This is why attention management is the simple answer to achieving all your goals.
By William Thomas Knight
If beauty is the great seducer of man, then distraction is the troubling temptress of achievement.
Control her, and your vision will manifest into reality. Neglect her, and your dream will be reduced to mere fantasy.
As mere mortals, most of us will be seduced by the sorceress of distraction in seconds. To be more specific, distraction can rear its ugly head at any moment, and in recent years, research by the Microsoft Corporation found that we typically lose some degree of focus after just 8 seconds.
It is distraction that leads to our downfall, the lost sight of our goals, and mismanagement of our behavior. If we fail to tame the distractions that can fill our day, we’ll be inconsistent in our progress, and have the uneasy feeling that we’re not achieving our potential.
Effectively managing your attention
Increasingly, our workplaces and the tools we use are becoming more distracting. From open work spaces to never-ending messages and notifications, visual, auditory, and other diversions continuously compete for our attention.
More often than not, we become casualties to the wants and needs of the outside world, as opposed to prioritizing our most important tasks.
Yet, as daily distractions increase, so do the rewards for people who can control them. If you’re able to properly manage your attention, you’ll be able to produce quality work, gain consistency, and rise above the crowd.
When it comes to creating an ideal environment for goal achievement, a number of factors come into play such as sleep, diet, exercise, recovery, and more.
To better manage your time and attention, there are three key factors to taming the temptress of distraction:
- Identify your most valuable task
Conventional advice recommends identifying our top three tasks for the day. Yet such an also opens the door for distraction, bouncing between tasks, and failing to accomplish the one thing that will lead to real results. This is why step one is identifying the single most valuable task for achievement of your goal.
- Select the time of day when your focus in highest
Just as an elite athlete should consider training mid-to-late afternoon to improve performance (lung capacity, muscle strength, and flexibility all tend to peak later in the day), we should pursue our most important cognitive tasks during the time when mental alertness and concentration are highest. For most, this will be between two and four hours after waking. For others, typically those who have a natural tendency to go to sleep later in the night, it may be the evening hours.
- Work in a distraction-free manner
Lastly, we must block out a period of time when we can work in a distraction-free state. Researches call this deliberate practice, intense focus, or deep work. The idea is to create an environment completely free of distractions, and work on the one task that we know will produce results.
Putting it into practice
For example, one of my coaching clients is a CEO with unyielding responsibilities, and a desire to exemplify his industry-leading knowledge and leadership. As soon as he is spotted in the workplace, the temptress of distraction reveals her ugly head. It could be a quick question from a coworker, an approval for a process, or simply the sound/sight of people passing by.
In order to control the distractions that will arise, he schedules a block of time to work on his most important task, as soon as he arrives to his office, in an uninterrupted manner.
Distraction is the troubling temptress of achievement. If you can learn to control her, your vision will manifest into reality.
We don’t have to—and indeed can’t—eliminate distraction altogether, but if we can manage our attention by prioritizing our most valuable task, working in a state of uninterrupted focus, and at the right time of day, we’ll make real progress. No more investing time and not seeing results. No more rollercoaster ride of success. Hello consistency, hello progress.
William Thomas Knight is the founder of Elite Executive, a coaching program that helps business leaders avoid burnout so that they can lead their industry and achieve balance.