Let’s face it. We all claim we want to give more attention to the things in our lives that matter.
But if we’re honest, we struggle.
I know I do.
There are just too many distractions.
The conversation going on down the hall . . . the news break on TV or the radio . . . squirrel.
And there’s that shiny box of chips that’s my constant companion, filled with more information to feed my brain buds than I will ever have time to learn. Right now, mine contains 63 apps, 4 email feeds, 40 podcasts, 22 audiobooks on Audible, and oh, yes, my phone that can connect me to anyone at anytime (and them to me).
Contributing to this dysfunction junction is the hamster in my brain.
You know the one. She’s running around constantly, panicked, saying, “Why didn’t you know THIS already???? Did you see the other thing happening over here?? You don’t want to miss THAT!!!”
Something always wants more attention.
(Please tell me I’m not alone in feeling this way. Hello?)
Truth is, it’s not easy to give more attention.
If you’ve ever struggled to give more attention to the people, work, or projects that matter, I feel ya, buddy.
Or, if you’ve ever been chastised by a colleague or loved one for not offering enough of it to the conversation or activity at hand, I have worn that t-shirt, too.
So I’ve been testing some strategies for you. Several of my clients who want more focus and more control over their time have tried them out, too, with great results.
These strategies may not be enough in a world of infinite choices. But they’re certainly a place to start to give more attention to the people and places that move you forward in your work and life.
Strategy 1: Attend First to Your Values
Of all the gazillion choices in the world, what handful of characteristics do you truly value?
Relationships? Adventure? Beauty? Achievement?
You probably know the values which resonate with you most.
But is your attention in line with them?
I often think of it like this.
My grandmother (we called her Muz) used to tell me about taking Pop’s cashed paycheck each week and separating the money into different envelopes marked “Electric” or “Rent” or “Food” or my favorite, “Mad Money.”
She’d lay down the dollars for the fixed costs first–usually rent. She’d created an order of importance for the rest, and some weeks, some envelopes went empty (sorry, mad money).
The envelopes for our attention today are our values.
We probably have a lot of them lying on our mental kitchen tables—things that range from “Family Health” to “Should I Leave My Job” to “Vegan Desserts” to “Getting the New High School Built” to “Budgeting for House Repairs” to “Things I Must Not Forget to Worry About.”
Knowing our values helps us know which ones to fill up with our attention first.
The rest just have to sit there, empty. And they’ll survive. So will you.
So what do you value? What envelopes will get filled with your attention first, and always?
(Not sure what you value? Clarity is crucial for any successful career. I guide you through how to find them as part of my online Create Career Clarity mini-course, designed to help you create a fresh picture of who you are and what you want at work–all in about an hour.)
Strategy 2: Turn Down the Noise
I’m writing the first draft of this article in a local cafe where some British band is wailing on the piped-in music.
I don’t know the song, nor can I make out the lyrics. But my brain keeps spending calories trying to figure it out, instead of burning focused energy to finish this article.
So it’s taking me twice as much time as usual to write this piece.
Today, I gotta go back and read Strategy #1 above.
And then get away from the noise.
In fact, whenever I need to give more attention to a person or project, I increasingly find that I need to turn off or at least significantly reduce the noise. (It’s one reason why I no longer have TV in my house, going on three years now.)
All noise—even the noise you don’t really notice—gets processed by our brains. And when there’s too much competition in our brain, there’s less room to give more attention to the thing you want to do, the thing that fits within your values.
But you say you can’t live without music while you work? One of my clients is like you.
So in a quest for better attention to his project work, he tested moving from lyric-heavy music to instrumentals only as his background noise. He’s reporting it works–and he’s building his courage to experiment with silence, too.
He’s also testing focus@will, an app that claims its music is scientifically optimized to help you focus.
What noise can you turn off, so you can turn up your attention?
Strategy 3. Use a Timer to Be All In
So maybe someone needs your true, focused attention. Perhaps it’s a member of your team, your family, your community.
And it’s someone or about something that’s important to you, that you value.
But you’re putting off the conversation because you’re not sure you have enough time to do it justice.
Sounds contradictory, right? But it happens all the time, especially in our lives at work, where there never seems to be enough time for all we need to attend to.
Time to get it off your brain and on the calendar. Here’s how.
- Schedule a specific range of time for a focused conversation, i.e., “Let’s get together from 3-3:30 to dive deeper into your concerns about the Miller project.”
- Be on time. (Remember, you’re a respectful adult. You control your feet –they can get up and leave a room.)
- With the help of the timer on your phone, prepare to go all-in with your attention. Say this:
“I’m so glad to have some time with you. We’ve got 30 minutes right now, so I’m going to set my timer for 20 minutes and for 30. When the first timer dings, we can focus on making sure we know what, if anything, we want to do next before we both have to go. We can also get our next date on the calendar before we have to leave.”
4. Set it and start giving your attention—full, rapt, and focused. (Use strategy #4, too.)
Don’t believe the hype that you can’t get anything meaningful done in short periods of time. You can when you give more attention to what’s in front of you, and the timer helps release your brain from thinking about, well, the time. I often coach tough issues in 30-minute blocks for schedule-strained clients, and see results.
Strategy 4. Let a Lot Go
Einstein said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”
Bloody hell. If freakin’ Einstein knew he’d never know enough, then why do you and I put pressure on ourselves to know more, do more, and attend to things that in the long run of our careers and lives will probably not matter?
Do we put pressure on ourselves just because we can?
I’ve been working on making another choice.
Letting everything (other than what I value) go. Not following every byte of curiosity. Not worrying that the idea left unattended will evaporate or cause regrets in the future.
It’s a whole lot more peaceful without all the competition for my attention.
Now I can give more attention where it matters most.