We dwell so much on “time” – we need more of it, less of it, want it to speed up, slow down. We so desperately want to control it. We’ve spent so much time futilely trying to control time that we even personified it as an old, yet unwavering gray-bearded man. So rather than muttering profanities under our breath at the clock, we should give up on “time management” and focus on “attention management.” As the proverb goes, “Ten percent of life is how you make it. Ninety percent of life is how you take it.”
Attention management – what we pay attention to, for how long and at what intensity – is all about choices we make. Sounds simple, but it ain’t easy. I struggle with it all the time. In fact, I am writing this blog as a way to remind myself of these things. I hope you get something out of it, too. These are some of the keys as I have learned them (some the hard way):
– Find, embrace and pursue your Highest And Best Use. You don’t see 4-star generals scrubbing latrines, and while they certainly have that option and are capable, it’s not the best use of their skills or experience
. Your HABU is not something that comes easy, either. It’s something you need to stretch just a bit
to do really well. If it comes too easy, keep searching for it. One caveat to note: this is not a free pass from the dirty work. Sometimes your highest and best use will be to scrub the porcelain throne. Work like that keeps you grounded and builds character. The trick is knowing when to shift.
Start the hardest thing first – When looking at your to-do list in the morning, find the hardest thing, and start that first, even if you only spend 10 minutes on it. Starting it is always the hardest part, and then you will have the hardest part of the hardest thing accomplished. Now…get some coffee.
The irony of Outlook – For something with a brand connotation of “holistic vision,” it can force you to see no further than 15 inches away from your face. It’s such an amazing organizational and communication tool if used correctly. If not, it, and everyone vying for your attention, will own you. Here are a few things I have learned that can help:
Don’t accept every Outlook invitation – I know; you get invited to LOTS of meetings and feel compelled to attend if someone felt you were worthy to be invited. You can’t be everything to everyone. Look to your HABU and decide if it threatens it.
The clean inbox – It’s futile. Go through email to make sure you aren’t missing anything you feel demands your attention, but don’t feel you need to have it emptied. Newman in the show “Seinfeld” explains it best. I do, however, do some “spring cleaning” once or twice a year to go through all the old ones in the basement of my email chain. The end of December seems to be a good time for me to do it.
The art of saying “No” – This may be the toughest lesson to learn in the bunch. If you are adhering to your HABU, you can’t say yes to everyone who wants your attention. You’d be surprised at the response when you say “no” politely, professionally and for good reason. They may be disappointed at first, but will respect you for it.
Teach – It really is worth the time to pass along information, learnings and guidance to others, even if it slows you down temporarily. It makes you stronger, them stronger and creates a team that can do more and do it better – and it allows you to focus on your HABU.
Don’t read the comments – After reading an article online, don’t ever read the comments. Ever.
Moments of solitude – One time each day at work, be alone with your thoughts, even for a few minutes. Don’t interact with anyone or anything electronic. Ideally, walk outside and sit in the grass, on a bench, or even on the curb. Watch people. Watch the way the leaves twist in the wind. If you can’t get outside, find a corner and mentally zone out for a few minutes. It’s refreshing. Seriously. And you deserve it.
Be in the moment – The most important thing, always, is to just be in the moment and truly focus on the thing at hand. Multitasking is BS. You can’t do it, or at least you can’t do two (or more) things really well at one time. This is most important out of the office. When spending time with friends, family – anyone you care about – absorb those interactions. That moment will never happen again. Resist the urge to respond to an acquaintance’s text right away, or to check in with your location on Facebook. Your life, which is limited and precious, is happening in front of you, not online. Enjoy it.
I work at these every day, and fail at least one of them every day. But I know that tomorrow is the day when I can do anything better than I did it today. Every day is an opportunity. I’d love to know what tips you would add to this list.