Your attention is being stolen (and you’re letting it!)

“Hold that thought for just a moment.”

“Let me grab this call.”

“Now, where were we?”

How often have you uttered these phrases in conversations that were interrupted by a phone call, text message, or someone just popping into your office? How often have you been in the middle of a project or task that was stopped midstream to respond to someone else’s immediate need for your attention?

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, you are allowing your attention to be stolen.

In a world full of open-door policies and open-office concepts, our attention is like a wad of cash sitting in an unoccupied, unlocked car. It’s ripe for the taking, tempting anyone who comes within reach of it.

Attention is our new currency and where we spend it is a choice. It certainly doesn’t imply that some things are always more or less important than others; it just means you must choose what is most deserving of your attention in that moment.

For instance, if you are on a deadline for a high-stakes project, it’s okay to silence your ringer, unplug from devices, close your door and concentrate – free from distractions. The deadline for that project is your highest priority. You don’t want to permit anyone or anything from stealing your attention away from it. Once the project is over, take a small break to rest, recover and refocus. Then, evaluate what else is required of you and prioritize your attention accordingly.

It’s that simple.

When you allow others to steal your focus from what you need to pay attention to, you give them time you can never get back. As a result, you feel the pressure of tighter deadlines which then challenges you to work at a faster rate of speed. When you can’t work faster, you wind up working longer, then cutting into the time you need to rest and recover with friends, family, and loved ones.  In the end, you feel overwhelmed and overstressed – and for what? To allow someone to have your attention to meet their needs?

It’s not about being selfish, or about making others feel less important. It is about realizing we each only get 1,440 minutes in a day and we must choose how to spend it. If we want to live a life of more significance, we must pay attention to what matters most and implement methods necessary to do so.

Here are 10 tips to help you pay attention to what matters most in your day:

  • Schedule your day. Use your calendar to set aside times to return phone calls, answer emails, and respond to social media. Commit to your calendar of time as if it were a member. Don’t be late and refrain from going over time.
  • Silence your phone. Whether it’s a desk phone or cell phone, turn off the ringer. We have this brilliant tool called voicemail and it’s there for a reason. Phone calls can be returned when you are ready to give them the time and attention they deserve.
  • Close your door. The idea of an open-door-policy was never intended to allow anyone to barge in at any time. Schedule times in your day and let others know when you’re available to chat. Setting boundaries will not only ensure you can focus on time-sensitive tasks, it also ensures your undivided attention is given to those who need you during open-office hours.
  • Clear your clutter. Few things can steal concentration quite like incomplete projects sitting on your desk silently begging for your attention. Whether it’s papers in need of filing or projects yet to be completed, keep them organized in such a way that your workspace is clear from distractions.
  • Maximize your productive times of day. Some of us are morning birds while others are night owls. Capitalize on your most productive time of day to complete the tasks requiring more attention, thought, and creativity.
  • Cancel meetings. 45% of meetings attended by professionals are thought to be a waste of time. If you’re attending meetings for the sake of attending, stop. If you’re hosting meetings out of routine, cancel them. Do not attend or host a meeting without a legitimate, well-thought out agenda. Know why you’re being asked to attend and ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • Take routine breaks. No one can give their undivided attention to one project hours and hours on end. Take frequent breaks to step away from your desk, get fresh air, stretch and allow your mind to break from it’s concentrated state. You’ll find a renewed sense of focus upon return.
  • Reciprocate respect. If you want others to respect your time and need for focus, you must start by setting the example. If you create a reputation of popping into coworker’s offices unannounced, they will do the same for you. If you leave voicemails, followed by emails, followed by text messages, expect others to do the same. Demonstrate a respect for the time of others and respect for yours will follow.
  • Reiterate priorities. Whether you are a leader or individual contributor, knowing the priorities of your Credit Union is key to your success. Ensure you understand them thoroughly, repeat them frequently and use them as a filter for your attention.
  • Stop working 24/7. Few of us can operate efficiently or effectively when we are always on call for work. After hours phone calls and emails can make us feel overwhelmed and unable to rest and recover from the day. As a result, our stress levels increase, and our relationships suffer. Your after-hours time must be tightly guarded and given to those who matter most. When you allow yourself to get the rest you need at the end of each day, your ability to focus and concentrate in the work day increases boosting your productivity and accountability.

When you begin to think of attention as our new currency, you can begin to shift your thought process around time as being a limited resource which must be managed responsibly and protected from those who wish to steal it.

Neen James

Neen James

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