The Impact of Attention Management

There are more distractions around us now, than ever before.  I think we all know and accept this fact.  We are all bombarded with emails, notifications, calls, pop-up ads, DMs and messages, all day long.  And I can promise you it’s not going away – it’s here to stay.

What I find interesting is the impact all of this is having on our productivity.  Just how productive are we while living in a world of distraction?  And are there people out there who still manage to be productive whilst having distractions all around them?  And if so, how?  

It’s All About Attention Management

It seems it all comes down to attention management.  Those who have developed attention management skills are the ones who are still being productive.  This is clear, from the results of a recent study into this area.  

A group of entrepreneurs were asked how confident they are (based on current and previous experience) that they will complete everything on the To-Do list for the week.  The scores were analysed and the respondents divided into two groups – Group A (high scorers) and Group B (low scorers).

  

Group A was very confident that they would complete all tasks on their To-Do list (scoring on average 8.5 out of 10).  Group B was not so confident, scoring only 4 out of 10.

Respondents in both groups were then asked several questions, relating to attention and their attention management skills.  These were questions such as: “When reading, how often do you have to go back a few lines to re-read because your attention drifted away?” and “Do you check your phone / social media during meetings?”.  

The results proved very interesting.  Respondents in Group B had a low “attention score” where as those in Group A, had a very high “attention score”.


It is clear that entrepreneurs with developed attention management skills are generally more productive than those with low attention.

Respondents with high “attention scores” (and thus more productive), were asked how they manage to be productive in a world of distractions.  Their “secrets” can be distilled into these three points:

Control Your Environment

Look around you.  What do you see / hear / smell?  Are these things causing a distraction?  You might hear the neighbour’s dog barking, or your phone pinging notifications or a co-worker chatting.  

If you can control your environment and eliminate (or at least minimise) distractions, it will go a long way in managing your attention.

Start Setting Boundaries

Demands on our attention can be both external and internal, so we need to start setting boundaries on both fronts.  “Do not disturb” signs can send a strong (but friendly) message to co-workers and friends. Turning your phone off or to silent can eliminate constant interruptions.  

Internal distractions are more difficult to control, but it can be done.  Our “Chimp Brain” causes these distractions – you know the one who convinces you that scrolling through your Facebook feed is more important than that prospect proposal?  Yes, that one!  There are many ways to “trick” our Chimp Brain.  You could use a timer – set it for 15 minutes and do focused work.  Even your Chimp Brain won’t feel threatened by 15 minutes!

Practice Awareness

Often, we are totally unaware of where our attention is, at any given moment.  You could be having a conversation with someone, but your mind (attention) is elsewhere.  Or checking social media while talking to someone on the phone – where is your attention?  

Make a point of practicing awareness.  When talking to someone, focus your attention on that specific person and conversation. When you find your attention drifting, gently bring it back.  When you work on a report, focus your attention on the writing of the report – nothing else.  Be aware of where your attention is, and gently bring it back when you find it wandering.

Developing our attention management skills will, in the long run, make us more productive. It will help us focus on those high-impact tasks.  It will help us get more (important) things done.  And it will help us be more in control of our lives.