other work, and that they shouldn’t expect a response sooner. Or tell people that you will no longer take calls or text messages after 5 p.m., but that they should email you instead and you will respond to their emails in the morning. Or whatever works for you — the point is to set a plan of action and manage the expectations of others so that you can stick to that plan.
- Be in the moment. If you’re unable to get away from the interruptions, then learn to deal with each interruption one at a time, when possible, and give your full attention to each person, each problem, as you deal with them. This allows you to be less stressed and to deal calmly and fully with every person who needs your attention.
- Focus when away from work. If you can’t find focus at work, because of the need to be interrupted at all times, at least find time away from work when you can clear away distractions and find time for quiet, peace, reflection, reading, writing, creating.
To be continued