Buy yourself some time

by | Jan 21, 2013 | Blog | 0 comments

Buy yourself some time to pay attention.

Traditionally, the idiom of “buying time” has meant “to postpone an event hoping that the situation will improve.”

However, in our time-starved, fast-paced world, we need a new definition to go with a new acceptable action.

We need to take time to slow down, hit the pause button and focus our thoughts on what’s immediately in front of us.

Multi-tasking, mindlessness and continuous partial attention are taking over and hurting our concentration.

This lack of focus reduces our productivity, makes us feel more stressed and causes us to treat each other with less respect.   

Just take these three recent incidents.

  • After a client tells me she’s going out of town for a long weekend and will be back on Tuesday, which will be a perfect time to talk, what do I do? I send her a meeting invite via email for a call on Monday, which she immediately accepts. It’s only later in the day when I look at my calendar for the next week that my gut tells me something is wrong and I circle back to her. We realize we both have goofed.
  • A colleague and I arrange to talk by phone. I include the date of the call in my email subject line, but not in the body of the message. I don’t follow up with an official meeting invite. He calls me at the correct time, but one week in advance of the date in the email subject line and on my calendar.
  • Another client is about to tell her staff and key people in her network about an interesting upcoming professional program that she thinks they all should attend. Then she realizes she’s one of the panelists on the program! (She sheepishly shares this story with me as an example of how fast she’s running and hard it is to keep on top of things.)

We business people aren’t the only offenders. While listening to an esteemed economics professor in Cuba late last year, I noticed how he kept checking his cell phone on the table in front of him.

Granted, the professor may still be experiencing SOS (shiny object syndrome) since Cubans have only had cell phones for the past two years. However, he was joining the rest of us who want to know who’s calling us while we’re supposed to be fully present with those in the room.

Nonetheless, his behavior was a great example of what Linda Stone has named “continuous partial attention.”  According to the futurist Bob Johansen, we’re going to see and experience more of this in the years to come so we need to learn how to adapt.

In the state of continuous partial attention, we’re splitting our attention among multiple things continuously. This has major implications for how we interact with others and involve them in helping us implement strategic initiatives. It’s critical that we make appealing and clear calls to action, and support individuals in setting aside quality time and an environment to think deeply.

As Linda Stone describes the motivation for continuous partial attention, we want to connect and be connected. So we’re constantly scanning for opportunities. “To be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognized, and to matter.”

(As someone afflicted with FOMO—the fear of missing out—I empathize. If you want to check out Deal with, not heal, FOMO now, I’ll understand.)

You can pay continuous partial attention in small time blocks and function well, Stone says.

However, if you try to stay in high alert paying attention to multiple sources constantly, you run into trouble.

According to Stone, large doses of continuous partial attention “contribute to a stressful lifestyle, to operating in crisis management mode, and to a compromised ability to reflect, to make decisions and to think creatively.”

Stone continues: “In a 24/7, always-on world, continuous partial attention used as our dominant attention mode contributes to a feeling of overwhelm, over-stimulation and to a sense of being unfulfilled. We are so accessible, we’re inaccessible. The latest, greatest powerful technologies have contributed to our feeling increasingly powerless.”

In this state, we also run the risk of not being able to take the time to follow the wise advice of the father of crisis management Ian Mitroff: “Think like a sociopath. Act like a saint.”

If we don’t watch it, we’ll spend more time thinking and acting like dummies.

Can you take some time to think about this and the implications?


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