This post was updated May 17, 2020
Every leader knows one of the most challenging aspects of your role is managing and developing your people—identifying the gaps in their skills, and helping them to fill those gaps. Building and growing a team of capable and productive employees often sounds like an easier feat than it turns out to be in real life, especially with increasing demands on everyone’s attention, including your own.
Do you often look at your team and think, “I see some great skills here, I just need to find a way to help them be more efficient”? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, one of the top skillsets employers say they want in an employee is a strong ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work. Sounds like time management skills, right?
Maybe not. Too often, we overstate the importance of time management training.
Time Management Training Isn’t the Solution
Traditional time management training is built on a solid foundation of concepts and strategies that people have been practicing for decades. And while the theory still contains some very useful elements–making lists, setting goals, and prioritizing tasks–there are three fundamental challenges that keep time management training from being effective in the long run for today’s knowledge workers.
1. The Concept of “Time Management” is Misleading
The first issue we face is the phrasing of the term itself: “time management” is a misnomer that implies a level of control over time that we don’t actually have.
Time itself isn’t manageable; you can’t slow it down or speed it up.
Setting aside the Theory of Relativity and the space-time continuum, we work within a set structure of time–each of us has a fixed number of minutes and hours in our day to work with.
Additionally, the time in our days is very rarely “ours” to do with what we will; our work and personal lives–and especially the people within them–tend to dictate what we do with large chunks of that time. A more useful approach is to think of improving our productivity in terms of something that we can control: our attention.
2. It’s Difficult to Act on Time Management Training
The second challenge with the notion of time management training is that it doesn’t provide enough detail for employees to actively and accurately put the strategies into play in their lives.
This training may provide employees with concepts about how to better “manage their time,” but it often falls short in supplying workers with the comprehensive workflow management system that is necessary to increase productivity in these complicated times.
For just one example, consider how time management training instructs you to prioritize projects. It offers that the best way to prioritize is to put the important ahead of the urgent, which leads to the outdated practice of having long lists organized by “A, B, C” or “High, Medium, Low.” This leaves most employees is staring at an endless supply of “A” or “High” priority items and still wondering where to begin. While perhaps useful in theory, this approach no longer works for the increasingly urgent pace at which businesses now run.
Another example is that traditional time management training teaches that if something is really important, you should make an appointment with yourself on your calendar to get it done. But this leads to the unproductive practice of plugging everything on your to-do list into an opening on your calendar.
But it’s really easy, and really common, for us to break those appointments with ourselves. So then we spend too much time dragging appointments from one hour to another, from one day or week to the next, which is inefficient. And it often results in important tasks not getting done, but also not rescheduled, which means that it “slips through the cracks.” The real-world application of traditional time management training techniques just doesn’t work.
3. Time Management Training is Built for a Pre-Digital Age
A third challenge with time management training is that it is built for another time, unfortunately one that is long past. Traditional time management practices are designed to be effective in a pre-digital era and its suggestions and strategies aren’t flexible enough to meet the demands of our current digital age.
Nearly every moment of every day, your employees are facing constant distraction, and are doing their best to stay focused on priorities amidst the noise.
These distractions are both internal and external–everything from thoughts of a growing to-do list, to a continuous stream of emails, notifications, phone calls and text messages, to colleagues (or maybe even you) popping by (physically or virtually) to ask a question or add another task to their list.
Until your team has the skills to manage their attention amid these distractions, no amount of “time management training” will help.
Invest in Attention Management Training Over Time Management Training
What is Attention Management?
There’s the common saying, “You can’t manage time, you can only manage yourself.” Attention management allows you to do exactly that: Control how and where your attention goes, so that you harness it most effectively to achieve the results that are most significant to you.
Attention management is the idea that how you spend your time is relevant only to the extent that you also focus your attention. Time spent on a task while switching your attention to each new distraction is far less productive than time spent on a task without interruptions (internal or external).
Teaching your knowledge workers how to control their attention allows them to be in control of their day, taking control of their personal productivity. This autonomy to be productive in the way that works for each employee increases their sense of empowerment, their satisfaction at the end of each workday, and their dedication to their role. If you’re looking for a way to increase the productivity of your team, empowering employees is one of the best ways to do it.
Attention Management Training is Empowering, Not Depleting
The idea that in order to be more productive, your team just needs to learn to manage their time sets them up for disappointment and defeat.
However, when you make the shift to teach your employees to manage their attention, they become more empowered—leading to accomplish more of their most important work, make more thoughtful decisions, and unleash the genius you hired them for in the first place.
Comprehensive productivity skills based on attention management are essential for 21st-century knowledge workers. And equipping your team with these skills are key to an individual and organizational success. When your employees know how to effectively manage distractions and regain control over their workload, they avoid burnout and leave the office each day feeling accomplished and energized rather than stressed and overwhelmed.
