A Coaching Power Tool Created by Rachel McMahon
(Business Coach, AUSTRALIA)
In the time you take you to read this paper, you are likely to be distracted. Your computer may ping with an email. You may get a message on your phone that you will read. You may get an alert to show you that someone has responded to something you have posted on social media. A work colleague, friend, or family member may ask you a question.
Distractions are prevalent in today’s world. There are many sources of distraction (not just technology) and the effects can be apparent at many levels.
In the workplace, for example:
- At a personal level, employee level distractions such as technology can affect people’s ability to work. According to the New York Times, a typical office worker gets only 11 minutes between each interruption, while it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. (Sullivan and Thompson, 2013). Additionally, leaders can find it difficult to keep focused. CEO Magazine reports that leaders are often switched on for too long (without adequate rest and recovery time) and suffer from the ‘Law of Distraction’, which states that the more distractions we have, the more diluted our focus becomes. (Beattie, 2018)
- At the corporate level, distraction can take place when people in the organization are focused on different goals. This often occurs when organizations don’t have a clear and united strategy and can result in a lot of resources being wasted on initiatives that are not strategically important. A critical success factor to address this is ensuring that everyone understands and is focused on the same strategy, and “success comes from having strategy become everyone’s everyday job”. (Kaplan & Norton, 2001).
I believe that distraction prohibits people from achieving their goals – at both an individual level and a corporate level.
The opposite of distraction is “focus”. My power tool, “Distraction vs Focus” can be used to help people change perspective to enable them to achieve their goals.
Something that prevents someone from giving their attention to something else (Cambridge Dictionary)
Distraction is an enormous problem in today’s society. According to a recent study by learning company Udemy, nearly 3 out of 4 workers admit they feel distracted when they’re on the job, with 16 percent asserting that they’re almost always distracted. (Udemy, 2018).
Research carried out by Dr. Glenn Wilson at London’s Institute of Psychiatry found that persistent interruptions and distractions at work had a profound effect. Those distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ, twice that found in studies on the impact of smoking marijuana. More than half of the 1,100 participants said they always responded to an email immediately or as soon as possible, while 21% admitted they would interrupt a meeting to do so. Constant interruptions can have the same effect as the loss of a night’s sleep. (Griffey, 2018)
In a work setting, the six most common distractions are (i) screen sucking/devices (ii) multitasking (iii) idea hopping (iv) worrying (v) playing the hero and trying to fix others’ problems (vi) dropping the ball. (Hallowell, 2015)
In addressing distraction, it is necessary to understand the triggering factors that affect behavior. This behavior will either move individuals away from what we want to achieve (distraction) or move us towards our goals (traction) (Eyal, 2019).
These triggers can be categorized as either:
- External factors – such as the physical world we are in. This includes noise, clutter, technology including smartphones, email, social media and collaboration software, and other interruptions such as people.
- Internal factors - such as emotions or anxiety, hunger, tiredness and attention span, desires, and ambitions.
The main or central point of something, especially of attention or interest (Cambridge Dictionary)
Focus is critical to achieving results and success – at both an individual level and a corporate level within organizations.
At an individual level, the effective focus will influence how an individual thinks, how efficient and productive they are and the quality of work they will deliver. “Focus is so important because it is the gateway to all thinking: perception, memory, learning, reasoning, problem-solving, and decision making. Without good focus, all aspects of your ability to think will suffer. Without focus, you won’t be as effective in your work because if you’re not concentrating on the right things or are distracted, you won’t be capable of getting your work done.” (Taylor, 2013)
In his book “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence”, Goleman analyses attention in three areas: inner, other, and outer focus. He argues that high-performers need all three kinds of focus and that those who excel rely on deliberate behavior to keep focus. This includes strategies such as mindfulness meditation, focused preparation and recovery from setbacks, continued attention to the learning curve, and finally positive emotions and connections—that help them improve habits, add new skills, and sustain excellence. Goleman calls this “smart practice.”(Goleman, 2013).
