Focus, productivity and your brain

At this moment, how many devices are you minding? Chances are you and your team are using one, two or even three, interacting with each numerous times each day. We are hyper-connected and value our ability to multi-task and access anything at any time.

This desire and ability to be perpetually connected ends up usurping its “rightful” place in our professional and personal lives.

Manage your brain

Every day we’re bombarded with distractions that hamper productivity, diminish effectiveness and threaten our focus on things and conversations that really matter.

Neuroscience informs us that the active part of our cognitive brains can successfully handle only one thought, dilemma or goal at a time. Just like technology with too many open applications or windows, the brain, too, starts to slow down when handling multiple, non-simplistic matters — no matter how smart you may be.

Busy executives and professionals can try these tips to manage their brain and improve their impact as mindful leaders:

Master the devices — Set specific hours to engage with social media and manage your favorite apps. Don’t let the urge to keep a zero-message inbox rule your world. This is especially important on vacation.

Clear the decks — Ban phones from important business meetings. This alone can foster more meaningful interactions and idea sharing.

Unless there is an urgent need to have a device, insist that participants step away from their phones for the length of the meeting. Do it yourself! (In the coming week, try it at three meetings you’re leading and note the quality of conversation.)

Be there — Mindful leadership means being in the moment. Eliminate distractions and outside noise by intentionally being where you are with the people or issue at hand. You know how it feels when someone treats you as one of his or her multi-tasks. Give the gift of yourself in full.

Adventure — Try being alone with yourself; mindful practices can take many forms, including meditation that has the benefit of quieting thoughts, clearing away clutter and bolstering creativity.

Sit quietly for a few moments, or close your eyes and take three deep breaths as you transition from one meeting to another. This can improve your focus and decision-making. Try the free version of Headspace (, a non-invasive, 10-minute introduction to meditation.

Since the brain likes to “chunk” information, try this mnemonic to remember the tips: DCBA (devices, clear, be, adventure).

See the value

Progressive organizations like Google, General Mills and Goldman Sachs have discovered the power of mindfulness and its effect on productivity, not to mention their bottom lines. The countless benefits, which have been documented, include greater innovation and teamwork, staff stress reduction and health care savings.

It’s time to manage the distractions of a 24/7 world, rather than allowing them to manage us. Try a few of these suggestions, if only for two weeks. What changes do you notice? Chances are you have a renewed sense of energy. And, you may begin to find your own quiet center, your “true north,” in the bargain.


Aradhna M. Oliphant is the President and CEO of Leadership Pittsburgh Inc. LPI strengthens regional leadership by connecting current and emerging leaders as well as high-potential veterans with each other and with people, ideas, skills and issues that shape communities. Under Aradhan’s leadership, demand for LPI programs has grown exponentially.