With a plethora of technology at our fingertips, it’s easy to think we have the realm of communication sorted. But what about the finite resource of attention?
I was on my mobile when my landline sounded. A message then popped up on Skype asking if I was free to talk, just as a couple of replies from a call-out I put on Yammer filed in. A red dot adorned my LinkedIn message icon. I felt trapped.
Rather than celebrating all the ways we communicate with one another with today’s technology, I yelled with frustration. This was not the freedom I sought when I decided to start my own business and work for myself. I wanted to have a swim when I woke up, check in with the world while the kettle boiled for the morning’s cuppa, make a couple of necessary calls and then use the rest of the day to write and edit: the two things of my core business.
On and off over the last month I’ve been reading a book called How to be a Productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott, which at some point I’ll review on the website. I know the trick with checking email is to set aside time to deal with correspondence and leave the inbox closed until such time. But what the hell should I do about client calls I need to take and other communication I’m waiting on?
The book devotes a chapter to attention management and I think this is a key point that many project managers must heed if only to keep sane in the face of all the communication they need to handle throughout a project. Allcott writes about proactive (fully focused, in the zone), active (plugged in but easily distracted) and inactive (no one home, difficult tasks are beyond you) attention and how proactive attention is limited by energy and motivation.
One piece of advice I will tease out is that communication in and of itself does not necessarily require your proactive attention, it is usually ‘urgent’ (need to make a decision on it right away) but not always ‘urgent’ and ‘important’ in the league of an emergency. My new method is to use my decision-making skills to guard my capacity for attention. So when a call comes in, I will decide what level of attention it is worth and apportion that accordingly rather than spending the entirety of my ‘zone time’ on communication instead of writing and editing.
How do you manage multiple demands on your attention?
P.S: While writing this I fielded two more phone calls and a WhatsApp message from my mother asking me to call her.