As some clamour for in-person work again, others have become quite comfortable in their remote offices. The pandemic has companies debating what the future of work will look like, but no matter the model they choose, focus expert Curt Steinhorst says, the most important thing is to supply the conditions needed for focused attention.
Productivity has gone up over the last year and a half, but, as Curt writes in an article for Forbes, this statistic is a bit warped as productivity has actually been on a steady decline since the 1950s. The pandemic saw commuting, office socializing, and traveling come to a standstill. This, coupled with new digital tools, boosted productivity, but it came with hidden costs.
Those costs, Curt writes, was a rise in distraction, stress, and a lack of focus that has led to some employees losing their sense of purpose.
As companies start to plan for their post-COVID future, they need to ensure that no matter what model of work they choose, at the forefront is a plan to counteract these cons in order to maintain productivity and, most importantly, retain their employees.
It begins with learning how to cultivate attention discipline and become “FocusFit”, as Curt calls it. He shared three ways leaders can accomplish this and cultivate it within their teams:
1) Divide your time, not your attention.
Our attention has become fractured. Today’s tech tools, even the products we use to be “more productive,” are actually designed to steal our attention. It’s up to leaders to protect human attention, value it, and direct it to those things that matter most. So, rather than dividing our attention among myriad distractions, leaders must compartmentalize their time and preserve focused attention. The most successful leaders block and protect this time ruthlessly.
Now, extend this benefit to your team. Look at how they spend their time. Assess your meetings and reporting requirements. Review what you are asking your team to do in a week. Make sure you prioritize large swaths of time and space for people to get real work done. This will have more impact on productivity than almost anything else.
2) Confer value by giving your undivided attention
Before you can influence someone, you must have their attention. Moreover, you have to be able to give them your undivided attention. As philosopher Simone Weil said, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” In other words, don’t take anyone’s attention for granted.
When your attention is split (checking your email during meetings, scrolling on your phone during one-on-one interactions), you send a dangerous message: that you’re disinterested in the matter at hand. We are rolling off of a year without face-to-face conversations with our teams. Relational bank accounts are empty and people need to reconnect. Surprising research by Microsoft shows that Gen Z workers are hardest hit of all. The generation we thought gained meaning and connection through their phones are struggling the most in isolation.
Don’t schedule another zoom meeting. Instead, call or meet each person on your team 1:1 and give him or her your undivided, unhurried attention.
3) Reward responsibility, not responsiveness.
Now is an excellent time for leaders to assess not only what was lost, but what needs to stay lost from our pre-pandemic workplace. Some protocols, rhythms of work and employee expectations may not have been growing productivity, but instead were a drain on it.
Digital tools and communication have certainly helped productivity in incredible ways, but they also served as massive distractions in the workplace pre-pandemic, with pings happening on average every three minutes. Employees were rewarded for responsiveness and constant availability. This has damaged the kind of focused “unavailable” time that can lead to real creativity and breakthrough. Leaders can now step back and rethink the work itself and ask: Is this work worthwhile and moving us forward? Does my team have the time and space to be innovative? And am I rewarding them for responding quickly or for doing great work?
These three tips can help leaders move away from being reactive to being proactive, and demonstrate that they truly value their teams’ time and attention. Focused attention, Curt writes, is the foundation of a strong and productive team, and we need to start taking better care of it.
There’s a war for our attention right now. This is why Curt Steinhorst helps leaders and teams learn how to take control of their attention and focus it on what matters most by applying the science behind how the brain works to the reality of how we function in today’s hyper-connected world.
Email us at [email protected] to learn more about Curt and what he can bring to your next event.