Time management is all very well but it’s not enough. Here’s how to incorporate attention management to be more productive.
Most people I know in business have excellent time management skills. They set out their goals, they prioritise their work, and they make a daily task list to get things done.
In days gone by that was enough. Planning meant that work could be scheduled into the time available. By and large, an organised person could get all their work done quite routinely. Imagine that?
“As soon as we check our email in the morning, our task list is already out of date.”
The problem with time management
But those time management techniques were designed for a business world where people had control over their time. It was a business world without email, mobile phones, i-messenger, apps, iPads, tablets and social media. Blocks of uninterrupted time were easier to find and in general, the plan for the day could be completed as expected.
“This will impact business growth as the focus becomes less strategic and more operational.”
Technological advances have completely changed our work environment. Constant communication brings a steady stream of new requests and ever-changing deadlines.
So allocating time to a task doesn’t mean it gets done. As soon as we check our email in the morning, our task list is already out of date. And when everything seems urgent, it is impossible to stick to our priorities. As the day goes on the work plan can go out the window.
“Understand where your focus is going throughout the day.”
The steady stream of requests means comes with an expectation of almost instant response time. So we work in a reactive, responsive mode.
And this is great for customer service and team cooperation. But it’s not productive for the achievement of the plans and goals. And ultimately this will impact business growth as the focus becomes less strategic and more operational.
“Spot patterns, track who and what distracts you. Use a time log for a few days to get the data on this.”
So in a way time management techniques have never been so important. But we have to supplement these techniques with skills to manage our attention. How good are your attention management skills? Is this something you have ever thought about?
Here are some tips on how you can become more aware of your attention and then how to manage it.
1. Understand your attention
Do some initial work to understand where your focus is going throughout the day. Spot patterns, track who and what distracts you. Use a time log for a few days to get the data on this. Make a list of those attention stealers to remind you what to avoid.
Then use a timer so you can check your progress versus your plan during the day. This will help you see where you have drifted on to another task without realising it. But it also enables you to get back on track before too much time is lost. After a while, you develop the skill yourself, so the timer isn’t required.
“To give you the confidence to make decisions you should be clear about your responsibilities to your clients.”
2. Protect your attention
We often feel obliged to respond to new requests, new emails or interruptions. It can be hard to say no to your customers or your colleagues. But we often end up working on something that has a lower priority than the work we planned to do.
To give you the confidence to make decisions you should be clear about your responsibilities to your clients. What is a reasonable response time for clients? What has been agreed? Are you doing tasks that are not in your role?
With this knowledge, it can be easier to say no or at last negotiate a different response time.
“If your business allows it, turn off the phones at least some of the time.”
3. Develop the right environment
If you run your own business take a look at how easy or difficult it is for people to focus. Is there a noise level that can be improved? Can you work together to give each person some “Do not disturb” time throughout the week?
- Encourage people to focus on one task rather than multi-tasking.
- If your business allows it, turn off the phones at least some of the time.
- Provide a quiet room as a contrast to the open plan office.
- Offer your office to your team when you are not there.
- Allow the use of noise-blocking headphones if it doesn’t compromise your service delivery.
- Above all, be creative. Come up with your own solutions for attention management that will suit your business.
Be proactive, take control and be productive
So let’s give some time to attention management. It is one of the essential business skills in today’s workplace. Combine this with the classic time management techniques and watch your productivity soar.
Guide by Moira Dunne, BeProductive.ie.