Being on a plane and not connected to the internet made me realize how out of practice I’ve gotten at staying totally focused. I found myself looking down to check the mail icon on my laptop to see if I had any new e-mail messages but of course I didn’t have any.

Did life as I know it cease to exist? Of course not. I was actually getting more done. There was a crying baby behind me and a guy sleeping wide next to me but I was still able to get some quality work done. How? Those distractions are more like white noise while the distraction of e-mail requires my brain to shift gears.

Research says we lose 15 minutes when we hop from task to task. I could have purchased WiFi to use the internet on that flight but I gained more in productivity by focusing on the tasks at hand (including creating this blog).

So what’s on your agenda that needs your focus? How are you going to get to it?

Here are 3 suggestions:

1) Create a closed-door policy
I’m not suggesting that you keep your door closed all the time but there are times when you need to excuse yourself from the distractions like drop by meetings. This applies if you are the boss, too. Tell your teammates that you need some time to focus on an important task but you will be available in an hour. If you have a position that doesn’t allow this, look for someone around you that would trade an hour – you cover for them, then they cover for you.

2) Work out of the office
“Working at a coffee shop” brings to mind a peaceful setting but a few years ago my office was across the street from what seemed like the world’s busiest Starbucks, or at least the noisiest. There were still times that I could go across the street and accomplish something important because I could focus on the task at hand, not the priorities of my coworkers (and boss). If you’re like me and can work in a noisy place you’ve got unlimited options. If you need things quieter, try a public library or a restaurant during their slowest times. Looking for more proof? Check out this TED Talk “Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work.”

 

3) Schedule the big things
Determine the time of day when you are the most productive and schedule the big things for those times.Once you determine your most productive times, don’t spend those hourson the small and mindless tasks. Use them for the big things like creating a major gift solicitation strategy or writing your annual appeal letter. Take a few minutes to review your to-do list to find the most important items that require the most concentration. No one you work with will make this happen for you, you have to make this happen for yourself. Schedule a 2-hour item on your schedule that says “create development plan” then protect that time from other demands. I’ve started using a di fferent color for those items in my calendar.

Do you believe that the work you are doing is important? I do. Our work in the nonprofit sector saves lives and changes lives. That work is worthy of your focus. Don’t let the daily distractions keep you from the big things.


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Sara Leonard
IN HER 25 years of nonprofit work, Sara has held many titles and been a solutions-oriented advancement professional. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Tampa and an MBA from the University of South Florida. She is a Certified Fundraising Executive and has been named as a Master Trainer by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. As the founding director of the Nonprofit Leadership Center’s Fund Development Academy, Sara created an extensive curriculum of fundraising and board governance courses. She has had the privilege of working with organizations to achieve their fundraising goals through instruction, coaching and consulting. She continues to serve as an instructor for the Fund Development Academy. She has worked in the nonprofit sector raising funds for healthcare, educational and cultural organizations. She managed development operations including identification, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship of donors, managing annual giving, major gift cultivation and solicitation, training and management of staff, board and volunteers, foundation and corporate support, sponsorships, annual funds, special events and in-kind support. She is widely considered an expert in crisis fundraising and has guided organizations through capital campaigns – both large and small. Sara serves on the board of directors of the Suncoast Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and New Tampa Young Life. She is a former board member of the AFP Florida Caucus. She lives in Tampa with her husband and two children.
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Aldo Delli Paoli
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Aldo Delli Paoli

Distraction, there is no doubt, is a double trap: there is an excess of stimuli around us that conspire to make us lose concentration and at the same time it is our mind that asks new stimuli (just a distraction!) because it hard to concentrate. Losing the ability to focus, we limit creativity, learning and satisfaction with what we’re doing. However, there are some very effective strategies that anyone can try to take in during the day and help to find the right concentration.

Kenneth Vincent
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Kenneth Vincent

I found that coming into the office early gave me free uninterrupted time. I got more done from 5 am to 8 am than the rest of the day in total. However, I suspect there are few willing to go to the office at 5 am these days.