Getting Your Focus Back – Is Closer Clearer?

Posted on October 8, 2013

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?