Using People's Attention Properly

I recently saw a video that amazed and entertained me - I highly recommend you watch this.

While entertaining, it got me thinking about how we get and hold people's attention. One thing on which everyone agrees is that our society has too many distractions. Too many ways that we can not pay attention. How many times in meetings do you see people on their phone or laptop, clearly not paying attention to what is happening?

I'm not against these tools. In fact, I think the manager is just as much to blame as the person not paying attention. The manager needs to set the expectation that someone shouldn't multitask, and then also give the individual the autonomy to pay attention.

There are 2 reasons I usually don't pay attention:

  • I don't see the value in what is happening.

  • I feel too busy.

While a manager could focus on showing value more (always a good idea), the employee should have the autonomy to decide as well. If I am going to call a meeting, I want them to know that it is important, which means clearly defining who is there and why and communicating that. However, the employee should know the expectations well enough that they can make choices. A meeting might be the best use of their time one day, but a project might be the better use another day.

The strangest thing about this is managers are convinced that this will hurt productivity and people will "goof off". Yet, most adults do this every day at home. I decide if doing the laundry or spending 10 minutes talking with my spouse is a better use of time. I decide if going to the park is a better use of time than cleaning the kitchen.

It is almost as if the only place we treat adults like adults is when they aren't at work.