When you finished work yesterday, did you accomplish all you wished? Or, like many, was it a day filled with busyness, but little progress on your priorities? Our professional lives are complex due to a combination of lean workforce, demands on our time, and way too much to do for less. How can you get control of your time and your life when your plate is so full? Here’s an overview and detailed suggestions in one area:
Full Plate Time (and Life) Management requires:
- Task Management – choosing the tasks you should do and in what order.
- Energy Management – having an abundance of energy to give each day your best.
- Attention Management – hold focus on what matters most.
- Workflow Management – having systems in place to serve my specific needs.
Today we’ll focus on Attention Management.
The Problem. Many things vie for our attention and unless we take responsibility for where our mind wanders, we’ll be pulled in a zillion different ways and never get to what matters most. For many this includes crises, texts, emails, chatty Cathy, boss demands, customer needs, etc. After setting your priorities well (task management), here are four ways to keep your attention on what you need to do.
1) Trust others. We allow ourselves to be derailed from our priority tasks because we believe that we must be the one to address the various issues that arise. Learn to deputize and delegate others with guidelines to handle issues for you. This is one possible draw on your attention, but one you can solve by letting go and trusting others. They can do it. Let them.
2) Utilize Q2 to prevent crises (from the 4 quadrants of productivity, as referenced in Franklin Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”®. Q2 is the quadrant for less urgent but important items requiring focus). For every crisis, discuss what can be done to prevent it from happening again. Operating in Q2 will reduce the number and severity of the crises you face and save valuable time.
3) Eliminate distractions. Studies have shown that checking for new emails and looking at your phone again and again are addictive behaviors that take an enormous toll on your ability to focus and attend to what is most important. A momentary look at our phone to check an alert will take, on average, 90 seconds to get your focus back on task. Add up each alert and it means hours of time each day distracted by your phone. Put that thing in airplane mode when you need to write that report or during a meeting. Ban phones from meetings to encourage full participation and interaction. It also fosters better participation and interaction with others.
Politely tell chatty Cathy (or Charles) that you can’t talk right now, and schedule a time later if it is important. If you are chatty Charles, stop assuming their time is yours. This is different than building relationships by genuinely being interested in others, giving feedback, and following up. Know the difference and choose wisely.
There are many other distractions not mentioned here. What is drawing your attention? What will you do about it?
4) Schedule time for Q2 and Priority tasks. Look at your calendar. Is it filled only with meetings set by you and others? Who is in control of your attention? When you schedule time for your focused attention, you carve out the time you need to get priorities done. Schedule the Q2 time for planning, task prioritization, and relationship building to make everything else work better.
So what will you do to maintain your attention to focus on what matters most? Gaining this control gives you the focus that will make all the difference.