Multitasking has already proven to be a failure at improving our productivity. Yet, day after day, we watch people in meetings not paying any attention to what is being said. And on the phone it is even worse. How many times have you heard someone on a conference call say “Sorry, I missed that – can you repeat the question?”
You betcha I can.
What happens from this lack of focus? As a project manager, I can tell you. People miss their to-do’s coming out of a meeting. They don’t remember discussions around issues and how they were resolved — and then bring them back up again to get rehashed all over again. And again. And again. You’d think if the issue was so important, they’d actually listen and contribute to the discussion. Not.
Then take email. While I advocate only having emails be no longer than three small paragraphs, there are times when one sentence emails with an attachment are completely misunderstood because if the person would have opened the attachment, they would see exactly what was stated in the one sentence email conclusion and how that conclusion came about. And not a five-page dissertation either. No, explained in bullet points. But, no, have too zoom zoom through email and look responsive, so the response is clearly clueless to the person who is focused on the work.
And please forbid a complex subject having five paragraphs in an email with reference material attached. With the email calling out the specific pages to pay attention to in the reference material. Of course, all that could be explained in a meeting more easily. Oh. Wait.
Look, I’ve had those days of back-to-back-to-back meetings that never end. At the end of the day, you feel totally wiped out and way behind if not feeling out of control in your work. They are not fun. They happen.
Most people, though, operate on that level all the time. To catch up, they read and write emails in meetings on their laptop or Blackberry. They work on a task and then, like Pavlov’s dogs, jump over to email when a hundred noises and banners pop up when a new email arrives. Then forget what they were doing on the task, taking ten minutes more to get into the groove again. Then the next email arrives.
Paying attention to your attention at work is how you eliminate doing fifteen things at once and getting none of them done. Focusing your attention to one thing at a time is how you complete something faster — and with better quality. Understanding that now you are doing this one thing — completing a task, preparing for this meeting, listening and contributing to this meeting on this issue, processing email into a to-do list, and being present while meeting with your manager is all about focus.
My saying is “one miracle at a time.” It starts with focusing on one thing at a time and completing it. Being present enough to really read the email, really listen during a meeting, really contributing to solving a problem.
Understand that I fail at this all the time. But I recognize when I fall into this pattern and I step away. Then come back and do one thing and get it done. Then another. Then another. Then you can get to that first miracle.
How is your attention at work working out?
Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations. In 2005, Scot started sharing these hard lessons at CubeRules.com, a site devoted to Career Advice for knowledge workers, whom he calls Cubicle Warriors.