4 ways to cultivate focus in the world of hybrid work
Laura Mae Martin
Executive Productivity Adviser, Google
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I like to think of focus as doing what you intend to do, when you intend to do it. Framing it as a matter of intent reminds us that we can all develop focus. And learning how to consciously enter into and protect it enhances employee productivity, engagement, and wellbeing.
Because time is our most precious resource, every distraction comes with a built-in cost (as the graphic above illustrates). At Google, I help executives and colleagues find time to focus on what matters most. Here are four ways teams and individuals can develop more focus in the hybrid era.
1. Match your focus time to your location
Employees working in hybrid environments typically fall into two groups: those who focus better at home (or remotely) and those who focus better in the office. A focus-at-home person should preserve their at-home days for heads-down work, and try to schedule meetings and calls on in-office days to avoid breaking up their focus time. And for those who prefer focusing at the office, scheduling meetings and calls on at-home days can reduce interruptions during that valuable in-office time.
2. Use physical cues to train your brain for focus
It’s difficult to shift mental gears when working from home. Luckily, we can get into work mode at home with tricks that help our brains associate familiar settings with our jobs and specific tasks. Sitting in the same spot each day helps work automatically come to mind. And completing specific tasks in specific locations — like always doing expense reports on the couch or regularly answering emails in a coffee shop — further sharpens focus. (Fun fact: these tricks also work for spots around the office!)
3. Become a pro at preventing distraction
The best way to recover from a distraction is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Here are some of my favorite ways to limit distractions:
- Use Focus time to automatically decline meetings and mute Google Chat.
- Consider turning off email notifications from shared Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides.
- Unopened messages can still occupy our attention, even if we’re not reading them. Filters and labels help everyone declutter their inboxes.
- Work in a single tab to stay on track. If that’s not realistic, project- or topic-based tab groupings can help direct attention to the task at hand.
4. Build a team superpower for focus
Along with inviting individual employees to customize their work habits and environments, managers can help their teams establish focus-friendly conditions and behaviors. Identify the factors that make it easier or harder for team members to stay on task, and establish team norms for the best ways to communicate and collaborate. It might include things like “No Meeting Fridays” or not sending emails over the weekend (schedule send is your new best friend!). As you evaluate team norms, think about which platforms are best suited to specific tasks (e.g., only using Chat for truly timely requests). I know of a team at Google that decided to use spaces in Chat for meeting planning conversations to reduce emails and pings. Above all, managers need to practice what they preach so employees feel empowered to do the same.
Deepening focus reaps big rewards
Getting ahead of distractions and carving out space to work makes us better employees, teammates, and leaders. With the freedom to focus, we become more productive, more engaged, more creative, and open to greater possibilities.