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    Personal Development

    What is attention management? A modern twist on a nineteenth century productivity secret

    September 16, 2019 974 Views No comments

    If you know about my new book, you have likely been introduced to the term “attention management.” Although the phrase existed before I started using it, it was not used in relation to productivity. In fact, it was not particularly relevant or useful to our everyday lives.

    Attention management is at the very heart of my work as a speaker, trainer, and author. Attention management is really just like it sounds—managing your attention.

    My definition of it is a little more specific. I define it as the practice of creating the conditions that allow you to intentionally engage the most optimal brain state to achieve your best results in the moment.


    A 19th Century Take on Attention Management

    A psychologist and philosopher in the 19th century, William James, was an advocate of the ideas behind attention management. He wrote: “[Attention] is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought.”

    Here, the key word is “one.” No one can give their attention simultaneously to all of the things that demand it. Attention management allows you to be more proactive than reactive. It means you decide where your attention goes instead of letting outside demands decide it for you.

    William James suggested that attention management gives you the ability to maintain control over your thoughts and actions, rather than inadvertently relinquishing this control.


    Attention Management Helps You Live a Life of Choice Rather Than a Life of Reaction and Distraction

    Today, you can use attention management as a defense against the damage our fast-paced, technology-rich environment does to our mind, body, and soul. It’s also essential for achieving your most significant results daily, so that you can stay in control of your days, and therefore ultimately, your life.

    You might wonder if attention management is just “focus.” But you can think of it as the collective practice of a group of behaviors, including focus, concentration, mindfulness, presence, and flow. It offers the ability to consciously direct your attention in any given moment despite distractions, to be more proactive than reactive, and to maintain control over your thoughts, rather than inadvertently relinquishing control.

    Attention management is the antidote to everything in our environment that sabotages our attention. We live in a fast-paced, “always-on” society, and that has negative consequences for our ability and efforts to be productive.

    Attention management is the key to controlling distractions, maximizing focus, and becoming engaged in “flow.” It helps you to be present in the moment, whether that be at work or at leisure. It helps you to maximize your brain power and your unique skills to bring your best self to the moment—what I call “unleashing your genius.”


    Our Attention Determines the Life We Lead

    Another quote from William James: “My experience is what I agree to attend to.” Your attention determines the experiences you have, and the experiences you have determine the life you live. This implies that you must control your attention to control your life. Productivity is basically about directing your activities to do more of the things that are important to you. Attention management is the logical path to get you there.

    Being able to control your attention requires practice. You’ll be more successful on some days than on others. Managing your attention depends on several factors. It’s not just about distraction.

    While attention management is a skill to be developed, there are also physiological factors. Sleep, nutrition, and hydration play an important part in your ability to control your attention, also. When these important elements are neglected, your focus, productivity level, and ability to avoid distractions will also suffer.


    Single Focus Instead of Multi-Task to Increase Effectiveness

    Attention management is the idea that how you spend your time is relevant only to the extent that you also devote your attention, because time spent on a task with divided attention is much less effective than time spent focused on the task without interruption.

    To be sure, traditional “time management” theory still contains useful concepts, such as making lists, setting goals, and prioritizing tasks. It’s the practical application of these ideas that fail the test of time, and most time management training has not been updated to keep up with modern technology and the increasing pace of business. Distraction is the single biggest problem for knowledge workers today. Attention management is the skill we need in our modern, technology-driven society.

    -Maura Nevel Thomas


    If you want to learn more about Attention Management, click here!

    A version of this article originally appeared on maurathomas.com.

    You can preview and purchase the book here>>

    Live with Purpose

    September 9, 2019 115 Views No comments

    Although we can't choose how we're born, we do get to choose how we live. This means that your choices matter in a big way. Understanding that you matter is the first step in living a life with purpose. After that, it's about taking one Monday, one action at a time - leading to a change in your life and those around you. Here are some steps from Every Monday Matters to help you get started on your journey:


    1. Make Monday Joyful

    Joy surrounds us - we can create it, experience it and share it. And it comes in so many different forms! When was the last time you did something just for the fun of it? How often do you laugh until it hurts? And can you recall taking a moment to love the little things? If you can't remember, make it a point to start each Monday (eventually each day!) to take a few minutes to think about joyfulness and what it means to you.


    Take it a step further: start a new hobby that looks like fun; find a funny picture and share it with someone to make them laugh; do a little thing each day for a week to bring yourself or someone else joy.


    2. Make Monday Creative

    Everyone is unique; there is only one you. Do you take the time to appreciate your individual creativity or the creativity of those around you? Being creative allows you to express what makes you different, and it connects you to other people.

    Art is a gift that allows you to appreciate the world around you. Our hands are an amazing creation that enable us to build something we can share. And our differences are what provide so much variety.

    Use these gifts to get creative: Try expressing yourself by doing something simple such as doodling, cooking, or writing a short story. Use your hands to build something small for your house - there are plenty of online tutorials to get you started. Find a new, local international-inspired restaurant, concert or exhibit to experience.


