5 ways to focus on the work that matters.

It’s 2023 and technology frees us to work and communicate from anywhere, anytime. But many of us don’t feel free. Instead, we’re burdened with “busy-work”, and our frazzled attention spans make it a challenge to focus.

“Busy-work” is when you are officially “working” but the work only gives the illusion of productivity, and is actually a waste of time.

One client who regularly takes long haul flights told me that his diary had become consumed by back-to-back onlne meetings during lockdown. He no longer had the “thinking time”  he used to have  in the air.

Digital distractions have made our attention spans shorter. We know that when we get distracted doing a task it takes our brains a disproportionate amount of time to re-focus and get back on track. One study suggests that once we get it takes 23 minutes to refocus.

How much time do we waste, sitting in on meetings that we really don’t need to attend? Jeff Bezos instigated a two-pizza rule to prevent people needlessly attended meetings. Two pizzas should be sufficient to feed everyone involved in any meeting.

Then, when we get back to our desks, how much time do we waste staring at a computer, switching between tasks, checking various information feeds, getting nothing done?

We know this isn’t healthy, it doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t add value, contribute to our objectives, isn’t aligned to our business strategy or helping our customers. Yet we keep on doing it!


It makes us feel busy, giving the illusion of productivity.

The habit is so engrained we cannot stop.

Endless distractions prevent our brain from working to maximum capacity.

The brain is a muscle; if there are parts of it that don’t get enough exercise then they stop functioning effectively.

The brain can regenerate. But we have to make a conscious choice to get those neurons working and firing.

How can we use our technology so we don’t feel so overwhelmed and trapped?

Here are five suggestions to give your addled brain a break and place your focus on the work that actually matters.

Put the phone away

Put the phone away while working and turn off notifications.

Schedule a set time for emails

Quit your email app and only check your emails once or twice a day; resist the temptation to read, ignore and then read again before responding.

Take regular breaks

Give your brain a rest. Take a walk, breathe consciously whilst also resting your eyes. You will be refreshed and focused when you return to your desk.

Handwrite your to-do list

Handwriting a list of things to do helps some people with particular thinking preferences, to remember the important things and achievable goals. A written list is easier to remember and more manageable than what’s in our unreliable memories. It also has the added advantage of being distinct from everything else that is digital.

Ask “Why?”

Before you say “Yes!” to something, ask “Why?”.

Salespeople and service providers are trained to ask the question “Why?”. The answers help them discover what a customer might want and what sits behind that:

  • Why do they need it?
  • How important is that to them?
  • What are the consequences of living with this problem, or the benefits of solving it?

Before you agree to a meeting or start a piece of work, ask yourself or the meeting organiser:

  • “What is the purpose of this meeting or task?”
  • “Why are we having this meeting?” or “Why am I doing this task?”
  • “Is there anyone else better placed to be in this meeting or do this task?”

The answers to these questions give you the chance to make a choice – and filter out the unnecessary.

It’s really just a case of getting started. Even with a few small changes you’ll soon notice the difference.