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Be Present

It seems no matter where you look, the news is reporting statistics. Some of them seem ridiculous and make me wonder why we are wasting the time and space to report such things.

This past weekend, however, as I read the Sunday paper, I came across an article on attention spans and how they have changed over the years. It reported that the average person is interrupted every six minutes and that it takes six minutes to get refocused. As a result, people jump from one subject to another without really getting deep enough to finish anything.

As I thought about this statistic, it made me wonder. I must admit, I wanted to dismiss it as “not me” and only applicable to my kids. So when Monday rolled around, I decided to do my own research and see if it fit me, too.

My office door is always open, and my teams know that you don’t need an appointment to speak with me. For four hours, I paid close attention to when I was interrupted and how long it took me to get back on track. Much to my surprise, the six-minute statistic applied to me, too.

WOW! I had no idea. As I continued to be very aware of the day’s interruptions and their impact on my ability to finish a thought or a project, I was able to make choices to stop the interruptions and allow more focused time to move the ball forward.

It was amazing how turning the sound off for text messages and emails so I didn’t hear them, and scheduling time to complete certain tasks rather than leaving my calendar open with just a “to-do list” made a difference. I must admit, it took practice – and still does. But I am committed to be diligent because I can see the results already.

It is a choice we all have every day. We only get 24 hours – or 1,440 minutes – a day. I want to optimize how I spend them to improve how I lead my life. Don’t you?

Do your own research and tell me your results! Then let me know how it affects how you manage your 1,440 minutes each day.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Nancy,

    Loved this. When I first came across the same statistic I reacted in the same way. No way was I taken off track that often or that easily. But, just as you did, I tested it and found I fit the mold. The measures I have taken to combat this have happened in steps as I learned more and more about my own performance and what works for me, and have increased my “productive output” (my ability to work towards the greater goal and not just my ability to get more busy work done) many times. I started by turning my phone off and only turning it back on at designated parts of the day like lunch time. This rid me of the habit of checking my phone to “kill time” between every task or before I started a particularly difficult task. It’s amazing how addicted to the quick and easy entertainment our phone provide we become. Next I scheduled my email. My email is closed except for a couple planned portions of my day during which I allocate a specific amount of time to check emails. Then I go further buy looking at what emails I received to determine if any thing is both important AND urgent. If something fits those criteria, I then fit it into the rest of my day, usually as soon as possible. If it is only one of the criteria, important trumps urgent every time. The important items are then scheduled accordingly. It was amazing how much more relaxed and clear I was throughout the day when I wasn’t reacting to every email at the time of receipt as if it was required it do something about it immediately. Also interesting how many things just sort of took care of themselves. Next, I set some rules for how to engage me while at work. I don’t have an office and have a desk among-st a few other coworkers (open concept I guess) and found I spent a lot of my day interrupted by passing questions and just office conversation (noise). I now have head phones and ear plugs that I will put in if I do not want to be disturbed. I’ve also instructed the others in the office that if I am seen wearing them, I am to be left alone unless it is urgent and important. This was surprisingly well received and works great. I have also set reminders to ask myself two questions a couple times a day. 1) “Am I being productive or just active?” 2) “Is this actually important, or just invented?” These two questions make me take an honest look at what I am working on a couple times a day. What I am currently experimenting with is my to-do list. I have started making them no later than the night before my next work day, and have most recently started applying deadlines much closer than my initial thought for the amount of time needed to complete the task. This is to combat Parkinson’s law which states work will expand to take the time allowed, needed or not. I have found myself completing similar tasks in half or one third the time they used to require.

    Thank you for all that you do, Nancy! Can’t wait for your next post.


    1. What a thoughtful approach to your day! Funny how setting boundaries work and are supported by others when we are clear!! Congrats to you Adam. Thanks for taking time to share your approach.

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