Getting Your Focus Back – Is Closer Clearer?

Getting Your Focus Back - Comm Before The StormLast week I went out with one of our nurses as she did her rounds visiting clients in their homes.  It was a welcome change from what I had been doing, which was planning, printing, publishing,  policy, and promotional work to mention a few of the things on my list.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the tools of my trade and looking at website design, branded items, radio scripts and social media can be fun, but it has to be connected to something. For work to be meaningful it has to be purpose driven.  Getting closer to one of my clients, that nurse and consequently her clients, was a wonderful way to bring another important “p word” back to my work, perspective.

So this week I’m back in Ottawa and while I battle everything from old trade booths to persistent computer issues, my perspective has altered somewhat.  The urgency is gone. It’s hard to get heated up about a booth display or a missed meeting with a publisher when you compare it to folks who are trying to ease pain or make someone’s passing a little more comfortable. My tasks will still be waiting for me when I get up tomorrow, so I’ve got to be patient with the resources I have and understand that what gets done, gets done.

I don’t believe I’m alone in getting distracted, it’s easy for anyone to get preoccupied with the tools of their trade and forget about what they were supposed to be doing in the first place. Whether you are a writer who has been spending too much time managing social media, an artist who has been chasing exhibit space or a CEO trapped behind a desk, it can be easy to forget why you do what you do. When you remain removed from the frontline of the activity or more pointedly, when you forget your reason for being, you risk not just losing site of your objectives, but the joy of your work.

Does it feel better to get closer?

The Proximity Principle in social psychology informs us that we tend to form relationships with those in close proximity.  It remains true even in the context of social media. Most people interact online with people they already know. The proximity principle also shares another tidbit, proximity may mean that we learn that the people close to us have traits we detest, in those instances, then familiarity breeds contempt. These are not earth shattering revelations, yet they are an important feature of life that many of us lose sight of over time. I am pleased to say I know who my neighbours are, but how often is that not true? The artificial distance we can place between those close to us and ourselves can mean that we have a difficult time interpreting our reactions and relations with the people around us. It can also make us misinterpret the relevance of those people in our lives.

Do we get better by being closer?

As I have noted before in this blog, I don’t believe that working in an office makes me more productive.  I can be effective or inefficient anywhere, it’s a question of focus and motivation, but I did wonder about what that physical presence might do to us and really what were the pros and cons of proximity. What numerous studies have shown us is that their is a “social facilitation” effect. Co-workers will become more loyal to one another and are also more likely to help each other out. When people work in front of an audience or co-workers, even if their tasks are unrelated, their performance changes. They are more alert, faster and more motivated. That is, they are all of those things if they are working on familiar tasks. If they are working on something new or difficult, proximity negatively impacts adoption.  The presence of others when managing a new task can be distracting and stressful. It can increase inaccuracy and raise physical symptoms of distress.

What do the Proximity Principle, social facilitation and finding joy in work have to do with each other?

1) Getting closer to your audience/clients will reveal amazing things about your work and your focus.

  • Proximity to clients can be invigorating and bring into sharper perspective the reason why you do what you do.
  • If getting closer reveals that clients are exhausting and pull the energy from you, you may want to rethink the context in which you work or focus on the tools. In either instance, you will want to position yourself closer to where you find the joy in your work.

2) Clients are not the only ones to influence your focus. Co-workers will affect your relationship with your work.

  • Be alert to how you feel around co-workers. You may discover that what you like about your work isn’t the purpose, it’s the people. We form intense relationships with colleagues that can affect not just how we work but how we feel about our work.
  • The opposite holds true too. Your colleagues may make you less engaged. If that’s the case, a physical change in location may be all that’s missing to get your motivation back.

How do you get your focus back?  Have you ever worked in an environment where you loved the people, but disliked the job or the other way around?


0 responses to “Getting Your Focus Back – Is Closer Clearer?

  • One of my earlier jobs was a classic example of people putting the joy into work. I loved going to work. The social life was brilliant and we all work hard and partied hard. It was one of the best times in my life. I stayed there for 12 years – until I started getting sick, then things went a little downhill.

