Written by Haley Rafferty

Focus is my 28th strength on StrengthsFinder – out of 34. It feels ironic to me, as Team Success Manager, that something you’d think would be so crucial to my job is the one thing that frustrates me the most about myself. I battle with my focus constantly. But maybe that’s why I’m drawn to this work – I want to try all of the tips, tricks and routines for getting things done because I know I won’t be able to rely on my ability to focus alone.

Name any productivity “hack” and you can bet I’ve tried it. Pomodoro method? Check. Time blocking? Check. Deep work? Check! My latest strategy? Tackling my biggest or most difficult project first thing in the morning.

When things get hectic (which they will) either individually or as a company, it’s crucial to have a solid framework in place to lean on. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what specifically we can do as individuals in the day-to-day, but also reflecting on the bigger picture of productivity in this day and age.

Here’s how to set future you up for success:

  1. Have a schedule. If you made it through the past two years with no semblance of a schedule or routine, we need to talk. You can plan your day down to the minute, or loosely in several-hour chunks of time. Regardless, having some sort of routine or schedule to get your mind right going into your day is going to take a lot of the “what should I be prioritizing today” off of your mind.
  2. Meet people where they are. Why do you keep sending emails that need a response to that one coworker who takes for.ev.er. to respond? Similarly, why are you afraid to follow up on that Slack message you sent days ago when you know their calendar has been packed? On the surface, this feels like extra work for you, but I promise it’s not. You’re going to save yourself time and frustration if you acknowledge your teammates’ preferred communication and working style and meet them there. Don’t stick to how you think you should be communicating – do what works!
  3. Keep your software simple – and then actually use it. Next Stage uses Asana, Insightly, Slack and Gmail. We have minimal plug-ins, add-ons and integrations because they become just one more thing to manage, train your team and set user guidelines around. I love Asana because they have the option to integrate other apps but they also churn out a lot of their own features.

I realize a lot of this comes from a place of privilege. I work for a company where I primarily work from home. My hours can be flexible and the team all puts an incredible amount of trust in each other to get the work done. Not everyone has this flexibility and trust at their disposal.

This fall, I read “Stolen Focus: Why you can’t Pay Attention– and How to think Deeply Again” by Johann Hari. It was one of those books that every few pages I would call my husband over and say “LISTEN TO THIS CRAZY FACT.” It made me think a lot about how, in a society that really prioritizes productivity, it’s set up in a way that makes it so easy to be distracted. So before you block your calendar, change your communication style or software, let’s take a moment to reflect.

As employees, managers, CEOs and community leaders, what can we do to change the systems that keep us distracted and burnt out? There are a lot of things we can individually do to help ourselves achieve efficiency and focus (and ultimately, be productive), but doing that alone isn’t addressing the bigger issue. And if you try something and it doesn’t work for you or your team – leave it! Move on to something else. What works for your teammate may not work for you, and that’s okay.

At my first team dinner after joining Next Stage, our CEO Josh took the time to hand-write each of us a card. In mine, among other things, he wrote “thank you for choosing us.”

Employees now, more than ever, have the ability to choose for themselves how, where and when they want to work. If more companies would acknowledge this choice and treat their employees like whole people with families, hobbies, and mental and physical health, I believe motivation and efficiency will be a natural byproduct.