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Paying Attention

by David Brock on July 27th, 2011

The other day, I was returning to the office from a meeting.  The drive was a little more than an hour, so I started making calls.  After a few calls, I suddenly looked around–I’d missed my exit and had driven about 5 miles further than I should have.  All of a sudden I thought, “How did I get here?”

In this world of hyper activity, impacting every aspect of our business and personal lives; I think we often find ourselves in the situation of “How did I get here?”  We get caught up in meeting after meeting, constantly being interrupted by emails, texts, tweets.  We go through the motions we always have gone through–often on autopilot.

Then something happens, we suddenly snap to attention, thinking, “How did I get here?”  It could be the loss of a long term customer.  It could be the pipeline drying up.  It could be losing that deal that was “wired for us.”  It could be longer and longer sales cycles, lower win rates.  It could be leaving the office at 10:00 PM, knowing there’s one more call later in the evening.  Or it’s the 200 unread emails sitting in the inbox this morning.

For organizations, it could unhappy employees, people leaving – going to different jobs, loss of key customers, missed product launch deadlines, products that flop on the market, that new-unexpected competitor,  increases in customer complaints, more billing disputes, the inability to attract and recruit the right people.

We try to put things in place to help us pay attention–our to-do lists, countless dashboards, and reports.  We buy the latest new technology that is supposed to help us “pay attention.”  It works for a while, then things get back to routine.  We buy the latest book, attend a seminar.  We’re energized, on a “sugar high,”  and then we, go back to do our jobs.

Paying attention is hard–there are so many things fighting for our attention, that it’s difficult to focus and really be attentive.  Then one day, something happens and we wonder, “How did I (we) get here?”

Paying attention means constantly being conscious—being in the moment:

  • Are we listening to the employee sitting in our office.  We’re not distracted by emails or phone calls, but are we fully attentive and engaged in the conversation?
  • Are we listening to our customers and really hearing them, engaging them?  Are we so worried about our script, the next question, the fact that we need this order that we’re not paying attention?
  • Have we stopped multitasking?  Have we recognized that busyness is a productivity drain?
  • Do we know the handful of metrics that are important to us?  Not the long list of reports, but those 3 or 4 metrics that tell us that we are on track?  Do we pay attention to them?  When things start going off target do we take the time to analyze and understand?
  • Do we understand our priorities and are we committed to them, or do we let the latest whim, crisis, fashion du jour divert us.
  • When we add a new priority or project–do we remove at least one?  Do we resist piling on?
  • Are we focused on no more than 3 priorities?
  • When an initiative isn’t working, do we take the time to understand why and take corrective action?  Or do we abandon it and go off onto something new-just because it is new?
  • Do we schedule down time for ourselves-and keep it?  Do we schedule time to think, plan, and reflect?  Do we schedule time to learn something new?  Do we schedule time to get exercise?  Do we schedule some time to just look around and see what’s happening around us?

Back to the other day.  After asking myself, “How did I get here.”  the terror came–I was driving on the freeway, I’d become unconscious, what kind of accident could I have created?  Something serious could have happened.  That’s the problem with not paying attention.

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  1. Great article! I find myself on autopilot at times. Wheather its work, driving or at home with my wife and three daughters. Focus is Definetly a contious decision.

    • Duane, thanks for the comment. It’s amazing how easy it is to get into autopilot mode. We have to continuously be mindful and conscious, it’s amazing how different the results are. Thanks for joining the discussion.

  2. Hi David,

    This one’s a bit personal to me as I lost a good friend in a car accident because he was distracted and on the phone… Calling people asks more of our concentration than we think, focus and attention that’s needed for driving. Keep it safe my friend!


    • Wim, I understand, a cyclist friend of mine was killed because a person was texting and driving. Multitasking–particularly while driving doesn’t work. I’ve learned. Regards, Dave

  3. David,
    don’t worry, your unconscious mind is a lot more competent than you realise.
    Has it ever forgot to make your heart beat or to breathe for you ?

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