How leaders can reclaim focus and productivity

Authored By Shortlist (Business)

This article was originally published has been republished with permission from

Just one hour of distractions per day compounds to six weeks of lost productivity annually, making now the ideal time to reset certain behaviours for improved focus and efficiency, says a recruitment leader turned productivity advisor.

"Working from home brings many challenges, and benefits too. It's an excellent opportunity at the moment to reset work habits and uplift our productivity, and our peace of mind and wellbeing as well," says I-Mastery founder and former iPeople MD Wendy Cole.

To be able to enjoy the motivating sense of progress that comes with accomplishing meaningful work, meeting targets and making a positive impact as a recruiter, leaders need to optimise their focus and master distraction, she says.

Deep work – a concept popularised by Cal Newport – "is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task," says Cole, and Newport argues that the future currency of employment will be "the ability to stick with a problem and think through it", she told a recent APSCo Australia webinar.

Blocking out time for deep work

A recruitment role might not require 'deep work' eight hours per day, but tasks such as writing candidate summaries or searches would benefit from retreating to a quiet place, says Cole.

"There is science that shows we can focus for not much longer than 90 minutes", before attention starts to waver, so during this time she recommends placing mobile devices out of sight, staying hydrated, and enjoying a coffee if suitable.

Wearing noise-cancelling headphones can be particularly helpful for people in noisy environments, and listening to music with a rate of 60 beats per minute can help some people concentrate.

Headphones also provide a "visual cue that you're concentrating", she adds.

"Invariably, despite our best intentions, we will be interrupted," Cole says. When interrupted, it's useful to create a "cognitive bookmark" by writing down a note to mark and resume a task where it was last left off.

Breaking down tasks

Leaders working from home might be experiencing the effects of Parkinson's Law, which is "the concept that work expands to fill the time available", and which Cole says can contribute to the sensation of days becoming longer.

It's especially a problem for professionals who find themselves in a situation with less work than they're used to, she says.

One way to overcome that effect is to use the Pomodoro technique by using a timer to break down work tasks into 25-minute intervals, separated by short breaks.

Working remotely

To balance effective communication with teams working remotely without becoming distracted, leaders need to communicate "intentionally", says Cole.

Having a schedule for communicating with staff at set times during the day and setting a plan for the next day can be helpful.

"In recruitment, no two days are the same... That's why I find a nightly plan for me really works," she says, while earlier risers might prefer to write their daily plans in the morning.

Cole also suggests recruiters go for a walk while they make calls to hiring managers and candidates, to overcome video fatigue, and she recommends "energy management" practices such as meditating for 10 minutes daily, and spending time in nature, which studies have shown is "restorative".


Leadership Matters, Optimising Focus and Mastering Distraction - is available for download at no cost to APSCo Members here.

Upcoming Events

21 Sep
Victorian Government's Small Business Bus, VIC
22 Sep
Victorian Government's Small Business Bus, VIC