Last week, I did something that was not only scary but very uncomfortable. I work out at a gym three days per week, as I believe that keeping your body in shape has a direct impact on keeping your mind sharp and therefore directly contributes to your ability to pursue your goals. I don’t always have time for the gym, but when I don’t, I make time. When I think about skipping the gym, I remind myself that skipping my workout to work will only cause my work to be less effective. That thought process usually is enough to inspire me to go.
While working out at the gym, I bring my iPhone in with me and use it to listen to music. I am probably the only person in the gym who to listens to Native American flutes while I work out, but that’s for another post. Lately, I have noticed that in between sets at the gym, I spend time on my phone, checking e-mail, texting, or even making a call. As I became aware of this, I noticed that I wasn’t alone. In fact, most people in the gym text regularly while they are working out.
So last week, I made a decision to leave my cell phone in my car and venture into the gym without it. Let me tell you, this was very difficult to do. I felt naked on that walk from the car into the gym. However, once I started my workout, I only thought about my phone for the first five minutes. Then something extraordinary happened. I was able to focus 100% on my workout. In between sets, rather than texting, I was relaxing and thinking about my next set. When I think back on it now, I guess you could say I was focused—and what a powerful feeling it is to be 100% focused on something.
This made me think about how powerful it would be if we could focus so intently in our engineering careers. What if we were able to work on a task, whether it be designing a steel structure or laying out a new circuit board, without any distractions? Is that even possible in today’s world? I certainly never thought I would go into the gym without my cell phone, but I did; and better yet, nothing terrible happened while I was in there for an hour. So I believe the answer is yes, we can improve our focus. However, doing so will probably mean implementing new guidelines or working habits which will be extremely difficult to follow and uncomfortable when we first try them. The question you must ask yourself is how much it is worth to you to be able to improve your focus. If your answer was similar to mine, you will do whatever it takes.
I am not going to tell you what guidelines or working habits will specifically help you in your quest to improve focus. However, the following are some that have helped me in my engineering career. I have linked each to a previous post where I expanded on the topic.
- Consider taking time at the beginning of each day to outline the most important tasks you want to accomplish that day. I usually do this at 5:30 am, and it really helps me to stay focused throughout the day.
- Do these three most important tasks first, and avoid distractions as much as possible while doing them.
- Avoid spending your day responding to e-mails and phone calls as they come in. Select a specific time for doing these tasks.
- Remove clutter from your desk and your office. This alone will reduce the amount of stress you experience.
- Keep it simple at work.
Remember, in order to focus, you most likely need to do something that is scary or uncomfortable at first. I urge you, though, to stay the course. The reward of focus is invaluable.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
The Engineering Career Coach
Author of Engineer Your Own Success