Look around. Take in everything that you see. There’s the stack of sticky notes with calls to be returned; a report that needs to be reviewed; the partially finished cost proposal for your big client; and a half-eaten sandwich sitting next to the book club book that you are half-way through (and the club meets tomorrow!). In less than a minute, you have observed this and so much more. Your eyes brought in reams of information into your brain. And that information continually flows in unless you interrupt it.
Now consider the amount of effort your brain makes to sort out all this information. The voice in your head is mentally sifting through papers, struggling with the to-do list, and admonishing you for leaving the dirty dish on your desk. (And, everyone else will have finished the book club book. You really should make an effort.) The brain processes and comments on all of these items because it sees them. While your brain makes all this effort, imagine what it’s not doing. It’s not finishing the cost proposal; it’s not reviewing the report; it’s not thinking about the calls that need to be returned. There is only so much vigor the brain has for high-energy, high-focused work.
I recently discovered an easy and powerful technique that increased my ability to focus and bring creative attention to my work: closing my eyes. Shutting down the massive input from your eyes frees the brain to focus, process and integrate information without the distraction of the dirty coffee cup that you really should go wash out right now.
Here are the steps to put this technique to work for you.
1. Define. Identify one top priority project that needs your focused attention and creative thinking.
2. Prime. Review the information you already have about this project: where you are in the process, what are the next steps, and where are you stuck. Basically, you are pre-loading or priming your brain with information that you want it to hold in working memory. This is the information that is immediately accessible to your brain.
3. Focus. Identify what you need next, or the question you need answered. Maybe it’s how to approach a problem or person; the structure of the next chapter of the report you have to write; or how to address a client’s unique needs. You tell your brain where you want it to focus.
4. Sit. Find a quiet spot where you can sit comfortably. Use the timer on your phone and set it for 5 to 8 minutes. Now, close your eyes. Go on…close them. You’re peaking! Okay – you can keep them open until you finish this article. When you sit with your eyes closed for even a few minutes, you will find that your brain works more efficiently. It integrates the primed information, your focused topic and other knowledge stored deep within your brain to bring you new ideas or new ways of thinking.
Without the plethora of distractions flying in from your eyes, the brain has more juice to apply to solving your problem. The brain more easily and creatively assembles information and brings insights to you. And it only takes five minutes.
I use this technique when I need clarity on a troubling problem or when switching from one intensive task to another. It has not failed me yet. I walk away from this short interlude with new ideas, new approaches and with refreshed energy. Try it. You, too, will find that this is a leadership tool worth five minutes.