Every day, we have a continuous stream of priorities, bombarding us and competing for our attention. It is often difficult to keep focus on what we want to achieve when people and tasks keep asking for our input. A key opportunity to increase our Mental Toughness is to increase our attentional control. So how do we keep our focus?
In a recent post by Jeremy Hunter from Mindful Magazine some great insights were provided outlining how you have the opportunity to manage your attention and not your time. I have summarised some of the insights following.
If there is any one ‘secret’ to effectiveness, it is concentration.
—Peter F. Drucker
When distractions abound, how do you find focus to get something done? You can make Attention a Priority.
Attention is fundamental to our success. Attention is the basic resource or energy you have to invest in your experience. Basically, you are what you attend to.
We often take the thought of managing our attention for granted. Even in the education system, skills revolving around thinking are significantly emphasized, but what is underemphasized, or ignored altogether are the skills of attending, seeing, and perceiving (let alone feeling).
Management philosopher Peter F. Drucker understood that going forward truly educated (and effective) people “will need trained perception fully as much as analysis.” In a quickly-changing world, effective people will need to clearly see as much as clearly think. The starting point of this is managing attention and focus. So many stimuli compete for attention, any hope for effectiveness rests on being more conscious of how you use it alone and together with others.
Our opportunity for ourselves and those we work with is to make a priority around attention. The more you do that, the better able you will be to stay true to your goals, perform toward your best, and engage the world in a meaningful way.
So many stimuli compete for attention, any hope for effectiveness rests on being more conscious of how you use it alone and together with others.
1. Manage Attention Not Time
People tend to think managing time forms the foundation for able action. Even Drucker thought, “Time is an executive’s scarcest and most precious resource.” However, I believe this is a misperception. Who actually can manage time? Can you make the future come faster or return to the past? Unless you’re a sci-fi hero, no. What people actually do in the flow of time is manage attention.
For example, you may have a big work project you need to spend time on, but if you spend that time focusing on what you are going to cook that night for dinner, or what you are going to do on the weekend, you might say you have mismanaged your time. In reality, your attention wasn’t where it needed to be. No one manages time. We manage our attention.
2. Name Your Priorities
This sounds simple, but we simply don’t label our priorities often enough. All too often, we allow the momentum of whatever we’ve been doing to make our decisions for us. Habits are great as long as they’re serving our true intentions or a situation’s real needs. Otherwise, we wake up and go through the motions while missing the important things.
So, the first and most essential step is knowing what your intentions are. Ask yourself: “What’s vital for me to put energy into right now”?” or “Is this the best use of my energy?” These questions can help clarify what’s essential. Intentions also help to say “no” to the less important (but perhaps more urgent). Clarifying intentions brings greater direction to investing energy.
Habits are great as long as they’re serving our true intentions or a situation’s real needs. Otherwise, we wake up and go through the motions while missing the important things.
Ask yourself these questions to clarify your priorities:
1. What are you doing to prioritise your day and develop an action plan when you are inevitably interrupted?
2. What is okay to say “no” to?
3. How will you handle interruptions when they arise?
4. Do you hold an assumption that you must respond to any interruption?
5. What are you afraid of if you do not respond immediately to an email?
Priorities apply both to the short- and long-term. In the moment, it means choosing where attention should focus right now. Finish this memo due tomorrow or look-up that Yoda quote you can’t quite recall?
In the long run, where we put our attention is central to a sense of meaning and purpose.
3. Conduct an Attention Audit to Improve Focus
Knowing where attention should go isn’t going to help if you can’t stay there. Distractions destroy focused attention. It is possible to make great strides in creating an environment that promotes and protects attention.
Look at your environment and what is there to support focus or hinder it. Evelyn, a frustrated marketing executive, looked at her workspace through the lens of attention. She immediately noticed that the office copy machine was placed outside her door. The dots connected. She was frustrated because while waiting for their copies, her well-intentioned colleagues would stick their head in her door and chat. This happened several times an hour and she could rarely find focused flow. Eureka! A phone call to facilities to move the machine and she finally enjoyed a day of satisfying concentration.
Look around, what can you do right now? Do you work in an open office environment? What signals can you send that say, “Don’t bother me?”
These steps are only the beginning. Each of these strategies can be built out and expanded upon.
Increasing focus, concentration and attention can lead to the attainment of greater productivity, goal achievement and increases in Mental Toughness. Be patient with yourself as you start exploring opportunities to increase attentional control. These essential skills take time to cultivate and explore to find the strategies that help each of us stay effective in turbulent times.
If you would like to read the full article, you can do so here.
Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Organisational Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a member of the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness practitioner. Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, behaviour and wellbeing. You can find her at www.bakjacconsulting.com or firstname.lastname@example.org