Attention as a Competitive Advantage

In the almost 20 years that I’ve been coaching and training leaders, I’ve noticed some interesting trends.  One trend that’s become quite clear to me in the last several years is that my clients are becoming increasingly distracted.  Because all my clients are in leadership roles, they experience multiple demands on their attention, with emails and meetings being the primary offenders.  There are also plenty of potential targets for their discretionary attention, including on-line news and social media sites.  It’s quite possible for most of us to sit at our computers all day, feel interested and engaged and active, and yet not actually produce anything of significant value.  There are simply too many sources of distraction. As the economic psychologist Herbert Simon put it, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

I’m not generally one to predict the future, but I will go on record with this prediction: the future belongs to those who can most effectively and intentionally direct and sustain their attention.

In other words, it’s all about focus.

If you can’t focus your attention on the things most likely to move the needle for you—no matter what that needle is—your professional and personal outcomes will be left to chance.

If you want to get a promotion but spend all of your time reviewing your direct reports’ expense reports, you’re unlikely to be seen by senior leadership as someone who can catalyze a team.

If you want to build the capacity of your team through coaching and development but spend most of your day responding to emails, chances are you’re not going to become a leader of choice (which, by the way, is my own personal goal for most of my clients).

If you want to quit your job and start your own business but spend your evenings on Facebook and Instagram instead of talking to potential customers about your product or service, you’re probably still going to be drawing a paycheck at age 50.  And perhaps, at some point after that, you’ll be staring down the barrel of age discrimination as you look for a new salaried position.

So given all the available opportunities to squander your limited time and attention, what can you do?

Starting in my next blog, I’ll discuss four practices I’m referring to as The Attention Strategies: Prioritization, Mindfulness, Self-Care and Accountability.

None of these are rocket science, and I’m certainly breaking no new ground in enumerating them, but if YOU are trying to be more intentional about the things to which devote your finite time and attention, I’ve seen these strategies make a big difference for my clients (and, in some cases, for myself as well) in focusing attention and resisting distraction.

And in case you, like me, often know the right thing to do but have difficulty choosing it, I’ll start with the strategies that require high levels of discipline and finish with a hack or two (what I’ll call low-discipline strategies) for those who want at least to move in the right direction.

You can sign up on my website ( to receive my blogs automatically so you won’t miss any of the high-discipline OR low-discipline strategies for focusing your attention.