Work Smarter//

5 Ways to Better Focus and Prioritize at Work, According to Jeff Bezos, Oprah, and More

Here’s how some of the world’s most successful people protect their time.

Getty Images
Getty Images

We’ve seen from science that implementing small steps over time can help change the way we work. These five successful individuals have found specific tricks that have helped them sharpen their focus and prioritize their work, and we’re ready to give their tips a try.

Take time to think outdoors like Bill Gates

Research shows that spending time in nature can help improve our focus, and Bill Gates has adopted his own ritual of spending a full two weeks in the forest each year to reap the benefits of the outdoors. He calls the tradition his Think Week, and he takes the time in nature to separate himself from the ongoing distractions of the typical workweek, and find creative inspiration apart from his usual corporate setting. And while we can’t all disappear to a remote cabin for two weeks every year, we can take advantage of Gates’ tip by taking an occasional long weekend to be in nature, or even stroll outdoors for a lunch break in the park every now and then.

Set an opening intention like Oprah

Before Oprah Winfrey begins each one of her meetings, she asks three questions: “What is our intention for this meeting? What’s important? What matters?” By setting a deliberate purpose from the start, Winfrey optimizes the potential of everyone in the room, and prompts herself and others to focus on the goal of the meeting. She says that setting a specific intention has helped her hone her focus throughout her career, and psychologists agree with her trick: Studies show that what we think about before and during our workplace meetings can help facilitate success, and can help drive productive, focused discussions.

Try out Malcolm Gladwell’s 24-hour email rule

An important part of organizing your time comes with finding what hours you work best — and protecting those hours accordingly. Best selling author and longtime New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell, for example, finds he can focus best when he checks his email every 24 hours, usually later in the day. “If you don’t answer people’s texts and phone calls and emails right away, then they learn that, and they understand,” he told Arianna Huffington on the Thrive Global Podcast last summer. “If everyone observed the 24-hour rule for responding to emails, the world would be a much better place.”

Optimize meetings by using Jeff Bezos’s “two-pizza” rule

Focused work can often be disturbed by having too many voices in the room, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos knows all too well that this common workplace mishap can inhibit productive meetings. That’s why Bezos enforces a “two-pizza rule” at work, where employees are discouraged from holding meetings that would require more than two pizzas to feed the entire team. Bezos says his rule can help improve productivity and allow members to share their unique perspectives without spending time on work that disrupts their main priorities.

Take Michelle Obama’s advice to put yourself first

We talk a lot about ways to optimize our workday and reach our goals faster, but we often forget that the formula for success includes what’s going on inside — and flourishing at work starts with addressing what’s going on outside of work. Michelle Obama says that when she was coping with the news of her miscarriage while juggling her career, she had to give herself permission to put herself and her mental health first — and doing so allowed her to clear away the guilt, and prioritize her happiness. When we allow ourselves to surface what’s going on inside instead of push it under the rug, our work becomes less stressful, and we can better prioritize what matters, and what requires our focus.

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