It Provides a Detailed Roadmap for Action
Knowledge workers like to know what’s expected of them and have clear steps for achieving those goals. Your team wants to be more productive,” but they likely don’t have a clear grasp on what this means or how to attain it. Instead, it often translates to just working more hours and long, exhausting days with little time left over for themselves or their families. This behavior only ends up damaging their productivity rather than increasing it.
Implementing an effective workflow management system based on attention management allows professionals to regain hours in their day, leaving more time to recharge their energy and creativity.
In my experience, many people let email and other communications drive their daily activities—handling each message as it comes in, without regard to priority or importance. The result is spending all day in “reactive” mode, without creating the space for thinking, tackling their most important work, and being thoughtfully proactive.
A better alternative is a comprehensive workflow management system based in attention management, like my Empowered Productivity™ System. This provides your employees with the methodology and the ability to make better use of their technology—to apply their attention and achieve their most significant results.
Attention Management Training is Built for Our Digital Age
Advances in technology mean the demands on our attention have increased exponentially. The practice of attention management equips you to control the distractions around you, maximize your focus, be more present in your moments, and engage your “flow” more often.
Attention management training offers the ability to regain control of your environment, your technology, and your unproductive habits, so you can stay focused on what’s important. As a leader, equipping your team with these skills allows them to effectively manage and respond to the constant distractions of our digital age.
Email, which is an important component of modern work, can also be one of the biggest obstacles to productivity.
Because we have become so dependent on it, the first thing most employees do daily is sit down at their desk and check their email. While this can help identify any urgent items that need to be addressed, more often than not it only sends workers down a “rabbit hole” of continual email checking and responding, setting the stage for them to be in reactive mode all day long.
In contrast, attention management training teaches employees to manage their communication and tasks in a way that is proactive, putting them in control of their actions and results.
The Key to Productivity: A Workflow Management System Based in Attention Management
What is a workflow management system?
A workflow management system is a collection of behaviors and supporting tools that enable you to more efficiently store, organize, prioritize, and act on all of your commitments, communication, and responsibilities. This includes everything from an email you need to answer, to your ambitious long-term goals. The benefit is that all of these items are in one external location, outside your head, so that you can manage the details effectively without losing sight of the big picture.
Common time management training techniques lead people to sticky notes, flags in email, and paper notebooks that serve as multiple collection points for reference material, action items, contact information, and calendar dates. However, without a comprehensive system to manage all of these elements, it leaves workers with a fragmented view of the bigger picture, and the stress of trying to remember where everything is. This is not a recipe for peak productivity!
Use of a workflow management system enables you to corral everything into one place, making it manageable, efficient, and fluid enough to respond to ever-changing work demands.
It allows your employees to “see the forest” (stay focused on the long-term goals) instead of getting “lost the trees” (the smaller tasks of everyday work).
What is Empowered Productivity?
When designing the Empowered Productivity System, I chose these words very intentionally. Being “empowered” means putting you and your team back in the driver’s seat so that you can live a life of choice— “making someone stronger and more confident in controlling their life.” To be “productive” is to “achieve a significant result.”
So putting these together, the Empowered Productivity System enables people to control their life and achieve more of their significant results. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Now imagine the impact on your organization if everyone on the team became empowered over their own productivity.
How Can Empowered Productivity Training Help Your Team Achieve Its Most Important Results?
Giving your team comprehensive workflow management training rather than traditional time management training will provide them specific steps to increase their proactive time and decrease reactive time.
Check out a few examples of results I’ve seen from individuals and teams I’ve worked with to implement the Empowered Productivity training:
- David went from feeling overwhelmed, worried and powerless to feeling in control of work and life.
- Joe reported a company-wide sense of productivity and peace.
- Brad said it drove a significant culture change to where employees now hold one another accountable for managing their attention and achieving results.
- William received compelling value for all employees who attended and saw a clear ROI on the training.
If you’re like most people, today’s fast-paced, highly distracted world makes you feel often overwhelmed and concerned that your employees are headed down a road of reactivity and burnout. But it’s also admirable that, in the midst of all the chaos, you’re looking for a solution that will help your business maximize productivity while staying focused on the well-being of your team. An effective way to accomplish this is through Empowered Productivity training. If you take nothing else from this article, just remember this: the best way to develop your time management skills is to improve your attention management.
If you’d like to have a conversation about your unique situation, please contact me here, or just pick up the phone and call me at 424-226-2872. I’d love to see how I can help get you and your team back to being thoughtfully proactive and achieving more of your individual and organizational goals.
Watch the video to learn more about Empowered Productivity training.