It happened again today. I sent an email laying out a few details for a project and the person I emailed replied with a bunch of questions. The problem was the answers to the questions were in the email! I’ve heard this from others as well. The frustration of people doing do-over work, resurfacing items that were already decided, or bringing up issues that were addressed in meetings that they attended.

There seems to be a true attention deficit. I don’t mean the very real cognitive issue, Attention Deficit Disorder. I mean the broad lack of attention that can often plague a team or organization when people are going fast, being distracted, and not allowing themselves to focus on what’s at hand.

There are consequences to this lack of attention. Relationships can suffer as frustration builds, trust wanes, and colleagues feel that their work is not seen as important or valuable. Progress can be slow when discussions are revisited again and again and unnecessary questions are raised. Communication can break down as wrong assumptions are potentially made and important information is missed.

The good news is there are steps you can take to help heighten attention:

  • Uphold “no device” rules in meetings – often smartphones and laptops are a big part of the problem. Instead of fully participating and listening in meetings, team members are responding to email or otherwise focused on their electronic devices. “Just say no,” to devices so everyone can be present to where they are.
  • Set the example – when you are having a conversation, give the other person your full attention. If you open an email, make it a point to read (or thoroughly skim) the entire text, and to respond to the questions asked and ask questions to clarify what you don’t understand.
  • Limit distractions – besides your phone and laptop, what are the other things that distract you from giving your undivided attention? Is it fatigue? Is it lack of time on your calendar? Is it worry? Whatever it is, address it and regain your focus.
  • Practice being present – like most of us, there are many times in the day when I realize that I have lost focus and am half-paying attention to what I am doing. Those are the moments when I misplace things, forget things, and am more likely to give up on something. Being more mindful of when I am in or about to be in a distracted state helps me to catch myself and correct. “Pay attention.” ” Notice X.” “Remember to ….” These are the conversations I have with myself in those times when I am going through the motions and risk being caught in a state of distraction. Try them. They work.
  • Make the relationship the priority – when we emphasize the importance of developing and deepening relationships, we automatically heighten our attention and look to give and receive support from others. Pay attention to others with the intention of really getting to know them and understand them, so that your attention grows.

Our attention is certainly under attack with so much coming at us and so many demands pulling on our time and attention. Being aware of how that may be affecting you and the work that you do will help you to develop better habits and take control of your attention.

In what ways do you increase your attention?
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