Time Management Strategies: Role Priorities and Attention Management

According to a year-end HuffingtonPost article, one of the six most common New Year’s resolutions is “Get Organized.” We tell ourselves that this is the year we’re going to better manage our time and be more productive! We make lists and we vow to focus on our highest priorities.

There are many useful and excellent suggestions about how to better manage your time, including articles by the President of Arden Coaching, Maren Perry: “Top Ten Time Management Tips.” And “How to Maximize Productivity.”

But we live and work in a world of ever-escalating distraction. Devices and apps that did not exist five or ten years ago demand our attention and keep us plugged in 24/7. EVERYTHING at work is urgent, isn’t it? By 8:15 in the morning, all plans for the day are out the window.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, “Time Management Training Doesn’t Work,” author Maura Thomas said, “The problem’s not just that we’re getting distracted from work; it’s that we’re getting distracted from important work by other work. How many times have you sat down to do more thoughtful, in-depth tasks, only to be lured away by incoming emails from clients or colleagues?”

The result is a persistent state of interruption, distraction and task switching. According to Thomas, “More than a quarter of the time someone switches tasks, it’s two hours or more before they actually resume what they were doing.”

Most of us are familiar with research demonstrating that multi-tasking reduces productivity. We know, almost instinctively, that the frantic pace of incoming emails, texts, and alerts from project management tools increase stress, reduce productivity, and leaves everyone in a mind-numbing reactive mode.

Consider a different approach.

Priorities Based on Organizational Role, not Tasks

Yes, prioritizing is critical for focus and productivity. However, Thomas says we should change our perspective about what it is we are prioritizing. We need to define our priorities based on our organizational role, not the most important tasks on our to-do list.

Urgent high-priority tasks are easily supplanted by more urgent high-priority tasks. But when you, or your employees, are clear about the most important parts of the job and the strategic direction of the company, it becomes easier to consistently identify what is critical, and what is white noise.

Attention Management Skills are Crucial

We don’t need time management skills, we need attention management skills. Leaders need to adopt the mantra of “single-tasking” and create work environments that value, support, and reward single-task habits. “Attention management training teaches the ability to control distractions, single-task for higher-quality results, and engage in sustained attention,” says Thomas.

Based on our executive coaching, leadership training, and team development work with CEO’s, senior executives, and teams across numerous industries, combining proven time management tactics with a change in perspective about priorities based on organizational role and the issue of attention management makes a great deal of sense. The workplace has evolved significantly — sticky notes, flagged emails, and morning to-do lists aren’t enough. Explore these new approaches to improve focus, gain control, and accomplish truly meaningful work.

To learn more about executive coaching, leadership training, and team development, contact us at [email protected] or 646.844.2233.