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November 2013

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PD TO GO: Pay Attention

By Amy Orlov, Director of Professional Education & Training, GMAC

When my sixth-grade teacher made the comment on my report card, “student sometimes lacks focus”, I explained to my mother that this really meant “teacher is sometimes boring.” As it turns out, we focus better and are more successful when we do things we like and are interested in. During that sixth-grade semester I guess I must not have been interested in what was being taught. Now, a few (!) years later, with a world of mega-information at our fingertips, it seems our attention is threatened even when we ARE interested. Our ability to focus is under attack from constant and instant access to information. And rather than blaming the teacher, we all need to practice a bit of self discipline and exercise when it comes to refocusing. 

Focus by Daniel GolemanIn his new book Focus, Daniel Goleman, tackles exactly that topic – what is focus, why are we losing it, and how can we get it back? Goleman’s previous book, Emotional Intelligence, helped us realize the importance of EQ for personal and professional success, and his new book does the same for focus. If we expect to reach our goals in life, we need to approach tasks with a different state of mind than we did even 10 years ago. Is multitasking now a thing of the past? 

The book provides insight into how we can exercise to regain our attention. The trick is to find that sweet spot between mindlessness, the total absence of concentrated thought, and the ever-popular mindfulness, the practice of being continuously present in the moment. It is in this middle ground that we can be more creative, more imaginative, and more engaged. 

According to Goleman, there are three types of focus: inner, other and outer; and they are all important to productivity and success. Inner focus refers to self-awareness, oth­er focus relates to em­pathy, and outer focus is connected to environmental attentiveness. High achievers are able to master this triple focus. 

As someone who has been studying leadership over the past several years, I found especially intriguing Goleman’s insight into organizational inattention. Just as individuals are having trouble staying focused, so too can an organization be derailed when employees lose the ability to focus on the company’s core mission and vision. Organizational focus has to be managed just as much as our individual attention, and today’s leaders need to effectively “capture and direct the company’s collective attention.”

Focus has something for everyone as we should all be aware of the constant battle for our attention. What are the tools necessary to combat every smart phone, tablet, laptop, television, news crawl, pop-up ad. Every LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Snapchat…all vying for our attention?  I encourage you to defend yourself – read the book and refocus!

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