In having a debate about ‘Leadership’ with colleagues and what it is and isn’t; I was introduced to the concept of ‘Continuous Partial Attention’; a term coined by Linda Stone in 1998.
My first thought was that this is the same as multi-tasking but apparently not. When we multi-task we are usually engaged in activities that require little conscious attention such as photocopying, printing, filing or shredding papers. Personally, I am proud of my multi-tasking ability and I’m sure we all share that feeling of achievement when we’ve completed lots of little tasks and scored them off the ‘to-do list’.
Paying continuous partial attention by contrast, is to give our ‘limited’ ongoing attention to activities in any given moment. Our motivation here is to make sure we don’t miss anything; which puts us on high alert in readiness for an imagined impending crisis. It also keeps us busy which can make us feel important.
The theory is that if you overdo this you’ll find yourself operating in crisis management mode, and to a compromised ability to reflect or make decisions.
Certainly, one of the biggest inhibitors to progress in organisations is the lack of timely decision making; and I know many leaders who find it hard to siphon through the vast amount of information coming their way every day and to differentiate between so many conflicting priorities.
My invitation, if you accept it is to identify 3-4 genuine business priorities that will move you forward and that are in alignment with stated business objectives. Now, when you are faced with different agendas competing for your time, consider whether they inform one or more of those priorities. If not, set them aside or hand them on.
Tempting as it may be to engage in smaller or less complex work – if only for a breather – I’d encourage you to identify a conscious distraction and allow yourself to engage in that activity for a pre-determined amount of time.
The benefits to you are two-fold: you are focusing on business improvements that will inevitably have a positive financial impact; and you are enjoying some well earned downtime which allows the batteries to recharge. Sound good?