What are you doing right now as you are trying to read this blog?
Do you have a second screen up on your computer, or another app running on your phone? Is the TV on in the background? Are you about to get up to let your barking dog out into the yard?
Like it or not, distractions have now evolved with the times. Though we can label some of these competitors for our attention as “multi-tasking,” most represent diversions that keep us from being singularly focused on the matters at hand.
This has given rise to a discipline known as “attention management” – a way to keep our affairs in order so we are able to devote our singular focus to a goal or objective at hand (Note – Maura Thomas, who coined the term, has a phenomenal book on the subject, which can be accessed here).
A generation ago, it was much easier to put distractions into silos. You would awaken, pick up the newspaper from your doorstep and enjoy it over a cup of coffee. You’d listen to the car radio on the way to the office, and then remain focused on your work – and work alone – from 9 to 5.
Now, all of that diversionary content is available on one device. Even with a list of objectives and priorities, we find it difficult to remain on track from point A to point B. And, now, with the proliferation of “work from home” as a result of COVID-19, we are even MORE distracted, and more apt to get off track.
So, are we hopelessly lost in a fog of confusion? Or is there a way we can implement some attention management strategies to restore focus?
Before I share my these insights, one important note: Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is not necessarily to manage your time – instead, it’s to manage the distractions themselves, relegating them appropriately so you can give your full attention to goal-oriented activity.
1.The Pomodoro Technique
I recently became a devotee of Fransesco Cirillo, an Italian time-management expert based in Berlin, but with a soft spot for the comforts of home. One of these trinkets was a tomato-shaped kitchen timer – one where you wind the top half of the tomato (known as a pomodoro in Italian) and it slowly ticks away the selected time.
Using this timer, he started experimenting with dividing time into fundamental units – attempting to determine what is the most efficient amount of time to work in an uninterrupted fashion. After much research and investigation, he determined that we are at our most focused when we work in 25-minute blocks of uninterrupted time, with a five-minute break in between. This “Pomodoro Technique” of time management is now a worldwide sensation, and you can learn more (and even buy the tomato timer) at Cirillo’s website.
There’s an even simpler way to manage your attention during the day – turn off all of your notifications. That means your email alerts, text popups, news feeds – all set to silence while you are trying to focus on your mission-critical tasks.
If you are like me, you probably jump immediately when the notification hits. You look at it, you click into it – and before you know it, you’re down the rabbit hole, and your attention is broken. In fact, a Harvard study measured this digression and found that, on average, it takes people 23 minutes to return to the core task after a notification distraction (that same study measured a 40 percent loss in productivity from all these push notifications).
The Harvard study recommends a number of ways to manage this – disabling notifications is the easiest – including some dedicated apps that will mitigate the availability of distraction-type apps during the day.
3.Manage THEIR Distractions, Too
For sales professionals, it’s not enough to simply manage your distractions, but those of your buyer as well. Appearing, as we do, on Zoom calls instead of in person means we are relegated to screen real estate that might also be occupied by items competing for our time.
One place to start is to ensure your video conference background is clear of books, photos, posters, and other items that will be distracting to your caller.
Also, be mindful of their time – and stay as efficient as possible, and end on time. For longer video meetings, you can employ the aforementioned Pomodoro Technique and plan mini-breaks for your buyer.
Finally, consider the power of threes – it’s a time-tested truism that people generally are able to focus better, and make better choices, when information is presented in groups of no more than three bits. If you are able to parse information about your product or service into three PowerPoint slides, for example, you will have a better opportunity to maintain focus.