Attention is our most valuable asset

In today’s complex and demanding workplace, an organisation’s most valuable asset is no longer people’s time, it’s their attention.

Attention is defined as what we each choose to focus on and what we decide to ignore. Thus, accelerating the growth of an organization requires leaders to keep their team keenly focused and concentrating on the right things.

The battle for people’s attention is intense. From morning till evening, we are assaulted by a barrage of emails, texts, IMs, incessant streams of meetings, and urgency sirens wailing from every direction. Our mindshare is further torn between the latest office banter and worry about our own standing within the organization.

Responding to this onslaught disrupts concentration, scatters our focus and hampers productivity. No wonder it’s so difficult to get everything done!

Our attention is sharp at the start of the day. We arrive at our desk with coffee and a plan to tackle the vital aspects of our job. Almost immediately, we are sidetracked, scrambling to resolve the typical snags and hitches of running a business. Founders and senior leaders often share their frustrations with being “stuck in the weeds” and hours lost to “a hamster wheel” of trivialities.

The conventional response to overloaded schedules is tackling numerous projects simultaneously. Unfortunately, multi-tasking is a productivity myth. According to a Stanford University study, our brains do not perform optimally toggling from one task to another. The relentless start-up and shutdown of different topics drains our energy, dulls thought processes and reduces the quality of execution. We end up getting less done and leaving longer To Do lists for the following day.

A better approach is to manage our attention. By creating longer stretches of intense focus and minimizing distractions, anyone can improve their productivity by 10-15% or more.  With these changes to work patterns and attitudes, the entire organization can experience a boost in performance while becoming quicker to market.

Here are five simple steps to more disciplined attention:

1. Prioritize essential work: Take on the most impactful endeavors first, those big ideas where you deliver your greatest value to the organization. Dedicate 80% of your attention to completing these projects and 20% to the rest.

2. Establish Focus Blocks: Schedule a series of hour-long windows throughout the week for uninterrupted concentration on your essential work.

3. Turn off the noise: Close down email and other communications chatter for extended periods of the day to limit distractions. Stick your phone in a drawer – the world won’t miss you as much as you think.

4. Minimize meeting time: Meetings are organizational black holes for attention. Everyone gets caught in the vortex! Try shortening your meetings to 30 minutes or less. Pass on meetings where your presence is not critical. Leverage collaborative platforms to get visibility on progress and deliver your input. Be wary of status updates, check-ins and large gatherings extending over 60 minutes.

5. Delegate, delegate, delegate: Give away tactical work along with the autonomy and the authority to make decisions. Others will thank you for the opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities.

Your attention is precious. Your team’s attention is even more crucial. Guard against distractions and be intentional about focus.  Create a culture encouraging team members to set aside ample time and a quiet place for deep concentration on their most important work.  Then watch the organization prosper!

Dave Smith is an Associate with Impact Americas. He's an experienced executive coach and organizational strategist. He provides counsel on progressive organizational methods which spawn innovation and place customer experience at the center of the firm.