    3. Make Monday Positive

    Positivity is more inspiring and valuable than negativity; however, it always seems harder to look on the bright side. The good news is, you can change this and you will likely be surprised by how easy it is to be positive with everyone you come across. When you focus on the good in your life, you can flip the script by saying and doing positive things. By asking a simple "why not?" you can take matters into your own hands and let go of negativity.

    Put positivity out in the world this week: When your friends or co-workers get together for a pity party, try leading them into a conversation that instead promotes the positives. When something in your life feels out of reach, try turning it into a "why not?" and see where it takes you. Lastly, think back to someone who made a difference in your life and call, write or email to let them know.


    4. Make Monday Expressive

    Everyone has a unique story. Have you shared yours? It can be hard to tell your tale and trust that you'll be accepted but, in order to live a life that matters, you need to embrace who you are and be honest and authentic. Only then can you truly be living a life with purpose.

    Express your true self: Look at your emails, social posts, and texts from this past week and take an audit to see if you meant what you said. Find a way to show your love to friends and family in your own creative and meaningfully way. Lastly, share a secret with someone you trust.


    For more ways to live a life that matters, check out Every Monday Matters>>

    Manage Interruptions in the Workplace

    August 29, 2019 1875 Views No comments

    Do you face constant interruptions in the workplace? These attention management strategies will increase your success

    In my corporate workshops, participants often ask me how they can manage all the interruptions they juggle during their days. They need a strategy to balance being available and helpful to colleagues, while still having undistracted time to get important work done in a thoughtful way. The suggestions below are excerpted from my latest book, Attention Management: How to Create Success and Gain Productivity - Every Day.

    Research shows that we switch our attention every few minutes, on average. Often, it’s because we are interrupted by typical workplace distractions – a new email, a co-worker, a ringing phone. It’s difficult to apply our brain power in a meaningful way in 3-minute increments! This means that we’re not giving our best to our jobs, and it also leaves us tired, but unsatisfied at the end of the day.

    Manage Interruptions to Avoid Being Distracted

    We must have undistracted time to get important work done, so the first step is managing interruptions, or as I call it, “controlling our environment.” For example, it’s understandable to want to be helpful to colleagues, but an “open-door policy” doesn’t mean we must be available all the time. Instead, it needs to be more like “office hours” — clearly defined times when we are accessible to others, and other times when we are not (except in case of emergency).

    These “do not disturb” times must be communicated to co-workers, because once they’ve said, “Do you have a minute?”, you’re already distracted. No matter how deeply we’re focused on a task and how much progress we’re making, the slightest interruption — such as someone calling our name — is enough to make all that momentum go “poof!” Then it can take several minutes to several hours to work up to the same level of concentration.

    All of these workplace interruptions hurt your productivity. If you have a door, close it. If people walk through it anyway, and you reward them with your attention, this indicates to them that the door didn’t mean anything. You have to create boundaries, and then honor them. Otherwise no one else will either.

    But even if you don’t have a door, you can still set some boundaries. Put on headphones or give co-workers other indications that you would prefer not to be disturbed. I love seeing the creative and funny signs my clients post on their chairs after our work together, such as:

    “Please do not disturb unless it’s an emergency. Qualifying emergencies:

      -I’m on fire.

      -Oprah is looking for me.”


      Preventing these interruptions in advance helps us to use our time more efficiently, and to also create an environment where we can focus on our most important tasks. Progress on meaningful work is a powerful motivator, and the more we do this, the more productive and satisfied we tend to be.

      Discover Your Ideal Balance

      It’s true that some jobs require more availability than others, such as human resources, customer service, and IT support. Remember, though: if you have other work that needs to get done besides being available to other people, you must create some of that uninterrupted work time.

      Consider approximately how much of your work time requires thoughtful, independent work, and how much requires collaboration and availability to others. Make a note of the percentage split. It doesn’t have to be precise, just the answer you come up with in a minute or two of thought.

      Then, consider how you might organize your days and exert some control over your environment, even in an open office setting, to incorporate an open (and closed) door policy. Your percentage split can guide how much time per day your sign is up or your door is closed. You must be vigilant, though. If your “do not disturb” message is up all day, every day, it will immediately lose its effectiveness. What method can you use to give your colleagues the message that you’re “in the zone” and would rather not be disturbed?

      Considering these ideas may lead you to make some changes in your behavior.But even if it doesn’t, let these ideas “percolate” in your brain for a while. Allowing constant interruptions is probably a habit you’ve formed out of necessity. And it’s hard to break a habit you don’t realize you have. With the points from this article on your mind, you’ll become more aware of this habit of distraction.

      -Maura Nevel Thomas


      If you want to learn more about Attention Management, click here!

      A version of this article originally appeared on maurathomas.com.

      You can preview and purchase the book here>>

      You Can Do Anything You Set Your Mind To!

