FranklinCovey Consultant Blogs | Todd Wangsgard | Distractions
“What information consumes is rather obvious. It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” These words seem to confirm our observations of modern day life and the distractions that technology and information have become. They’re even more impressive when you realize they were said by Nobel Prize winner, Herbert Simon, in 1971! If information was creating this poverty then, how poor must we be today?
In her book, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, Maggie Jackson writes, “The way we live is eroding our capacity for deep, sustained perceptive attention. As we cultivate lives of distraction, we are losing our capacity to create and preserve wisdom… and slipping towards a line of ignorance that is paradoxically born of an abundance of information and connectivity.” In other words, being more connected and informed is creating more ignorance and less wisdom.
Many people call themselves great multitaskers, as though that term were a badge of honor. It comes from the 1960s when computer programmers learned they could code a computer to perform two or more applications simultaneously. However, you and I are not computers. Humans are hardwired to take on tasks sequentially, not at the same time. Our brains cannot pay full attention to two things at the same time, especially as the nature of the tasks become more complex.
Then, we also become much less efficient when we try to bounce back and forth between assignments, without spending dedicated time (20 minutes or longer) on just one. Experts call the increment of time required to go back and forth between tasks “switching time.” When computer programmers get sidetracked or move spontaneously to another task, switching time takes an average 25 minutes before they get back into the flow of coding that they were in before the interruption, if they even get back at all.
Additionally, we’re less and less connected to those who matter most in our lives, when we attempt to multitask or move our attention around too frequently. Admit it. You’ve looked past the person talking to you to glance at your computer screen for any incoming messages. How did you feel the last time you were on the phone with someone and your heard the clickety-clack of their keyboard in the background. When we should be having a “human moment,” as specialist in ADHD Dr. Edward Hallowell calls it, multitasking sends a loud and clear message to the other person: “You’re not worth 100 percent of my attention.”
We need to slow down. We need to pay attention. We need to think more deeply. We need to say no to the superficial. As Maggie Jackson describes it, “We are allowing ourselves to be ever-more entranced by the unsifted trivia of life. To value a split-focus life… is above all to squeeze out potential time and space for reflection. In the name of efficiency, we are diluting some of the essential qualities that make us human.”
Undoubtedly the principles that are taught in our curriculum – such as responsibility, planning, follow-through, abundance, listening, collaboration, trust, etc. – become even more relevant during times of economic retraction. Most organizations have felt the pinch of our economy, in some way or another. It has translated into palpable nervousness for many associates who are increasingly more unsure about their future. I can’t help but revisit an early theme I shared in my first blog posting – that living these principles is the answer to recession-proofing one’s career.
However, as I reflect further on the deliberate arrangement of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, as organized in the Maturity Continuum model, I can’t help but recognize the correlation that exists between the Private and Public Victories and what businesses expect from their employees during these tumultuous times.
Consider this. The Private Victory is about me. Not me, as in Todd, but me as in everyone. Be Proactive, Begin With the End in Mind, Put First Things First. I am completely and 100% in charge of whether or not I live these first three habits. I can turn them on and I can turn them off. I alone am in control of the level of effectiveness I wish to experience by taking responsibility, formulating a plan for my life, my year, my week, my day, and executing that plan in the face of constant distractions. There is tremendous gratification that comes from working a well-thought out plan and reaping its rewards. One benefits personally and is in a position to do more for himself, as well as others.
On the other hand, living out the Public Victory – Think Win-Win, Seek First to Understand…, and Synergize – require at least some cooperation from others. The Public Victory requires, well, the public! I can do everything right to get my own “shop” in order, but if my co-worker doesn’t want to work well with me, a Public Victory can be easily compromised. It takes an inordinate amount of effort to convince others (especially if they themselves haven’t achieved a Private Victory of their own) to think abundantly, to truly empathize with all parties, and to painstakingly work toward collaborative solutions that represent the 3rd Alternative.
Therefore, I must recognize more and more that living the Private Victory is simply the lowest possible threshold my employer is willing to accept among potential job candidates who are seeking employment. What differentiates me from the pack is going to be my ability to bring people together and actively work toward interdependence and the Public Victory every day of the week! My ability to synergize is what will differentiate my performance from the next “B-level” player who is only concerned about excellence in his or her own work.
In other words, living ALL seven of the habits completely is much more likely to ensure future opportunity and security than just doing my own thing and staying out of the way. More and more, potential employers are only willing to take a candidate seriously, if he or she can demonstrate what it takes to bring out the best in themselves and everyone else.
Where can you better leverage the Public Victory in your own work? How will you differentiate your contribution from the rest of the pack? What do you put at risk by only worrying about your own deliverables? Let’s be careful how often we utter those infamous words, “That’s not my job.” They could turn into a very undesirable reality.