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What does it mean to “unleash your genius?”

Well first, when you hear the word “genius,” what comes to mind? I’m betting you get a mental image of someone like Albert Einstein or Marie Curie. 

And, indeed, “a person endowed with extraordinary mental superiority” is one of the dictionary definitions of “genius.” But that’s not actually the primary meaning of the word. Here are a few definitions of “genius” that come before that one:

  • “an attendant spirit of a person or place.”
  • “a strong leaning or inclination.”
  • “a peculiar, distinctive, or identifying character or spirit.”
  • “a single strongly marked capacity or aptitude.”

This is how I think of it: Only a few rare people are geniuses in the Einstein or Curie sense of the word. But all of us have our own kind of genius: a unique way of thinking, doing and being. 

We do our best work, and experience the most fulfillment and satisfaction, when we have the ability to stay present and build up some “momentum” for a task, conversation, or experience.” There’s a problem, though. The fast pace and relentless high-tech distractions of modern life are throttling our genius. Trying to keep up with an endless tide of emails, notifications and other stimuli make it a struggle to bring our full selves to any task or interaction. The sad result is that we’re constantly busy but only infrequently accomplishing or experiencing what’s truly meaningful to us. We’re rarely able to “unleash our genius” on our lives.

So what can you do to break this cycle and unleash your own genius? As an experienced productivity trainer, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. The approach I’ve used to help thousands of professionals unleash their genius comes down to one key idea: attention management.

How Does Distraction Keep You from Unleashing Your Genius?

Attention management is the ability to consciously direct your attention in any given moment, to be more proactive than reactive, and to maintain control rather than inadvertently relinquish it.

Unfortunately, a lack of attention management is one of the defining characteristics of today’s workplace cultures. Without attention management, knowledge workers stay tethered to email — even after hours and even on vacation. An open-office layout creates myriad distractions. Employees decide what to do next not based on their priorities, but on whatever is demanding their attention at the moment, whether that’s an email, social media notification or a colleague dropping by their desk to chat.

According to one study, we switch our attention every 3 minutes, 5 seconds. Let’s really think about that for a moment. We’re trying to do the important stuff of work and life in increments about as long as it takes to toast bread. Three minutes, 5 seconds isn’t enough time to bring all your mental power to solving a problem. It isn’t enough time to summon all of your empathy, warmth and humor during an interaction. In 3 minutes, 5 seconds, your genius doesn’t get enough breathing room to really manifest itself.

Distraction undercuts your genius in another way, too. In the study I cited, about half the times that employees were interrupted, they were interrupting themselves. For example, they would stop what they were working on for seemingly no reason and start surfing the web.

What’s happening here? We’re so used to switching our attention every few minutes that we’ve reduced our patience. Constant distraction  doesn’t just undermine our ability to maintain our attention for more than a few minutes. It also undermines our desire to take on meaningful, thoughtful work at all. We increasingly gravitate toward the quick and easy and put off for another time the things that feel big and hard. Those things are usually our most important objectives. And “another time” never ends up coming. So, without attention management, our most important work goes undone. We stay stressed and unsatisfied. And our genius goes untapped.

 

What Are the Results of Attention Management?

You may have heard others say, or perhaps even said yourself, that the depressing state of affairs I just described is simply “just how things are now.” Somehow we’ve become resigned to the idea that we’ll always be frantic, frazzled and woefully behind — that we’ll never get out from under all of the busy work and do what really lights us up.

But I disagree. I believe you have a special kind of genius. I believe your workplace, your loved ones and the world as a whole need your genius. And I believe you can access the full power of your genius by taking back control of your life through attention management.

I believe all of this because I’ve seen how countless busy professionals like you start to thrive again when they learn attention management skills. They experience results like these:

  • They stop wasting mental energy trying to figure out what to do next. They know the best use of their time in any given moment.
  • They claim extended periods of uninterrupted time so they can apply deep focus to their most important work.
  • They communicate better and maintain stronger relationships because they’re fully present with others — instead of checking their phone or worrying about all they have to do.
  • Instead of staying connected to work 24-7, they regularly take time to recharge and refill their reserves of patience, insight and creativity.
  • They’re no longer at the mercy of email and other technologies. Instead, their tech tools actually support their productivity instead of draining it.

In other words, they’re clearing the obstacles to true productivity so that they can unleash their genius.

 

How to Get Started With Attention Management

You can start practicing attention management skills immediately. Right now, set your phone to silent. Turn off your social media alerts and downloads of new email. Now set a timer for just 15 minutes. Until the timer goes off, give all your attention to something important you need to get done. This will probably make you feel antsy and uncomfortable. You’ll be tempted to glance at your phone or perhaps open a browser window to check the latest headlines. But stay with your work. This is how to rebuild your capacity to focus your attention and exercise your genius. Next time, you can add a few more minutes to your period of focused work.

If you were intrigued by the timer experiment, I invite you to check out my new book, Attention Management: How to Gain Success and Increase Productivity — Every Day. It’s a quick read (about an hour) that will show you all you need to know to master attention management. You’ll learn why attention management is the single most important productivity tool for the 21st century workplace and how it differs from time management. You’ll also come away with many more practical strategies that will make an instant difference in your productivity and wellbeing.

The book comes out Sept. 9th, but if you pre-order, you’ll also receive free extras such as the audio version of the book, an assessment, a workbook, videos and interviews with other experts.

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