    • Wow, 12 years is a long time to be in the same place. That shows a real connection on a number of levels particularly since your reasons for leaving were outside of your control. You were lucky to have the experience, many people go their whole work lives without making that kind of connection.

  • Very interesting post, and timely for me, as I recently had to make a decision as to whether or not to renew my mbrshp in an assn to which I no longer possess a strong connection. I only renewed b/c I have a strong social connection to many of the assn’s members on a personal basis, but I and many of us don’t agree with the assn’s leadership strategies. It’s not a good feeling, and yes. Indic attempt to change things by taking on a leadership role, but let’s just say the only way things would really change would be to have a mutiny!

    • The sad part about you experience Doreen is that the point of associations is to allow people who share a common purpose to associate. The educational and other benefits of leadership are additional features. Unfortunately, I think your experience is becoming increasingly common among association members. A multitude of social media platforms means that people with common interest can connect without the cost of membership. This can lead some associations to get pretty inventive, sometimes so much so that they lose the people they were trying to attract in the first place.

      • Thanks for the insightful reply, Debra. You have definitely hit the nail on the head. The assn I am referring to is putting massive efforts into retaining NEW members, but is alienating its seasoned members, and calling us a “vocal minority” when we criticize or question the leadership’s practices and activities/inactivities. Definitely not a healthy attitude. By the way, have you read my previous book, “Before You Say Yes”? It’s about the challenges of non-profits boards, written after more than 25 years of volunteering for numerous non-profits.

  • Debra — another thoughtful post. I’ve written about the “water cooler” effect. I personally feel that you lose something with the “wired” water cooler — where we converse by email from remote locations — instead of face-to-face at the water cooler in the office. Yes, you can detest some of your colleagues and love other ones, but you make accommodations for that. Visit another water cooler. The point is that what passes as casual conversation in an office can be a springboard for new ideas and productive relationships. I work from a home office and miss being in an office for that reason. I have created other communities through my professional associations and a peer group of women I belong to. They invigorate me.

    • I have to reluctantly agree Jeanette, reluctantly because I very much enjoy working from home, and because I can see the virtual job becoming more prevalent. I appreciate the way you have resolved the challenge by creating an alternate work group. It gives some hope to all of the solopreneurs out there.

  • Yeah….I have. I’ve been in a situation where I loved the job description, the clients, and even the co-workers. but management especially was a whole other story. The people on the higher ups are suppose to give you the tools to do your job. But when they don’t…it makes it harder.

    • Leadership can have a tremendous impact on whether you enjoy a job or not. I don’t think there is a single element more disengaging for staff than not being given the resources to do the job. It’s like being set up for failure. Sooner or later even the best of colleagues and mission won’t matter in light of you inability to do the work you were hired to do.

  • I find it so hard to stay motivated sometimes when I do the same thing day in and day out. I can see why you would come back somewhat “jaded” from your field time. It connects you with the individuals. Remember what you are doing is helping the nurses give their best to their patients. 🙂

    • Susan it was an important reminder for me. I think the trick is to ensure you don’t get so far inside your own head when doing a job that you can’t connect to the people it impacts or the objectives you are trying to achieve.

  • My focus happens when I mix up things I am active in. LIke right now, I am doing some corporate training, writing a book and teaching a university course. All different topics. All with or for other people. The comparison of what I am doing, who I am doing it for, all of it, helps me get clearer in every task. One lends itself to another.

    Loved this post Debra. Really lifts me up as the reader.

    • I love the blend of things you’re doing. They are all different but utterly intellectually stimulating. You’ve also got a nice social mix in there. Isn’t it amazing what you get when you give?

      Thank you for your kind words on the blog.

  • TheRecipeHunter says:
    October 10, 2013 @ 06:50 pm

    I can completely relate on a sales level. I worked in the radio biz for ten years and being at small to medium market stations allowed me to learn every aspect of the business. I excelled mostly with production and on-air, but I did my share of sales. Imagine trying to sell something so intangible…air…results…it can be tough especially these days when there are so many other advertising options available. My point is, I was taught that it’s relationship-selling…and that’s got to be true for any kind of sales. The more you’re face to face with your clients, the easier it becomes to not only nurture the business but to grow from it.

