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Managing attention instead of time

Sometimes, at the end of a busy day it’s really hard to figure out where the time went. In fact, according to Gallup’s research, 80% of people don’t have the time to do what they want to get done each day. Time poor people experience higher levels of anxiety and stress, their health and productivity at work are diminished, and on a broader level, time poverty accounts for billions in productivity cost to organisations each year.

But very often, the root of the problem is not managing time, but managing attention. Distraction is one of the biggest hurdles to high quality work, costing the economy almost 1 trillion dollars annually. The problem is not just that we’re getting distracted from work - it’s that we’re getting distracted from important work by other work. How many times have we sat down with the intention to complete an in-depth task, only to be distracted by an urgent email from a client or a colleague? Work comes at us from different directions all at once and it often feels like there is no time to stop.

Important versus urgent

Distractions and task switching take a toll on the quality of your team’s work and keep them in a constant reactive mode, leaving no time to reflect and apply their experience and skills to benefit the business – the very reason why the organisation hired them in the first place.

The attention issue is not just an individual skills gap, but a wider cultural problem, often tolerated by senior leadership. Many organisations have a culture where all communication carries the same level of presumed urgency and an immediate response is expected. Leaders who create an environment that undermines focus and don’t communicate a clear vision unintentionally impede their team’s ability to focus and produce high quality work.

When leadership is clear on how day-to-day behaviours align with various roles and the overall mission of the organisation, it’s easier to filter through the irrelevant noise and take effective action. Identifying and staying focused on the big picture can highlight to employees the important over seemingly urgent.

Balancing time for work and leisure

According to Harvard Business Review, CEOs have, on average about 2.1 hours a day for downtime – and even this time is highly fragmented during the day. Yet, some of them are still able to find time for hobbies in between the solid blocks in their calendars. CEOs state that their leisure interests help them to cope with the demands of the leadership role, improve their performance and provide a welcome humility lesson. Finding time for themselves strengthens their authentic leadership and may simply make them a better leader. PayPal’s CEO Dan Schulman credits practicing martial arts with a series of leadership lessons, from “never standing still” to keeping calm in a crisis to avoid unnecessary conflict. In a recent interview he stated: “I’ve learned more about leadership from martial arts than I have from my formal education.”

Time is a precious resource and rethinking how to use it better can maximise individual and organisational success. At Acumen, we offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes. Our ‘Time management’ programme is designed for those that wish to improve their personal time management and effectiveness and covers all aspects of the subject including establishing priorities, defining objectives, reviewing how time is consumed, identifying time wasters, delegating effectively and developing a practical action plan. For more information contact

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