I like to think of it as a by-product of this hi-tech, instant-gratification, sound-byte world we live in. But I am guessing that it has plagued people for a lot longer than that. So few of us are taught how to focus our attention on the things we really find important, and then stay focused until we reach our goal. Oh sure there are time management methodologies can help to a certain extent, by teaching you how to distinguish between what is important and what is urgent. These methodologies can work if you….wait for it….focus on using them correctly. Oh come on you knew that was coming!
A simple time management tool might have you do the following:
- List what needs to get done, and when it needs to happen.
- Decide its importance.
- Make a to-do list that ranks your tasks in order of importance.
- Work through the list until you are done.
Let’s look at it from a different perspective. I call this a Buddhist perspective because that is where I learned it, and one thing that Buddhism has taught me is to notice things first, really become aware of what is actually happening and why, and then make a change if change is indeed warranted.
Who is in control?
Another way to look at your attention or your focus is to ask yourself who is in control? Do you let yourself get hijacked by way of email, walk-ups, easily being bored with the task at hand? Then you are not in control of your own attention.
The question is how do you regain control and start focusing on what’s important. It’s helpful to recognize that the wandering of our attention is an event that not only do we have control over but actually requires us to make a choice. Most of us simply don’t recognize that choice and so we get easily distracted. It’s a very simple process once that once you learn you can employ whenever you need to.
Step 1 – The first thing to do is simply recognize when you have lost your focus. If it’s been several minutes before you realize you are off track, then look back at the last little while until you come to the culprit. Maybe the email icon (or sound) flashed on your screen. Turn those off, by the way. Perhaps you overheard a snippet of a conversation that reminded you of <fill in the blank> which caused you to <fill in the blank again>. Whatever it was, notice it. Write it down, ideally with the length of time you were distracted, then go back to your task at hand.
That’s it, just notice it and write it down. After a week or two of doing this you should see some patterns and you may even be shocked by how much time was spent doing unimportant time-filler activities.
Step 2 – Once you are good at recognizing how you are losing your focus, then you can concentrate on the moment of decision. This is where you make the conscious active decision to stay on track or go off track. If you decide that going off-task is the thing to do right now, then fine do it, as long as it is a conscious decision, and not an unconscious one. Continue to keep track of when you are going off-task only this time record why.
Step 3 – After a week or so of doing this you should see a change in pattern. You should notice less time-filler activities and more things accomplished. Most importantly you should be feeling better about being in control of your attention rather than it being in control of you.
Note that if you are making a lot of conscious decisions to go off-track and have valid reasons for doing so, then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your task-list or priorities. Perhaps get your manager involved in the conversation or your significant other.
I’d love to know if this helps anyone. Leave me a comment.