Hallowell has a similar view, explains that creating the optimal state of focus includes harnessing the power of the body, mind, human connection, emotion, and structure. (Hallowell, 2015)
Eyal argues that there are four steps for an individual to become “indestructible” and keep the focus on the goal. These include mastering internal triggers, reducing external triggers, preventing distraction, and making time for priorities. (Eyal, 2019).
Practically, this means making sure that you are properly fuelling and stimulating your brain and eliminating distractions wherever possible. Some ways to do this include:
- Healthy eating including incorporating good fats into your diet
- Regularly writing out your critical tasks
- Eliminating pointless distractions
- Getting enough sleep
At a corporate level, focus requires alignment on company goals and prioritization of these goals to ensure that employees are all working on initiatives that drive to the strategic goals of the company. “The Strategy Focused Organisation” explains that this is possible by clearly defining the strategy, communicating it consistently and linking it to the drivers of change, and implementing a management system, such as “The Balanced Scorecard” to ensure that all business units, support units, and employees are aligned, linked to the strategy and maintains focus. (Kaplan & Norton, 2001)
The “Distraction vs Focus” power tool can be applied through many coaching models, including the TARGET coaching model. The stages in the coaching model have been outlined below.
Topic & Target
This step involves understanding what the coachee wants to discuss in the session and setting a goal for the outcome of the session. This should align with the greater purpose of the coaching engagement and the coaching objectives outlined in the coaching agreement. The goal will remain central throughout the session and will be the area of focus.
During the “Awareness” step, the coachee will seek to understand the importance of resolving the issue.
During the “Reality” step, the coachee will seek to understand their current reality. Here the coachee will identify where they currently are and what they need to address to achieve their goal. This stage will seek to understand the causes of these areas of distraction, and what needs to be addressed to resolve the issue and keep the focus on the goal.
In this stage, the coachee will start to explore the various options available. This will include generating ideas and discussing how each option will address the issue, to help the coachee decide on the best approach to achieve their desired goal. Again, the focus on the goal will be critical to this step.
Once an option has been decided, the coachee will seek to gain clarity around what needs to be done to help address their session goal. It is in this stage that the coachee will discuss and commit to specific action steps. The coachee will seek to understand if other distractions could get in the way and ensure there is a plan for anything that arises.
The session will conclude by inviting the coachee to reiterate the area of focus and why that is so important. Here they will also be able to recap and summarise what they have worked on during the session, including what they have chosen to do and how they feel about doing it.
With distraction being such a prevalent issue at both the individual and corporate levels, I believe there will be lots of opportunities to use the “Distraction vs Focus” power tool. These steps can be applied at both the individual level and the corporate level.
- At an individual level – this will relate to the coachee’s personal goals.
- At a corporate level – this will relate to the overall business strategy and will be much broader. It will need to seek to understand the value of the business objectives to both the coachee, the business, its employees, and other stakeholders and will need to potentially address more systemic issues that are required to be resolved to enable the business to meet its business objectives.
This power tool can also be easily applied to many coaching models, including the TARGET coaching model that I intend to use in my coaching practice.
Beattie& Blake, 2018, “The Law of Distraction for Leaders”, CEO Magazine, accessed 1 July 2020
Eyal, 2019, “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life”, accessed 29 July 2020
Goleman, 2013 “Focus: The hidden driver of excellence”, HarperCollins Publishers
Griffey, 2018, “The lost art of concentration: being distracted in a digital world”, The Guardian, accessed 30 July 2020
Hallowell, 2015, “Driven to Distraction at Work: How to Focus and be More Productive”, accessed 29 July
Kaplan & Norton, 2001, “The Strategy Focused Organisation”, accessed 29 July 2020
Patel, 2018, “7 Brain Hacks to Improve your Focus at Work”, Forbes Magazine, accessed 30 July
Sullivan, Bob and Thompson, Hugh, 2013 “Brain, Interrupted”, New York Times, accessed 1 July 2020
Taylor, Jim, 2013, “Focus is the Gateway to Business Success”, Huffington Post, accessed 1 July 2020
Udemy, 2018, “2018 Workplace Distraction Report”, accessed 1 July 2020