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Mental Energy: Focus on Focusing

This is the fourth post in a series on maximizing performance through managing energy based on the work of Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz in their book, The Power of Full Engagement.

If there’s one thing that gets my clients (and most of the rest of us) in trouble, it’s the myth of multi-tasking. We believe that if we do several things at once, we’ll get more done. It simply isn’t true. Our brains are wired to focus on one thing at a time. When we switch from task to task, for example when we interrupt writing a report to answer the telephone or read an e-mail, it takes time for the brain to refocus and we lose concentration. Tasks take up to 25% longer to complete.

Concentration and focus are the key components of mental energy, the third energy wellspring Loehr and Schwartz describe in The Power of Full Engagement. Like physical and emotional energy, mental energy relies on exercise mixed with intermittent recovery. We are better off concentrating on one task at a time, taking a break when we complete it and then switching to the next task. Following this strategy allows us to get far more done in less time.

If that seems impossible in today’s world, think again. Tony Schwartz, in a Harvard Business Review article, talked about a group in a national accounting consulting firm, whose boss, Michael Henke, announced at the beginning of the winter busy season that he was turning off his instant messaging system for periods of time during the day so he could concentrate on his work. During those times he would be unavailable to his staff, unless it was a true emergency.
He also encouraged his staff to take regular breaks throughout the day and eat more regularly. According to Schwartz, the group finished the busy season, “under budget and more profitable” than other teams who didn’t follow the same program. They got more done in less time.

Many people begin the work day checking phone messages and answering e-mail. That’s a recipe for inefficiency because it’s so easy to get caught up in other people’s deadlines and emergencies. Julie Morgenstern, in Making Work Work, tells clients to block off the first hour of the day to concentrate on the most important thing they need to get done. Making progress on or completing that task produces a feeling of accomplishment that powers the rest of the day. Morgenstern also recommends setting aside regular, concentrated times to do e-mail, maybe 2-3 times during the day. The duration depends on the volume and urgency of one’s inbox, but clients find that they can empty their in-box at each session.

Mental energy is also impacted by oscillation. As I stated in an earlier post, we can concentrate fully for up to 90-120 minutes. After that point, we begin to lose focus and tasks take longer. Regular breaks, even if they are brief, can do much to restore our mental energy. A brisk walk, listening to music, deep breathing, stretching, eating away from your desk, a conversation with a friend—anything you find refreshing—will restore your mental energy and concentration.

Physical, emotional and mental energy all impact each other. Research shows that exercise sends more blood to the brain, which enhances our capacity to think. Negative emotions can interfere with concentration. Eating small, healthy meals at regular intervals fuels the brain’s capacity to work.

If you want to get more done in less time, it pays to focus on how you’re focusing! Take a break. Eat right. Do the most important thing first. Resist being sucked in by e-mail. You’ll be glad you did.

For more ideas on small changes you can make to increase your mental energy:

contact Plum for a free brainstorming session: plum@vedereconsulting.com or 804-261-6483.
read The Power of Full Engagement, http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_gw?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=the+power+of+full+engagement+

For a free or an inexpensive Full Engagement Profile, see: http://www.lgeperformance.com/assessment_diagnostic.html

For more information about the authors of The Power of Full Engagement and their work, see:

Jim Loehr is the Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of the Human Performance Institute, http://www.lgeperformance.com/index.html .

Tony Schwartz is Founder and President of The Energy Project, http://www.theenergyproject.com/home.html .

One Response to "Mental Energy: Focus on Focusing"

  • Joyce
    October 29, 2008 - 2:58 pm Reply

    Very timely for me, Plum!

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