“Contrary to popular belief the scarcest resource at work place isn’t time, it’s attention – your personal capacity to attend to the right things for the right length of time”, writes Julian Birkinshaw professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at London Business School.
Tony Schwartz, a consultant who coaches leaders on how to best manage their energy points “Attention is now the number-one issue on the minds of our clients.”
In Focus, Psychologist Daniel Goleman, author of the #1 international bestseller Emotional Intelligence, offers a groundbreaking look at today’s scarcest resource and the secret to high performance and fulfilment: Attention
In an era of unstoppable distractions, Goleman persuasively argues that now more than ever we must learn to sharpen focus if we are to survive in a complex world and excel.
We know from neuroscience that the mind in its ordinary default state is biased towards distractedness, time travelling and doing things on auto-pilot without necessarily being fully attentive, and this creates ineffectivenss.
Similarly for thousands of years the wisdom traditions through meticulous direct observation of their own mind activity had come to the same conclusion: that our mind is like a monkey jumping from one thought to another caught in an automatic unintentional Doing-Mod that leads to unhappiness.
A children’s story that reflects our adult lives:
FROG AND TOAD TOGETHER
As the day began, Toad sat up in bed and wrote on a piece of paper: A list of things to do today. Then he wrote: Wake up. As he had already done that, he was able to cross it out straightaway. He then wrote on the paper a plan for the rest of his day: Eat breakfast , Get dressed, Go to Frog’s house, Take walk with Frog, Eat lunch, Take a nap, Play games with Frog, Eat supper, Go to sleep.
He got up and worked his way through the list, crossing off each item as it was completed. When he got to the house of his friend, Frog, he announced: “My list tells me that we will go for a walk.” So they did, and Toad crossed Take walk with Frog off his list. Then disaster struck: a strong wind blew the list out of Toad’s hand. Frog was all for running after the list to catch it. But poor Toad just could not do that-it was not on his list of things to do! So, while Toad sat there, immobilized, Frog ran after the list, mile after mile-but in vain-he just could not catch it and returned empty-handed to the disconsolate Toad.
Toad could not remember any of the things that were left on his list to do. So he just sat there. Frog sat with him. Eventually Frog pointed out that it was getting dark and that they should go to sleep. “Go to sleep! ” Toad shouted triumphantly. “That was the last thing on my list! ” So Toad wrote on the ground with a stick Go to sleep. Then he crossed it out, delighted that he could, at last, cross out his whole day. And then Frog and Toad went to sleep.
I NEED MORE TIME
Like the Toad in above caught in the to-do list mechanically moving from one task to the next we become less productive and less creative. We then tell ourselves “I need more time.”
“In the tumult of our daily distractions and to-do lists, innovation dead-ends; in open times it flourishes. That’s why the annals of discovery are rife with tales of a brilliant insight during a walk or a bath, on a long ride or vacation. Open time lets the creative spirit flourish; tight schedules kill it.” D.Goleman.
The problem of time is not solved by more time but by stepping out of time (default mind wandering into past/future) and into attentiveness.
What does that mean you ask?
We often complain about not having enough time. If we are habitual and half present at work/life, any extra more time given to us would simply be spent the same way – half-presently. And when we are half present we are bound to make mistakes, skip over things, possibly get into conflicts or create new problems which will increase our stress levels and make us even more prone to mistakes – for which we would then need more time to solve – we would still lack time and ask for more – we are caught in a cycle.
When we step into attentiveness of Being-Mode: paying attention, intentionally, in each present moment of now to whatever is experienced, inwardly, and outwardly non- judgmentally, something quite interesting can happen.
When we are fully present with another or an event, we invite them into this space of attentiveness. And when two or more people meet in Attention and Presence the sum of their impact suddenly magnifies 1+ 1= 4 or 5 or 6. New insights, ideas and solution that were not possible in the habitual, low energy half present state, become possible, accessible and begin to emerge.
“optimal brain state for getting work done well is marked by greater neural harmony … In this state, ideally, the circuits needed for the task at hand are highly active … with the brain precisely attuned to the demands of the moment. When our brains are in this zone we are more likely to perform at our personal best whatever our pursuit” writes Goleman.
This is particularly evident in leadership. Since leaders set the tone for their team, therefore it is important for leaders to embody attentiveness in order to create a culture of sustained employee attention, suggest Goleman in conversation with George Kohlrieser of the IMD business school.
“Doing” without “Being” is to be rushed and distracted, to be part of the problem or the problem itself. Listening without hearing, talking without being selective in choice of words, commanding …
“Doing” while “Being” is the greatest act of leadership. When the being and doing are married our experiences are transformed.