What is the biggest challenge you face with respect to focus?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from over 240,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

What is the biggest challenge you face with respect to focus?

  • I simply get too many tasks given to me: 36%
  • I don’t have clear direction from my leaders: 23%
  • I have trouble saying “no”: 18%
  • I don’t have any trouble with focus: 9%
  • I struggle with something not on this list: 7%
  • I’m not sure what our priorities are: 7%

Too much to do, not enough direction. It seems like the lack of focus is the result of too many tasks being assigned without enough guidance from leaders. That leads to the third issue of not being able to say “no” because it’s not clear what should be said “no” to. If you’re having trouble focusing, force the prioritization conversation with your manager. Show them the comprehensive list of tasks you’re working on and let them know what you think the priorities are. Also show them how much you can realistically get done with the resources you have. They’re not going to prioritize your work for you – that’s something you’re responsible for. When you can show them the complete picture and tell them the priorities, it’s pretty likely they’ll agree with your approach which then gives you the ability to say “no” to low value work.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."