Attention Management – 'Being “always on” hurts results'

Early in my career I was sent on a time management course. In it I was shown how to draw up to-do lists and how to priorities them against two criteria – importance and urgency. Further coaching was given on how to review the to-do list at the end of every day in order to set the correct activities for the following day.

At that time the constraint was perceived to be time, you started work at a set time in the morning (8:00am for me) and you finished at a set time (17:00 for me), your job was to get the important (and urgent) things done in that time. Time was the constraint, so it was time that needed managing.

Then along came the internet, email and the blackberry. Time was no longer the constraint, but we failed to recognise it and we still work as if it was.

Attention became the new constraint and we completely missed it. We thought we had been liberated from time and that we could now work in the Martini advert (any-time, any-place, anywhere), but we were kidding ourselves.

As we spread our attention across the 24 hours of each day we failed to notice that we were laying it down in ever thinning layers. The speed increased, but the quality decreased.

The late-night email culture is the primary example of this. In a recent HBR article Maura Thomas highlights the risks of the phenomena – Your Late-Night Emails Are Hurting Your Team.

Around 11 p.m. one night, you realize there’s a key step your team needs to take on a current project. So, you dash off an email to the team members while you’re thinking about it.

No time like the present, right?

Wrong. As a productivity trainer specializing in attention management, I’ve seen over the past decade how after-hours emails speed up corporate cultures — and that, in turn, chips away at creativity, innovation, and true productivity.

If this is a common behavior for you, you’re missing the opportunity to get some distance from work — distance that’s critical to the fresh perspective you need as the leader. And, when the boss is working, the team feels like they should be working.

Now that time is not the primary constraint, and attention is, we need to start developing a new set of working protocols to manage this precious resource.

Do you have any techniques you use to manage your attention?

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