Trust me Your overwhelm has less to do with having no time!
Only when we harness our attention can we truly get the quality and quantity of our life's work done!
Never enough time 'at the end of the day'?
Always too much on your TO DO list?
Can’t keep up with what’s being asked of you?
Perhaps you have more dirty clothes than clean clothes, you’re earning frequent flyer points at the local takeaways… and if you could only remember where you left those tickets you printed….
Hang on, why did I even come to the kitchen right now??
Sometimes the path to less overwhelm is less about time management and more about attention management. We just don’t seem to be able to focus and pay attention to the present moment anymore. Which makes it easy to feel like something has gone wrong in our brain when we can’t remember what someone said to us just two short minutes ago!
Let me reassure you. There is nothing wrong with your brain.
Your attention hasn’t collapsed, it’s literally been STOLEN from you!
Ads, dings, pop ups, bleeps, pings and bells... all trying to draw your attention to something you ‘should’ do, ‘should’ own or ‘should’ look like. There is no end to the distractions.
Our world of immediacy and plenty has created an impatience in us. We struggle to pay attention to one thing, because we’re constantly being distracted by other, shinier, louder and brighter things. Operating from a place of fear that if you don’t attend to something in 3 seconds, you’ll miss out, someone will reject you, or 'find you out' or worse than all of the above, you’ll call yourself a failure.
So instead of sticking to the task in front you, you drop it, attend to the ding and start pinging your attention like a pingy-thing from Facebook to email to report to client back to text to shopping list then finally back to report. Where was I up to? Damn, lost that train of thought….
This chaotic symphony of bells and whistles can leave you feel like you’re forever JUGGLING! Juggling comes at a cost – it’s called the switch cost effect. The end result is that you do all of these things much less competently and it takes 23 minutes to get back to level of focus you had before you were interrupted or distracted.
Time – gone! :(
Here's the thing: if you focus on one thing, well, it’s no coincidence that you feel better about yourself and get more done. Think about it - anything you’re proud of required focus and attention and challenge. Studying? A physical challenge? Learning a new recipe? Standing up in front of a group to present?
When you pay attention and focus, not only do you get more done, its better quality and you (seriously!) achieve more things. And this increases your feelings of competence and confidence.
But when your ability to focus and pay attention breaks down you can’t achieve your goals. And your feelings of stress, incompetency and self esteem all take a hit.
It’s no wonder we’re running out of time for everything in our lives. We’re simply trying to do too much at one time, because we’ve lost the ability to pay attention to The One Thing We Are Doing Right Now.
Want to test the 'cost' of this juggling right now?
This is a fun multi-tasking test that will take 2 minutes!
Take a piece of paper - set your timer and see how long it takes you to write all 26 letters of the alphabet down, THEN write numbers from 1 to 26. Stop the clock.
Now repeat the exercise - with a clean sheet of paper (no peaking at your last one!). And write 26 numbers and letters together. A1, B2, C3 etc until you get to Z26. Stop the clock.
How much longer did it take you the 2nd time around when you were asking your brain to flick from one sequence to another? Did you make any mistakes along the way? Did you get to Z25 not Z26 or Y26 instead of Y25??
Point being - when we focus on One Thing At A Time - a list of letters OR a list of numbers - we do a better, quicker job.
Was this correct for you?
Let's get practical - what can we DOOOOO?
Let’s bring this into a work context.
If you feel you have your employees’ time but not their attention (too much time on Facebook, never focused on one task, missing deadlines, can’t go to the toilet without their phone (sigh!)) – check this out.
Johann Hari’s new book Stolen Focus. While he’s got a reputation as a questionable author it’s still a fascinating and insightful read.
Johann talks about two approaches to rebuilding our ability to pay attention.
First the DEFENCE – it’s the individual effort. For example, put your phone in a lock box for an hour so you can pay attention to a piece of work, or to your kids playing or to the speaker at a conference. Yes, we can each do that, hardly rocket science, but it's bloody hard right? Something’s stopping us.
That’s why we need the OFFENCE. What can we do collectively to make playing defence that much easier? It would be nice to think we can take on the algorithm giants like google or Facebook who profit from trying to steal our attention. And I’m sure one day the collective movement in this space will happen, the same way it did with woman voting, unleaded petrol and apartheid. But in the meantime, we can start in our workplaces.
What needs to change in your organisation to make it permissible not to be contactable after hours?
What would it take for people to feel they can turn up to meetings without having to bring their phones with them?
Anyhooo, so much I’d love to get into – really just wanted to plant the seed – time management is not our problem. It’s attention management that needs, well, our attention!