Another basic principle of Slow Leadership

Fragmented, distracted attention is the curse of today’s workplaces. People are continually interrupted by phone calls, emails, instant messaging, meetings, 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 taken in 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 many, many actions, thus passing each one off with less than it deserves.

The correct use of attention is critical both to avoiding stress, when you can, and limiting its effects when you cannot. A distracted mind is stressful in itself. So is jumping from task to task, never having the time to do more than apply a quick fix before moving to the next crisis.

Many people act is if their attention is not their own—as if others can demand it at any time, then take it where they want it to go.

Not so. This happens only because you allow it to—because you surrender control of your attention to others. Just because the boss demands that you jump, you don’t have to do no more than ask “how high?” If that’s your attitude, it’s because you have chosen it to be—obedience in return for . . . what? Money? Status? Imagined security? Not being hurt?

Understanding that your attention is always yours, to apply where you choose to apply it, is the first stage in realizing that your experience is as much determined by your own choices as by the action of others or blind chance. It’s a vital step to turning yourself from a passive victim into a human being, fully accountable for his or her own choices and their outcomes.

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 and texting is causing road accidents. Every time some driver cuts me up or makes a dangerous maneuver, I look to see if he or she has a cellphone jammed against an ear. Sure enough, most times that’s the case. When 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. Only morons believe that they can give their attention to driving and handle a cellphone at the same time.

How to get it right

To practice Right Attention, the Slow Leadership way, the first step is to stop sleeping with the enemy. Don’t collude with any practice that fragments or distracts your attention, or prevents you using it as you decide it needs to be used at the time.

  • 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 one (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.

Why it matters

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. Joining in the general foolishness is no way to stop it—or protect yourself from its effects.

Whose attention is it? If you don’t do what’s right, who will? Only if enough people are willing to resist what has become a mindless fashion, will things change.

It’s surely worth trying.

(5 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
 Loading …

Sign up for our Email Newsletter

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Popularity: 70% [?]