    Personally, I’ve been in both situations where I adored my co-workers but hated my job and vice versa. My last job was a wonderful situation in that I loved my co-workers and my duties. There were four of us working in close proximity to each other and while we enjoyed each other’s company, we all were busy doing what we needed to get done. We were there for each other when someone needed to vent or when fun stories had to be shared, but we all fed off each other’s professionalism as well and worked efficiently.

    • When you hit the right mix at work it can be absolutely amazing. You can achieve not just your own individual potential but much more as a group.

      I find sales a challenging profession no matter what you’re selling, but I’ll admit the intangibles are tough.

  • I’ve been using the Pomodoro technique when I can’t seem to get motivated. In essence, you work 25 minutes then take a break for 5 minutes. You are not allowed to go to the bathroom, answer the phone, get a drink or anything in those 25 minutes (those 5 minutes I’m usually rushing around doing those things) I find when I live by these rules, it brings me into focus better.

    • I have never done that, I’d like to give it a try the next time I’m distracted. I don’t find 25 minutes that long of a stretch so it would be easy to commit to. I’ll have to look it up.

  • You known Debra I love your writing.

    I used to sell real estate for 25 years and I was always out with people. Yes I enjoyed getting out and meeting people. When I started my own business I found that I worked better from home. I have an office where my employees work, but I got less done. I felt I was internet business so why do I need to come face to face with people. I had done that for 25 years, but the reality of it, I missed it. So now I go and visit clients and it is very rewarding. You can learn so much from others.

    • Thanks Arleen, the feeling is mutual. I love the ideas you come up with for your posts.

      I get insight I never would receive when I’m out and about. I think it all comes down to balance. Working at home means I get a lot done, but I don’t always get the real story on what’s happening. Staying in the office is good, but it doesn’t get me closer to understanding our clients. You really have to mix it up until you hit the right blend of interaction and solitude.

  • My last time in Southern California reminded me that I really love the state, but being around the people I was working with there reminded me how much I didn’t like working with them. But I have worked at other places where the people I was working with were the only reason I showed up to work everyday.

    • It’s pretty amazing all the things that go into making work effective. I hear a lot of talk about finding the right cultural fit, but interviewers rarely seem to ask the right questions to achieve it.

  • for me to focus i need to really make time – you know the uninterrupted, really think and connect sort of moments. then i can refocus.

    • I hear you. That quiet time is what we all require so that we have the ability to step back and really think. There are tons of people who can think on their feet, but the quality of thought you get with a little introspection is much greater.

  • Good example of how getting in touch with your clients can be motivating and get your focus back to them, instead of what to do on social media and how to best get a message across to, say, politicians.

  • Great post, as always! Funny I just finished a social psychology course (Coursera) where we examined this principal.Back in my sales days, after I was promoted to manager, I felt very strongly about getting in the field with my reps. Not only that, I insisted that they allow me to keep a portion of my territory so I could stay in the loop. It did help me maintain my focu and a clear understanding of our goals. But working with my reps…man, I loved those gals! And a lot of that had to do with The Proximity Principal! Nothing like a 3 day road trip and sharing hotels, in terms of bonding! 🙂

    • Great example Jacqueline and smart move on your part. It keeps you close to the client and gives you ongoing and quick insight into the effectiveness of the products. If issues arise you don’t have to work so hard to figure out if its your sales team’s approach or the product creating problems. Sometimes just a quick tip to the client early on can save a whole lot of grief further down the line.

  • I like reading about how made the rounds with the nurses. Glad that worked well for you.

    I spend too much time working on my own, so I’ve been trying to work on connecting more with local people, whether clients, friends, or other local business owners/freelancers. I do more work better when I get that energized feeling – sometimes it comes, sometimes I need to work anyway.

    • I agree with Leora about needing to have that energized feeling to be more focuses and productive. I too am making more of an effort to go out and do things, since working alone isn’t very energizing.

      • Jeri do you ever write while you’re out and about? I love sitting in a coffee shop and watching the people between making quick notes. I get energized by watching the interactions, but I don’t think I’ve ever written substantively while in a coffee shop.

    • Leora I think the fact that you make the effort to go out and meet with people is really smart. I find it tougher in the winter, when the cold weather hits, I just want to light a fire and stay inside. 🙂

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