You would not be the first executive I have diagnosed with Executive Attention Deficit Disorder (EADD) – a condition I coined for the negative cumulative effect of having to constantly make important decisions that periodically affects executives and entrepreneurs alike.
You may recognise some of the following feelings associated with a loss of focus; frustration, fatigue, indecisiveness, a sinking sense of confidence and a sense of confusion about what to do next or how to solve an organisational issue.
It’s not surprising if you do. We live in a world where there are endless demands on our time, energy and attention. As busy CEO’s, these demands are only multiplied by the fact that the decisions you need to make hold such weight and can have serious consequences for your organisation. Furthermore, CEOs simply often have so many things to consider at once.
It’s no wonder some begin to feel overwhelmed and struggle to keep their priorities in order. If you feel that way, you can rest assured you’re not the first CEO to feel this way, and you won’t be the last!
We talked previously about regaining clarity. In this follow up piece, we’ll explore how to get back and rekindle your focus.
What Causes a Focus Failure?
Every effect has a cause, and the cause of you feeling like you’ve lost focus is simple: you have too many demands on your attention. You are unable to slow down, focus your attention on one problem, and sit with it until a solution is found.
This lack of focus can cause endless problems for a CEO. The frustration caused by mounting stress and endless demands can cause anger and even feelings of hopelessness. This can impact vital relationships at work, cause you to take irrational, ill-planned action just to get the problem out of the way, and lead to negative consequences in all areas of your organisation – from making costly mistakes to losing the trust of your team.
Like it or not, however, your job as a manager is to focus and make decisions.
What Skills do Effective Decisions Makers Need?
Effective decision making requires focus. Focus requires you to be able to:
- Analyze the situation. What is the cause of the problem? How high a priority is this?
What are the variables? What will a solution require in terms of skill and resources?
- Weigh-up the solutions. What are the possible solutions or actions to be taken? How much will each cost in terms of time, energy, manpower and dollars, what secondary benefits may come from taking course A vs course B?
- Consider the options and their consequences. This will often mean you need to be able to sit down and play out various potential scenarios in your head, connecting the dots and seeing what secondary impacts may happen as a result. Which option is best overall in terms of costs and benefits?
- Arrive at a conclusion and then take action. In short, you need to be able to focus on what’s most important, and ensure these top priorities get factored into the decision making equation, and decide which course of action to take.
There are some specific questions you can ask to foster focus when you need to. Let’s explore those now.
Questions for Fostering Focus
Focusing on a problem and solving it is often a case of asking the right questions. Here are some common questions you can ask.
- What is the problem? Believe it or not this can be the most difficult question to answer, and getting it clear in your mind often leads to a much easier discovery of the solution and a quicker decision being made. Is this a problem of lack of some resource? Is it a pressing demand from a valued client? Is it a staff issue? Get extremely clear and identify the problem precisely. Write it down if you must and try to boil the problem down to its essence. This is the beginning of focus.
- In another article entitled “Do you dare to disagree?”, I shared a short video of Brad Pitt in a scene from the movie Moneyball demonstrating the challenge of getting people to confront and articulate the actual problem they are dealing with.
- Who can help me? Sometimes a CEO makes the mistake of taking everything on alone. This is often a waste of valuable human resources. While you will ultimately have to make the decision, is there someone who may be able to provide extra information, such as an accountant, or someone who may be able to advise you, such as a member of your legal team or board? Or do you need to speak confidentially with an independent, unbiased professional like a coach or mentor to strategically assess your options?
- Making use of your team and creating a focus group may also really help. Often a lack of focus stems from a lack of the proper or sufficient information. Who can help you get the information you need?
- What is the end goal? If you have a very clear sense of direction, it will help you to focus and make decisions. Having a concrete sense of the ultimate goal of the organisation will help you give priority to the things that will get you there, allowing other things take a back seat for now. This is sometimes known as distinguishing between primary and secondary choices (or values). For example, a primary choice in life is “do you want to have children?”. A secondary choice is “how many children do you want to have?”.
- Where does the conflict lie? Often a lack of focus and the inability to take decisive action is caused by the fact that two or more priorities or organisational values are clashing. One is going to have to take priority over the other, and it’s up to you to identify both where the clash lies and which should take priority? For example, one CEO had a difficult situation on his hands where his financial resources were limited while his need for staff was increasing. After identifying this conflict, he was able to come up with other incentives for finding new staff, and hence makes a decision and solve the problem without putting extra strain on his financial resources.
- What are some possible ways forward? Writing down the possible solutions or paths forward, once you have asked the other questions, and working out the pros and cons of each, is the last stage before making an effective decision. You’ve regained focus by this stage, worked through the bulk of the questions which need to be asked, and now it’s time to put what you’ve discovered into hypothetical courses of action. Think about what you could do, gather your thoughts, and then pick (either alone or with others involved in the decision making process), what course of action to take.
Losing focus can be frustrating, but thanks to the tools outlined in this post, it is more than possible to find it again and solve a problem or make a decision effectively.
As a CEO you’ll need to focus and re-focus time and time again – throughout the day, week, month, year and your career. The ability to hone in on and focus on a specific issue is an extremely valuable skill for every CEO. These tools and the set of questions outlined will help you to do that.
What’s the one thing you should focus on right now?
Explore Additional Resources:
For more information on Fostering Focus checkout the following resources
1. Book: The One Thing by Gerry Keller | Jay Papasan
2. Video: What’s The Problem clip from the movie Moneyball
3. Special Report: Why CEOs Fail by Glenn A. Williams
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