Your Scarcest Resource Isn’t Time
“If you want something done, ask a busy person.”
The phrase is entertaining because it sounds counterintuitive. Is this “busy person” creating more time? Of course not. But the superpower of the “busy person” is managing attention. Their ability to allocate and regulate their attention gives them the ability to accomplish tasks…and the sometimes-dubious honor of being the one who “gets s*%$ done”.
Our time as individuals is (mostly) fixed. We have only 24 hours in the day. Yes, we can steal time from sleep, exercise, and leisure. But, the effects of chronically sacrificing time related to our mental and physical health can have a long-term negative impact.
Although time is scarce, the attention we devote in that time is even scarcer. There is constant competition for your attention. From email alerts and text messages to the stream of urgent thoughts running through your head, your attention is strong demand. Social Media firms understand all too well the value of your attention – and are making a great deal of money based on this understanding. Their user experience and algorithms governing that experience are designed to get your attention and keep it.
With the knowledge that attention is actually your scarcest resource (and everyone else’s), managing attention becomes THE critical skill. Your attention is precious. It can add leverage to your time and greatly increases its impact. As a leader, you must think about managing the attention of two distinct audiences: your own attention and the attention of others.
Managing your attention
This is arguably your greatest area of control. In the context of your role in the organization as a leader, your attention should be governed by few principles.
1. Your Priorities - How important is it to your organization and what is the needed outcome? Setting your priorities based on importance to the organization dictates how much attention is worthwhile.
2. Your Unique Capabilities – Just because something is important doesn’t mean it should get all your attention. The critical filter of the leader is what can only you accomplish by virtue of your position (a CEO has specific responsibilities and a privileged communication platform) and your any special skills you possess. Beware - your “special skills” is a trap. It seemingly implies anything that you are best at, you should be the one doing it, but as attention is scarce, it may be prudent to use someone else’s attention because you can have a greater impact elsewhere.
3. How you Recharge – Your supply of attention is not infinite. Understanding and putting into practice how you recharge that ability to pay attention gives you the opportunity to maximize your attention when you need to. (More to come on this in a future newsletter!).
Managing everyone else’s attention
Referencing #2 above and your unique capabilities, the role of the leader (and where you truly optimize your own leverage) is to marshal everyone else’s attention towards your organization’s objective. As Chief Dot Connector this means knowing what will get their attention and what will keep it focused on “the right thing”. Your team has constant competition for their own attention. For you to direct it is no small task. You must be dedicated to the art of communication to optimize their attention. Your goals in communicating to get and keep attention should include:
1. Organization, brevity, and appropriate precision – Opportunities to lose attention abound. Ensuring that others can follow where they should focus means that they should be able to grasp the overall goal.
2. Resource focus – Similar to recognizing your own unique capabilities, to focus attention your message needs to be customized to the unique capabilities of your team members and how their particular attention is valuable.
3. Both the “What” and the “Why” – Communication is valuable, but it is not viable or prudent to give every detail. Context on what the organization is focused on and why ensures that you can use collective strengths in the best way possible. Your team can use this context as a filter for their own attention and where to devote it for the best possible outcome.
Attention is your scarcest resource – use it well!
About Matt Sitter
Matt Sitter leads Advantary's Executive Capital Practice and is CEO of the Advantage Foundry Network (AFN). He is passionate about optimizing team collaboration and harnessing the power of networks. Matt has served on multiple executive management teams and received his BA from Brown University and MBA from the Tuck School at Dartmouth.