SuperCompetent KEY #3: Attention

SUPERCOMPETENT KEY #1: ACTIVITYThis month’s article correlates to the third key in my newest book SuperCompetent: The Six Keys to Perform at Your Productive Best (Wiley), to be released on August 16: ATTENTION. Simply put, attention is the ability to concentrate and not get distracted.

SuperCompetent workers are always tightly focused: on getting the job done, on their department’s success, on their company’s success, on the success of their own careers. They home in like a bloodhound on the task at hand, rather than flitting from one thing to another. Distractions are ignored or shunted aside. They avoid negative chat and whining and are proud of what they’ve accomplished at the end of the day.

SuperCompetent people don’t have nifty time-stretching devices like the one Hermione uses in the Harry Potter series to cram in extra courses at Hogwarts. Nope, they have the same number of hours and minutes we do, but they use them more efficiently. They know how to pay Attention to their work, and nothing else, when it’s necessary—so they can stop paying Attention when they need to devote time to other important parts of their lives.

When fine-tuning your ability to pay Attention, it’s especially important to avoid an overdependence on business technology. You must school yourself to ignore the Internet, except where it’s necessary to do your job. Don’t take a few minutes to check your eBay auctions or Facebook page when you should be working, and for heaven’s sake, don’t let your email rule your life.

Modern technology can be a phenomenal productivity tool, but it will eat your day alive if you let it. So don’t. Learn to turn off Outlook, block out those distractions any way you can, and get to work. You don’t have to be a social pariah, but don’t let your social interactions (online or in real life) take over your workday, either.

To achieve a SuperCompetent Attention level, you have to constantly work on these five factors (which also correspond to the chapters in my new book):

1. Stay focused consistently on your work. Don’t get distracted. No, do not open Outlook, and turn off all your email alerts. Sure, it may only take a few seconds to check your mail or go for a cup of coffee, but any interruption breaks your concentration, wasting valuable minutes as you refocus on your task.

2. Leave the distractions for your downtime. Most people lack the ability to refuse attractive distractions, and this costs Corporate America billions of dollars per year. When you’re supposed to be working, work. Wait for lunch or break time to check YouTube or your social media sites.

3. Limit your multi-tasking in order to maximize your productivity. Despite our technological achievements, it’s difficult for the human mind to focus on more than one thing consciously at a time. Rather than achieving more, you end up slowing down because your perceptual channels get jammed. Stop opening 17 browsers.

4. Don’t allow socializing to overwhelm your productivity. Human beings are social creatures, so of course you’ll need to interact with the people around you—but don’t let it get out of hand. This is especially a problem now that it’s so easy to go online and lose yourself in social media of all kinds.

5. Don’t let your productivity technology take over your life. Realize that your handheld, cell phone, laptop, and other forms of business technology are just tools to help you become more productive—end of story. You need to be able to turn all these things off at the end of the day; how else can you ever be off work?

It all boils down to time. Do you really have time to check your social media accounts constantly, especially if they have nothing to do with work? Of course not, but doing so is tempting, particularly when it takes you away from tasks that are boring or onerous. The fact that we can be constantly connected makes it even easier to lose track of what we’re doing and waste time enjoying ourselves with our shiny new technology and social interaction.

But let’s face it. There’s a time for work and a time for fun, and most of the time, you can’t do both effectively at the same time—and accomplish anything worthwhile. Focus, focus, focus. For the working professional, social media, handheld devices, email, and the like are tools. You need to learn to learn to use these tools for what they’re intended, instead of letting their expanded purposes of entertainment get out of hand in the workplace.

You shouldn’t let their utility trick you into trying to do too much at once, either. Just because it’s easy to communicate via email and social media and to get more work through your contacts, don’t get sucked into the multi-tasking trap. You’re only human; you can only do so much.

Make it a productive day! (TM)

(C) Copyright 2010 Laura Stack. All rights reserved.

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Comments

  1. Ann Collins says:

    I think that this is great advice, and also common sense. I believe while ‘not checking your email’ sounds simple, it takes a lot of practice for those of us who have created the ADD habit of looking for that red blinking light on our BlackBerries, or waiting for the Outlook notifier to pop up. I find I have to choose “work offline” in my email, and even then it takes a LOT of willpower – and practice – to devote my full attention to the task at hand.

    I also think most of us don’t realize how those “few seconds” here and there to check our email, social websites, etc., add up.

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  1. […] involuntary attention does you no good when you need to clear your to-do list. For that, you must engage your voluntary attention: the productive trance your ancestors learned to use when hunting, making stone tools, and carving […]

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