Time Management is so Yesterday: Today’s Threat is Attention Management

Imagine you are headed to work on any particular day. You are feeling pressed to complete a specific project or task that MUST be completed that day no matter what. (It could be your “frog” that I talked about a few weeks ago.) Upon reaching your office, however, you notice a line of people waiting for you, all with a different matter that they need you to attend to. So you decide to quickly attend to each one. Once inside your office, you notice your voice mailbox has some messages with still more important matters, so, thinking it won’t hurt to put your project off for a few minutes more, you make a few calls in response to your messages. You turn on your computer to notice your email box has a handful of other easier-to-attain tasks so you quickly go through the list and respond to those matters. Whew! Ok, now time for your project. What?! 3:00 p.m. already? Where did the time go?

There has been research in recent years that claims time management and multi-tasking may be doing more harm than help to productivity. In an age where social media and digital convergence are changing the way we communicate and interact, research finds the real assassin of our time is our ability (or lack of ability) to keep our attention for long periods of time. We live in an era of information overload, all available instantly, literally at our fingertips. We have become so accustomed to instant gratification and constantly feeding our curiosity by clicking on the next link or opening the next app. Regainyourtime.com claims we are essentially giving ourselves Attention Deficit Disorder.

I started out wanting to write a post today on time management, but through a little research, I quickly learned that time cannot be controlled until we first learn to control our attention. Philosopher William James said, “My experience is what I agree to attend to.” With the technology that surrounds us, perhaps we don’t “agree” to anything, but rather we live in a constant state of reaction--reacting to the notifications that pop up on the screen, the ringing, the beeping texts, the vibrating phone in our pocket. They all aim for one purpose: to seduce and solicit your attention.

So this “Information Age” we live in is being replaced with the “Attention Age”. Studies have also shown that young children are becoming increasingly bored unless they have constant stimulation. In addition, teens are scoring poorly on cognitive functioning tests that are meant to measure deep thought and reflection.

The problem is carried on into adulthood and is affecting productivity in the workplace. According to Harvard Business Review, distraction is costing businesses nearly 1 trillion dollars annually. So, what can be done? The first step is to treat this issue as a company culture issue that requires the attention of all senior executives.

“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” - Michael Altshuler

Prioritize: It is human nature to gravitate first toward what is fun and exciting. Inc contributor Lee Colan suggests asking yourself one question: “If I could accomplish one thing right now, what would it be?” How you answer will indicate where your priorities are. He then suggested using the Eisenhower Method, made famous by former World War II general and US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. “After identifying the tasks confronting him, he drew a square and divided it into four quadrants. Each task was then designated to one of the four quadrants, according to which of the 4 D's was the most appropriate: Do it, dump it, delegate it, or defer it.” Eisenhower's mantra was "What's important is seldom urgent, and what's urgent is seldom important."

Distinguish between “Urgent” and “Important”: Urgent matters are time-sensitive and must be accomplished first, whereas important matters need to be accomplished, but perhaps not right away. Consider the channels in which various tasks are communicated. Email messages are rarely meant to have an immediate response. Instant messaging, text or a phone call is better used for urgent matters. Messaging is becoming all-inclusive, meaning you get trivial and critical messages and everything in between. It is best to use, and encourage your employees to use, varying channels of communication depending on their urgency. Consider mentioning, in an email, the best way to contact you for urgent matters. Colan suggests, “Staff, especially Millennials, increasingly avoid the phone and in-person communication, yet sensitive information and urgent information are better suited to these channels.”

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” -Stephen R. Covey

Tell Us: In line with Eisenhower’s prioritizing quadrant, what will you decide to “dump” from your to-do list today?

Written by Mike Williams

I am a serial entrepreneur with more than 20 years of business experience. My goal with this blog is to pass on some of what I have learned in order to help you achieve success in business.

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