The reason people find the holidays so completely stressful, at least one reason, is that we all already have so
many things to think about. Suddenly in addition to work and family, friends, pets, budgets, whether or not moths are eating our woolen clothes, we also have a surplus of parties, shopping for gifts, decorating, traveling, socially and culturally appropriate card sending, and the rest. I was talking recently about how overwhelmed I’ve been with communication consultant Dennis Tardan and he said something that totally illuminated the issue. He said it’s not an issue of time management so much as learning to manage your attention budget.
How much attention, for example, do we devote to keeping up with characters and plot twists on television shows that seem to serve as harmless fodder for connecting with our fellow humans? How much attention do we give to what’s being posted on social media? How much attention do we dedicate to how things are going with Caitlyn Jenner or sitting and staring while we work out what to say to that troublesome friend, ex or sibling who can’t seem to get it together? When you only have so much real attention potential per day—because you know you run dry toward the end—to what are you devoting your attention? You have to have an attention budget and manage it carefully.
I had a boss once, who had pictures of his kids up around his cubicle. Next to each kid he had created a speech bubble saying something like “Can’t wait to go skiing Dad!” and “Thanks for funding college Dad!” It reminded him to focus on what he was doing, to make the money he needed to provide his family with the things he wanted to give them.
Myself, I remember once figuring out how much money I hoped to make that year, then dividing that amount by 2,000 hours. Every time I would get distracted, I would ask myself “Is this hour worth that amount of money?” Usually, the answer was no.
Another time I worked at a company where almost everyone was a University of Texas fan and one guy was a University of Ohio fan. Every year the UT fans would play a prank on him, like filling his cubicle with UT balloons. Every year! The argument for supporting this activity was that it was building the company culture. Let me tell you something, that’s not culture. Culture is having a place where people trust each other, care about each other, can get things done in teams.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in building relationships. I’m not the curmudgeony Scrooge with the yardstick running around the office yelling “Get to work! Get to work!” But when you’re at work, what builds camaraderie is everyone working together to meet the goals. That’s team building. That’s culture creation. Filling someone’s cubicle with balloons is fun, but takes a lot of attention and doesn’t focus on anyone’s core goals—not employees and certainly not the organization’s.
Your attention is valuable. It’s downright precious. And you only have so much of it. In the next month, a lot of it will probably be funneled into holiday festivities so that you don’t wind up like Scrooge. But in the next year, in the next five years, how you manage your attention will have a big influence on where and how you wind up. How much of the next few months do you want to give to rehashing the plot line of the Walking Dead or fighting over politics on Facebook while on the clock? Where can your attention actually make a difference to yourself and the people and issues that matter to you? Your attention is a scarce and precious resource. Treat it that way.
Now: “Back to work!”
We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business, with offices in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.