      August 27, 2019 174 Views No comments

      How long have you struggled with a goal or tried to achieve success, never to see it happen? Have you stopped to think why? There is a way to win, and it begins with a strong and positive mindset. Our newest release, 88 Days to Any Goal, shows that magic can happen when you're fully committed!

      Why 88 Days?

      Research has shown that people tend to work harder when they're closer to their goals. This means that with every step you take towards your goal, the harder you'll push yourself to get there. To ensure that you're taking necessary action, you need to set up a system that you follow consistently. It can take close to 88 days to fully implement a system, and during that time, the behaviors and actions you take will become habits. Those habits are what set you up for success. Here are three steps to help you get started:


      1. Follow the Critical Few
      When going after a goal, there are many good, trivial things you can do to inch forward. However, in order to succeed, there are only 2-3 things you must absolutely do if you want to reach your goal. How can you determine what these critical few items are?

      Action: First, write down your objective, being as specific as possible. Next, list out all the steps you think you'll need to take to reach your goal. For each step, write down the daily habits and behaviors you'll have to follow. Finally, review this list and circle the top 2-3 things that are most critical.


      2. Face Challenges to Your Goal
      As you start working towards your goal, it's important to think about the road ahead and what obstacles you might find. When you are aware of potential challenges, you can prepare with possible solutions.

      Action: Take a moment to write down challenges you think you may face as you get closer to your goal. For each challenge that you identify, write down a solution to help you through.


      3. Plan, Do, Review and Adjust
      Although it can be very exciting to start on the path towards a new goal, it's the day-to-day behaviors that will actually get you there, which means focusing on your plan.

      Action: Make sure to review your plan weekly, make adjustments as you go along, and continue following it. Ask yourself if there are gaps that you can fill with activities that support your goal, and confirm that your schedule is focusing on those critical few items.


      Start your 88 day plan with 88 Days to Any Goal>>






      Tell Your Stories

      August 19, 2019 486 Views No comments

      Good leaders ask, “How do I tell better stories?” Great leaders ask, “What stories do I need to tell?”

      Will you be a more effective leader if your stories are well-crafted and delivered? Of course. But the truth is, the story you tell is more important than how you deliver it. You're probably not an actor or a public speaker. You're a leader. Your audience doesn't expect perfection. They expect you to be decisive and helpful.

      If you tell a story that helps them do their job better, but you forget the opening line, stutter a little, or even butcher the surprise ending, your audience will still learn from it. But if you tell them an irrelevant or unhelpful story even though you deliver it in a way that would make a Shakespearean actor proud, your audience will never forgive you for wasting their time.

      So, what stories do you need to tell?

      After conducting over 300 one-on-one interviews with CEOs, leaders, and executives in 25 countries around the world about their use of storytelling in business, here’s my list of the most important ten stories any leader needs to be able to tell at a moment’s notice.

      1. Where we came from (our founding story) – Nobody ever quit their job and started a company for a boring reason. Find that reason for your company’s founder and tell that story. It will infect everyone with the same sense of purpose and passion.

      2. Why we can’t stay here (a case-for-change story) – Human beings are creatures of habit. Change is an unwelcome visitor. This story provides the rationale for why change is needed and a real human reason to care.

      3. Where we’re going (a vision story) – A vision is a picture of the future so compelling, people want to go there with you. And the best way to paint that picture is with a story about what that future will look like when you achieve it.

      4. How we’re going to get there (a strategy story) – Strategy is how you’ll get from where you are now to where you want to be. In other words, strategy is a journey. And what better way to describe a journey than a story?

      5. What we believe (a corporate-values story) – Values are only words on a piece of paper until they’re tested. This is a story of one of those awkward or uncomfortable moments one of your company values was put to the test.

      6. Who we serve (a customer story) – There’s no substitute for getting out of the office and meeting your customer face-to-face. And for the majority of your organization that will never do that, this is a story you tell about one of your customer interactions so they’ll know that customer as well as you do.

      7. What we do for our customers (a sales story) – A story about what you did for one of your customers that’s so impressive other people will want to buy what you’re selling as well.

      8. How we’re different from our competitors (a marketing story) – You probably have a list of reasons why your product or service is better than your competition. Well, guess what? Nobody remembers your list. But they will remember the story you tell them that shows them those differences as they play out in a real situation.

      9. Why I lead the way I do (a leadership-philosophy story) – No series of buzzwords on a piece of paper could ever articulate the subtle, human, and complex nature of your personal leadership philosophy. If you want people to understand how to expect you to lead, you need to tell them a story about what shaped the leader you’ve become.

      10. Why you should want to work here (a recruiting story) – Every company claims they offer competitive pay and benefits, challenging work, and great advancement opportunities. If you really want to attract the best talent, you need real stories about why it’s so awesome to work there.

      If you want to see an example of each of these stories, plus a few tips on how to come up with your own, you'll find them in the new book, The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell.

      Good luck with your stories.

      -Guest post from Paul Smith, author of The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell.


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