The Most Important Thing You Manage isn’t Projects or People

Someone or something is controlling your attention. Often it’s not you. Maybe it’s an email alert or a buzzing cell phone.

Distracted leaders live inconsequential lives.

The most important thing you manage is your attention. 

the art of being wise is the art of know what to overlook


Need for distraction:

Our need for distraction is so strong that when we aren’t distracted by notifications, we look at our cell phones to be sure we haven’t missed something.

Something designed to make you more effective – notifications – makes you less efficient.

Notification distracts attention.

Meaningful work:

All meaningful work requires undistracted attention. That’s why you leave the office to get deep work done.

Interruption dilutes attention.

Nobel Prize winner Herbert A. Simon explained that information consumes attention. 

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” Simon

#1. Manage attention by eliminating distraction.

“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” William James

#1. Schedule shallow work between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. These are the most distracted hours of the day for most.

#2. Eliminate distracting thoughts by writing them down. You think, “Oh, I need to stop by accounting today.” Write it down.

Help your brain focus by writing down distractions. 

#3. Eliminate external distractions. I’m working in a poorly lit room. It’s dark outside. I’m ignoring email. No one is around. It’s quiet. In this context time slows. In a couple hours I’ll come back to reality with an article to post.

  1. Close your office door.
  2. Turn off notifications.
  3. Open ONE browser window.

More: How Distraction-Addicts Find Focus

#2. Manage attention with leadership intention.

Show up with two intentions.

  1. Establish and strengthen meaningful connection. The key to connection is paying attention. (Inspired by Jeff Klein’s TEDx talk.)
  2. Accomplish relevant work. Organizational mission, vision, and values define meaningful work.

Repeat two questions:

  1. How might you establish and strengthen connection?
  2. How relevant is this work?

What distracts leaders?

How might leaders better manage their attention?