Attention is Our New Currency: Do you Pay Attention to What Matters Most?

Never in history have we been more connected to the world and less connected to each other.  Technology has changed everything: the way we work, how we interact, and our ability to pay attention to what truly needs it. Information invades every aspect of our life, coming at us at light speed and challenging how we prioritize our focus. 

We have programmed ourselves to believe everything and everyone is of equal importance and in need of our immediate attention. As a result, constant interruptions and distractions have become the enemy of our time. 

We feel overwhelmed, overstressed and overtired, in our book Attention Pays, we call this the Over-Trilogy. While we live ‘crazy busy’ lives, we struggle to accomplish anything of real value and purpose. Ultimately, our productivity, relationships and ability to focus suffers because we are unable to truly pay attention to what matters most. 

Is this simply the new world in which we live? 
Is this the new cultural norm to which everyone must adapt? NO. 
Studies indicate the amount of time we work today is the same it's always been. Data indicates people who say they are the busiest generally are not.  How we spend our time and to whom we give it is a matter of choice. Unlike money, time cannot be earned, and once spent, we cannot get it back. We must be cautious and diligent with our time, holding ourselves accountable for its use.  

To protect our time, we must spend and invest it wisely by prioritizing the people and tasks that deserve our undivided attention most. Here are four strategies to ensuring your time and attention is focused in a way that pays.

1.    Establish Three Daily Non-Negotiable Priorities
Begin each day establishing three priorities that must be done for your day to be complete. Write them down, placing them somewhere you see regularly. Set aside time in your calendar to focus on these tasks without interruption. Turn off your devices, silence your phone, shut your door – whatever is necessary to work peacefully without distractions. Once you've completed these three non-negotiables, you'll be free to work on other lesser important tasks.

2.    Maximize Your Calendar
The fact we always feel pressed for time is partly perception and mostly poor time distribution. If you want to accomplish more in less time, focus your energy and attention in time blocks. 
Use your calendar to set aside large chunks of time to perform specific tasks. Document what each block of time is assigned to checking email, working on a project, cold calling, etc. Use this time to give your undivided attention specifically to the prioritized task and nothing more.

Attempting to multitask will cheat you of your concentrated focus. Studies have shown US companies lose approximately $588 billion per year in distracted multitasking. The fact is, the human mind is not able to switch between tasks efficiently. It takes us upwards of 25 minutes to regain focus on a task once our attention has been interrupted. Allow yourself an opportunity to focus your attention on one concentrated task at a time.  

3.    Use Technology Wisely. 

It is a growing trend for people to prioritize technology throughout the day. Whether it's at work or home with the people we love, it's hard to ignore the attention technology demands.  Alerts, messages, emails, social media and more compete for our time and attention.
They lead us to believe they are of the utmost importance in immediate need of reading and responding.

While technology is not the enemy of our attention, it certainly challenges it. When used wisely, technology can support our productivity and help us achieve more tasks more quickly. Here’s how:

-    Email: We do not have to live our lives chained to the demands of email alerts and messages. Most of the time, emails come in the form of requests by others for our time. Here's the great thing: you decide when to check it and when to respond. Set aside time in your calendar to dedicate to email. Aside from that scheduled time, turn it off. Allow your attention to focus on higher priorities.  
-    Social Media: We've become increasingly addicted to the validation social media brings to our lives. We crave the likes, follows, shares and retweets. In reality, it is insignificant to the lives we are leading. Challenge yourself to keep your social media habits in check. Set aside 15 minutes of time each morning to do a social media drive-by. If old habits die hard, use apps such as the Freedom App and Facebook Eradicator to silence social media’s tempting calls. 
-    Device Management: Remember when we sat at the dinner table and spoke to each other, not to the phone? Not long ago, we remembered table manners and recognized the value of investing in relationships. Assign a place in your home to set your device when you arrive. Allow it to remain there while you engage and interact with your family.

4.    Rest and Recover 
Information and technology have changed the rate at which we work. What used to take days or weeks to decide can now be determined in a matter of moments. As a result, we expect more from ourselves and each other in less time than it really takes. This time pressure is creating burnout among employees everywhere. Rest and recovery are required if professionals are to dedicate their focus and undivided attention on priorities each day.
Executives and managers can lead the way by stopping after-hours interruptions that create distractions in an employee's after-hours priorities. Allow them to focus on family, hobbies, friends, and loved ones provide them time for mental recovery and stress relief. This pays dividends in productivity back at the office. I encourage all organizations to stop calling, messaging and sending emails after hours. Allow employees to step away from their gadgets and get the rest needed to be their best later. 

Ultimately, our time and attention are in our control. We decide who and what gets it and when. If living a ‘crazy busy' life is resulting in overwhelm and stress, it's time to reevaluate your priorities. Consider these four tips to begin maximizing your time and productivity. In the end, you'll find attention pays.

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Neen's most recent book title is Attention PaysTM. To order copies in bulk for your event, please visit

Also check out Neen's previous article for Premiere, The Attention Deficit Workplace.

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