Manage Your Actions, Not Your Time.
When a day ends and I have not accomplished what I planned to do, I do not believe that I have mismanaged my time.
I mismanaged myself.
I let my attention go to places other than where it needed to be that day for me to accomplish my priorities.
Managing your attention, not your time, is the most difficult challenge of our age.
As Jeremy Hunter, founding director of the Executive Mind Leadership Institute puts it, “Attention is the basic resource or energy you have to invest in your experience. You are what you attend to. It’s that simple.”
But in a world where we are over-stimulated from birth to death, the ability to fully pay attention to one thing for a prolonged period of time is a skill children are not taught in school, students are not taught in university, and adults are not taught on the job.
Yet we need to know how to focus.
We can establish all the best time-tables in the world, plan our priorities with skill and understanding of what needs to be done, and then let it all dwindle into nothingness because we could focus our attention where it needed to be that day.
This is a challenge we all face and it is not likely to get any easier. We all need to find the ways to be attentive to the matter at hand.
I made some real changes in my life the day I stopped building my agenda based on time and instead built it by asking one simple question:
“What do I need to expend most of my energy on today?”
I would then build my day-planner and then go over it with a second question to be answer. That was: “Is this the best way to use my energy?”
I have that part down to a science now. But the part that is hardest for me and for many people to handle is how to handle interruptions.
I do not want to cut a friend short, or be brusque with a team member. I want my family to be able to contact me when they need to.
I am not a person who can say “don’t bother me no matter what” because blessedly, my friends and colleagues are there for me when I need them, and I want to be there for them too.
What I can control is only looking at my emails three times throughout my working day. I can text two words if that keeps a project moving. I can try to schedule the bulk of my meetings on one day only and keep four out of five days clear for acting on the results of those meetings.
Many of my days are lost to travel, but I have learned to make any airport my temporary office and not be distracted. Long waits don’t bother me; they are opportunities to work on a project or a presentation.
I have learned that just knowing what to focus my attention on isn’t the same as moving it there and keeping it there.
By and large, recognizing the importance of attention and minimizing interruptions will see you double your production within one week.
But if you want to increase still one more level, you have to fight those things that undermine your focus.
A common one, and one I fight constantly, is attempting too much. Have you ever charted out a week and had two items left from your Monday, which you then transferred to Tuesday? By Tuesday night, you have accomplished the two from Monday, but you are now left with five other things not done.
The undone tasks mount, and by Friday, you are starting your workday at 5 a.m. trying to finish up three days of tasks in one day. You are set up for failure before you even begin, and your week ends with you feeling bad about yourself when in reality, you produced an amazing amount of work.
If this is a common problem for you, start working with a timer. Perhaps the task you thought took 45 minutes really takes 1 ½ hours. Another task you assume is a 15-minute effort takes 25 minutes. It doesn’t take long for you to see where the issues are arising and to chart a more realistic schedule.
You will still get calls from clients or other people who are in a state of crisis and they call to ask you to add them to your already packed schedule that week.
When that happens, weigh the situation carefully. Look over the week and see what could reasonably be moved so you can respond to the crisis of a customer; that is how relationships are built. If that becomes habitual behavior for the customer, however, you have to recognize at some point that someone else’s crisis doesn’t automatically become your crisis, just because you are aware of it.
Be firm and reasonable. Work in a solution as soon as possible, but maintain control of what your attention should be focused on that day.
Managing yourself, you will find, is just as elusive sometimes as trying to manage time. But in the end, by focusing your attention to the task at hand, you will accomplish much more than if you allow yourself to be distracted and flit from project to project.
Paula Morand is a leadership building, revenue boosting, strategy expanding keynote speaker, author and visionary. This dreaming big and being bold leadership expert and brand strategist brings her vibrant energy, humor and wisdom to ignite individuals, organizations and communities to lead change, growth and impact in a more bold fashion.
24 years, 27,000 clients, 34 countries, 15 books, former radio personality, 11x award winning entrepreneur and humorous emcee.
Check out Paula’s bestselling books on Amazon: “Bold Courage: How Owning Your Awesome Changes Everything”, “Dreaming BIG and Being BOLD: Inspiring stories from Trailblazers, Visionaries and Change Makers” book series; and her newest release “Bold Vision: A Leader’s Playbook for Managing Growth”.
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