Focus…a limited and diminishing resource

I have always been interested in how we are able to impact those things we focus on and continue to be amazed that if systems and processes are designed properly, extraordinary results can be achieved.  The challenge seems to be realistically qualifying our own ability.  In Rapt, Winifred Gallagher tells us that a person can only attend to 110 bits of information/second (listening to someone speak takes 40).  This means that we can only “pay attention” to 173 billion bits of information over our lifetime (on average) so attention is limited.  The fact that it is a limited resource makes it valuable and one we must take care to manage. 

Consider this, “Reality is an intentional, first person experience you construct from the material of intention.”  To loosely paraphrase Descartes, “I am what I pay attention to.”  Sit back and really allow the reality of this statement to wash over you and seep into your deep recesses of your consciousness.  Imagine the weight of this responsibility.  What we focus on creates our experiences…which in turn creates our life.  It seems so simple but something we rarely consider. 

So what does this mean to those in leadership roles?  I think we need to be extremely careful and not adversely impact our teams when it comes what we focus on collectively.  Here are some thoughts:

  • Limit “the next big thing” thoughts that can (without meaning to) shift people’s attention from the task at hand.  It is always good to be on the look out for the next big thing but as leaders, that is something we must shoulder and not always involve the team until there is context for the organization.
  • Develop 1-3 goals (and requisite measurements) and stick to them.  Allow the team to internalize them and create performance goals that support them so they can see how their activity leads to achievement.
  • Allow them to work uninterrupted for more than 60 minutes.  Set weekly meetings (if necessary) and discuss ideas during those times and not intermittently through the week.
  • Repeat yourself. This is actually the one quality that all great leaders exhibit.  Once you have created the areas of focus for the team, be relentless in your discussions and always tie everything back to those main points.  Lead by example!
  • Be very protective of your focus and do not allow others to drag you down their rabbit holes.  When someone says, “Do you have a minute?”, respond honestly.
  • Stop multi-tasking.  There are many studies that indicate multi-tasking reduces both efficiency and effectiveness. 

As with all good things in life, this is simple but not easy.  Just remember that when you choose what you pay attention to, you are choosing your experiences which impacts the quality of your life.  Do not give up that power to choose and allow your life’s experiences to be someone else’s decisions.

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