Wednesday, October 26, 2020

Right Attention

Fragmented, distracted attention is the curse of modern leadership. People find themselves continually interrupted by call, emails and all manner of people demanding instant attention. The result is frustration and exhaustion, while nothing is ever properly completed. Since how you direct your attention controls what you think and what you do, it's important always to know where you're placing your attention.

Your attention is precious. You have only a finite amount of it, so how you use it is important. Don't be tricked by all the nonsense about multitasking. Multitasking never adds to your attention. It's just a fashionable term to hide an ugly reality: that people who multitask fragment their attention between actions, passing each one off with less than it deserves.

Your attention is finite. You have only 100 percent. So if you split it between two actions, whatever you earmark to each one must add up to 100 percent. Split it evenly and each gets no more than 50 percent. Favor one task over the other and one gets maybe 60 or 70 percent and the other 30 to 40 percent. People who way they juggle four or five tasks at once, can't give any of them more than about 20 percent of attention. Ask yourself this question. What tasks can you do well on 10 to 20 percent attention or less?

We're already seeing how the fashion for instant availability by cellphone is causing road accidents. Every time some driver cuts me up or makes a dangerous manoever, I look to see if he or she has a cellphone jammed against an ear. Sure enough, most times that's the case. When some states and cities have to pass laws to force drivers to put the cellphone down while driving, you know something is badly out of line.

To practice Slow Leadership, the first step is to stop sleeping with the enemy. Don't collude with any practice that fragments your attention or prevents you using it as it needs to be used.
  • Control distractions. Make it clear you are not always available, save in a true emergency. Shut off the cellphone. Check emails only at set intervals. The world won't end.

  • Avoid multitasking like the plague it is. Take tasks in sequence and try to complete each (or reach a sensible point to pause) before moving to the next. Multitasking is a badge of stupidity, not a mark of toughness.

  • Pay attention to your attention. Learn to direct it where you want. Don't let it be hijacked by other people.

  • Set priorities and stick to them. Other people will always want attention instantly, but if you're patient in making it clear this isn't the norm, they'll get the message. Very few things truly cannot wait.

  • Schedule time for thinking and reflection. You need it. It's necessary to keep your mind working and your creativity available. Don't allow yourself to put it at the bottom of your agenda. You'll never reach it.

The first duty of a leader is to set priorities and manage resources. Your attention is the scarcest resource you have. Overwork and fatigue reduce the attention you have available. Interruptions and distractions fragment it into parcels too small to be useful. Allowing anyone to contact you at any time scatters what's left until it becomes lost and hopelessly confused.

Yes, there are pressures. Yes, other people do expect instant answers. Yes, people do keep piling more and more tasks on you. Yes, people who rush about yelling how busy they are often do seem to be the organization's darlings. And no, you can't blame any of these for your problem.

Whose attention is it? If you don't do what's right, who will? If enough people are willing to resist what has become a mindless fashion, maybe things will change. It's surely worth trying.

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