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The Art of Staying Focused

Magnify glass over the word focus in the dictionary.

(Photo credit: Jürgen)

There are always office distractions, from breaking news to excitement over NCAA basketball to the lure of social media—always just a click away. Exacerbating this is our politically charged atmosphere. It seems as if every conversation, every social media post and every article written has a political undertone and is often scrutinized from the right or the left. While it is important to voice opinions and stand up for your beliefs—and that it’s an obligation just as much as a right—it’s both exhausting and challenging to stay focused.

A recent survey conducted by Wakefield Research finds that political conversations are reducing worker productivity. The company polled 500 full-time U.S. employers through an online survey (possibly a workday discretion itself!). Notably, 29 percent of workers say they are less productive since the election. That number increases to 35 percent among those who read 10 or more political social media posts per work day.

As a leader at Stratacomm, I don’t want to be insensitive. I also don’t want to spend as much intellectual capital as I have been reacting to our politically charged climate. And if I’m feeling this way, our staff is as well.

So what to do?

As a team, we are taking steps to squelch the political fire hose:

Take action. Instead of exhausting efforts with contentious social media posts or protesting—all viable freedoms of speech—we are looking at making our community better through meaningful action. We actively encourage our team to take time to give back, maintaining a flexible work environment to make giving back easier. If your beliefs run left, right, center or even apolitical, there are organizations across the entire spectrum that need volunteers.

Keep perspective. Healthy debate is just that – healthy. Find ways to discuss and examine without attacking people or their motives. Listen as much as you talk, and keep on the high road as its imperative that civil discourse carry the day.

Balance. It may be unrealistic to go on a “politics free” diet. Instead, limit the time you spend going down the rabbit hole. Set aside a limited amount of time to surf, watch, vent or debate. Then offer a polite “I need to get back to work” and move on.

Be honest. If you are feeling overwhelmed by all things political, say something. It’s tempting to get caught up in the political subject of the hour, but we need to keep each other in check. If you are the one instigating the atmosphere, stop and think about how bringing up a particular topic will derail the day. There’s a time and place for political talk—and it should continue—but if we keep up the pace at work it will become all consuming.

When all else fails, take a deep breath. With streaming video, social media and minute-by-minute updates, the opportunity for constant distraction is all too real. We owe it to ourselves to refocus our energies. I am hopeful we will find a way to harness our interest to facilitate lasting change in areas most important to us – all without sacrificing productivity and principles in other areas of our lives.

Sharon Hegarty is a managing director and partner at Stratacomm, based in our Detroit office.