The speaker was Dr. Jeremy Hunter, PhD, who is a professor at the Drucker School of Management at Claremont College. Dr. Hunter teaches a class entitled “The Executive Mind” which focuses on the benefits of being “mindful” or “self-aware” so as to be “present” and able to focus and pay attention to whatever task you are currently undertaking. Granted, after merely typing that last sentence, I can hear the sighs and the almost see the eye rolling (after-all, that was my initial response) but what followed was very valuable and I think you will agree.
We live in an age of distraction. A 2009 study conducted by University of California, San Diego found that we (executives / managers) are bombarded with 23 words per second! (Not to mention all of the visual images which are foisted upon us) In an effort to cope with information overload, we have turned (consciously or subconsciously) to multi-tasking. Once the official buzzword of the uber-productive, multi-tasking has seen its name besmirched as research increasingly proves that it simply does not do what we think it does. Rather than make us more productive Hunter says, it:
“Slows us down, creates more mistakes, damages connection with others, and undermines decision-making, learning, memory, and creativity”
Hunter cites four quick remedies to achieve an instant productivity boost:
1) Ask Yourself: “Is my attention where it needs to be RIGHTNOW. Doing this throughout the day creates opportunities to “right the ship”.
2) Hold Device Free Meetings: Smart Phones and Laptops are useful tools, but in a collaborative environment, people can function more effectively and focus on problem solving more effortlessly if everyone is truly present and devoting more focused attention to the task at hand. This may be difficult at first, but Hunter advises that once you get the hang of it, you will see marked improvement in time efficiency, productivity, and self-satisfaction.
3) Take an Attention Audit: Determine what in your workplace / workspace is distracting you. How are the habits of others presenting distractions to your day? Have you clearly communicated with others your “rules of engagement” when it comes to interruption and communication?
4) Give your Brain a Break: Dr. Hunter states that our brains can only sustain focused attention for 60-90 minutes before we see diminishing marginal returns on our efforts. He suggests taking a 15-minute break out of your workspace to clear your head and get ready to tackle your project.
By making “paying attention” a priority we can start to regain the life / work balance we all seem to be striving for but find so elusive. Dr. Hunter was featured in a recent article in the Los Angeles Times entitled “Tapping Into the Power of Mindfulness” there you can learn how companies like Google, General Mills, and Juniper Networks are reaping the benefits of making mindfulness an intentional part of their culture.