At any given moment, and quite possibly every given moment, the members of your team are doubling as gymnasts balancing this and that with whenever, whoever and whatever. Just this morning, in my small corner of the world, I heard the conversations of three employees doing just this sort of balancing act. One conversation was a dad trying to settle the broken heart of his teenage daughter, the second a mother advising her son who was going through a divorce, and the third an employee discussing her current struggles with single-parenthood and workload balance.
We’ve all been guilty of preaching the “put it away at the door” speech. Expecting employees to put away whatever might be going on in their personal lives when they arrive for their shift, and for them to put work away before they walk into their homes. Impossible. Momentarily possible, but those emotions will creep into whichever world they are forbidden to enter.
Ask yourself, as a leader, are you even able to put everything away at all times? If you’re honest you know the answer is – impossible. Of course you can put anything away while you immerse yourself in work, but inevitably the worry of a sick child or parent sneaks into your thoughts, the disagreement with your spouse that morning steals pieces of your mind, or even your upcoming vacation, your grocery or errand list make their way to the front of your thoughts. So how do we refocus?
We can accept that distractions happen, and understand how to refocus so we are at our most productive. This development is important in each and every position. From the caregiver with lives in their hands, to the CEO making strategic and financial decisions, to the newest person in the organization taking care of our customer’s needs and wants. Organizations rely on employees being able to refocus and deliver the best for the people they serve – in whatever capacity that may be.
In order to learn how to refocus, we first need to understand why we lost focus in the first place. None of us get distracted over issues that don’t mean anything to us, it’s when something happens that hits our emotions that we lose the ability to “put it away at the door”. Bad news first. When we are struggling with something emotional (and if it wasn’t emotional we wouldn’t care or be distracted), we will deal with it in some fashion or another. If we are allowed to process the information we are then able to see the issue in the bigger picture, our place in it, and move on with our day. If we are unable to process the information we will find ourselves more and more consumed by the issue, we don’t work through possible solutions, and we increase our stress and risk our health in the form of headaches, stomach-aches, ulcers, and the list gets worse from there.
Our first step is to recognize we are being distracted then take a moment to understand what it is that is bothering us. Did we have yet another disagreement this morning with our teenager? Did we get to work late again? Did we miss the deadline for an important project? Are there impending layoffs? Take some time to target why exactly you are distracted and how you can resolve the issue. Finally, write down a plan that moves you into the direction of resolution. The fact is, we are built with the need to be able to work through emotional issues. Allowing yourself to work through the initial emotional reaction and a plan for resolution will get you back on track and refocused to attack the task at hand.
But… (there’s always a but…) you should also be able to recognize if your distraction just needs a few minutes to vent. Sometimes that’s all we need. Someone to listen, someone to care, and then we’re able to refocus.
If you, or someone on your team, is unable to work through distractions and those distractions threaten the employee’s work performance an Employee Assistance Program may be the necessary direction.