“We live in an age of distraction that requires a new ethics of attention.” Matthew Crawford
In our hyper-connected and highly fragmented lives, we have become very efficient at multitasking and getting a lot of things done on many fronts. We are busy and hard-working but also anxious and stressed. We rush around but still run out of time.
Today we are conditioned to always be accessible, interruptible, and reactive. There are too many priorities, meetings, and initiatives. There are too many disruptive technologies, information sources, and communication channels. This constant partial attention is an epidemic among leaders who in turn influence others to work in the same way.
What can we do? We can pay attention to how we pay attention. Attention management is the mindful practice of daily flow: being present, resisting distractions, navigating situations, and staying focused. It is a mindset for becoming less automatic and more intentional, fluidly balancing urgent activity with important priority, and easily managing the natural tensions that arise each day. It is the mode of doing less to achieve more.
Much has been written about the conditions for flow and peak performance, based on the research of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. But what about flow and daily existence? In this context, leaders can be much more effective in our dynamic energy field through the discipline of equanimity.
Equanimity is welcoming every situation as an opportunity to learn and serve. It is a calm, composed, and dignified attitude of appreciating each life experience. It is an alert awareness that enables leaders to be both deliberate and agile, and better navigate the shifting terrain.
In continuous flow, leaders more effectively relate to the two most basic laws of good management:
1. What we pay attention to is never about time and always about priority. 2. How we pay attention is never about others and always about ourselves.
Consider the leader of a start-up who decided to change certain behaviors and practices in her daily interactions. She softened her hard edges, stopped talking so much, and started asking more open questions. She reduced instant messaging, simplified her schedule, stopped responding immediately to most emails, and started seeking out 3-4 people each day to have meaningful conversations. She slowed down to speed up and empowered her team to do their best work.
Leaders who manage attention stay purpose-driven in the spirit of equanimity. They do not impulsively react to random distractions or overreact to difficult circumstances. They are even-keeled and resilient, reframe to keep things in perspective, and look for pivotal moments to demonstrate core values. They show up in positive, consistent ways that build trust and foster commitment.
Leaders who flow lead themselves first. They are humble but also confident, and patient but also tenacious. They use true power, harmonize inner being with outer world, and maintain a healthy blending of work and life activity.
How will you flow and better manage attention?