Your Time Management Misses the Target

Literally listing the day’s priorities will help you realign to them whenever you have to stop mid-stream and attend to something. And, listing priorities will assist you in resist checking social media for the 14th time before lunch.

Many financial advisors find that they are adding new or different tasks to their to do lists. Things like marketing, networking, and budget balancing may be fighting for space in your Google calendar. With those wars for your time, you may feel that your time management skills need a tune up. Not so fast, say business leaders. Instead of managing your time, you may need to manage your attention.  

Six years ago I couldn’t focus for more than 10 minutes on a book I needed to finish for a class. I assumed it was my eyesight as I had crossed into my 40s. Not so said the kind doctor. What then could be driving my inability to read for more than 10 minutes? The constant pinging of my phone with emails I had to check well past six p.m. was a tip off. It wasn’t eyestrain that was keeping me from focusing, it was my attention. I had been living with constant interruptions in a new job for more than six months and the toll was that even in a quiet Saturday afternoon when I wasn’t being constantly interrupted, I was primed and ready for them by checking my email to ensure I hadn’t missed any potential looming crisis. Even when I had the time, I could barely get the task done. As this mindfulness writer notes: “No one manages time. We manage our attention.”

So how do we manage attention instead of time? A few suggested strategies include the following:

Prioritize. It’s impossible to know what fires will crop up that need to be put down or what existential crisis could occur for a client. But it is possible to choose each day the three to five tasks that have to be done each day so that your business can keep sailing along. Literally listing the day’s priorities will help you realign to them whenever you have to stop mid-stream and attend to something. And, listing priorities will help with distractions. Knowing you have clear priorities will help you resist checking social media or your email for the 14th time before lunch. Priorities also help you learn to say no to new tasks or obligations that aren’t essential.

Pay attention to what you pay attention to: Some folks call paying attention to what distracts you an attention audit. For some people this may mean looking at your physical workspace and finding what might pull your attention away. It could be as simple as being too close to the TV in the coffee break room, or as complicated as how you organize your files on your desk. For some people, having two monitors, or a split screen, can help them stay focused on their work by knowing they can literally see their email. Others might need more of a physical signal not to be interrupted when working in a shared space, like using headphones.

End the culture of multi-tasking: Multi-tasking was once prized as an ideal of efficiency. Since then, its been shown over and over to be a tremendous way of doing multiple things poorly. However the idea that people can pay attention to more than one thing at a time lingers. How so? If you walk into a colleague’s office to ask a question and they continue typing an email to a client, both the client and your question are getting the short end of the stick. You can stop this work culture by simply noting that you can wait or return.  That goes for those who insist on asking questions while you are the one drafting the email to the client.

Changing culture may take a lot longer than setting three priorities each day, but it can make getting through your to do list a lot easier.  And it just might make it easier to finish that book on a quiet Saturday afternoon.

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