How’s Your AQ?

I have no idea when this all started. I just know that it’s annoying.  There I sit minding my own business, then I’ll have a thought or idea. And BOOM! My mind goes into “now now” mode. I start feeling this sense of urgency and this NEED to post immediately.

Where’s the fire? Can it wait five minutes? An hour? A day?

Living our lives through an online lense has somehow created this false urgency. Our minds and bodies react to it the same as if it were an actual emergency. Have you noticed what happens to you when you feel the urge to respond to or post something? It’s physiological – your mind zones in on the task, your heart rate picks up.

It happens at work as well. With the constant pinging of our email notifications and now companies have internal social media platforms. Ping! Read this. Ping! Answer that. Ping! Look at this. Ping! Ping! Ping! We fear that if we don’t answer them as they come in, we’ll face that bold “Unread” and possibly miss something future altering. Add to this the new open office plans with no walls. We look up whenever someone walks past our workstation. Even the spaces to close off have glass doors. It’s distracting!

Not only do we have the false urgency, but we also develop almost a NEED for distraction–aka multitasking. It’s like we’re no longer able to focus on one thing at a time. If we’re watching television, then we feel the need to also exercise, or fold clothes, or something. What would happen if you just did one thing at a time? No, it’s not an efficient use of time. Or, is it?

What if, instead of trying to maximize my time by packing more into it, I focus my attention on doing one thing at a time, exceptionally well. What if instead of trying to conquer the world, I conquer my dirty dishes? Or conquer finishing that book I started two months ago? Or maybe just converse with my son instead of looking between him and my email? What if?

Perhaps, by actually focusing on and finishing things that matter, it would build momentum and help me hone in on the things (and people!) that actually matter. Perhaps, by allowing my mind to process a thought or idea a little longer, it might evolve into something more impactful…or fizzle out. Perhaps, someone will feel appreciated and important because they were given my undivided attention.

I know I’m not alone in this because now there is something called Attention Quotient. Yes, that’s really a term. It is literally your ability to sustain attention. You can improve your AQ by making changes to your thinking and your environment.  In The Importance of Attention Intelligence, they classify it as Cognitive Control and Environmental Control.

Here are my suggestions for improving your AQ with cognitive and environmental controls:

  • While you cannot control the number of emails and messages other send you, you can control the notification settings. Turn them off! Set a time to check your emails and social media accounts. The people who need access to you for truly urgent matters know how to contact you IRL (that means, in real life).
  • Before responding or posting, ask yourself a series of questions. My mother has a blackboard in her kitchen with the acronym THINK. Is what you have to say True, Helpful, Inspiring, Needed and/or Kind? If we all applied that test to our communication we’d likely post less.
  • When you feel that false urgency, talk yourself down. Remind yourself of why what you’re doing at that moment deserves your undivided attention. At my birthday party, I took about 5 minutes to broadcast live to share the moment with my friends back home. After that, my full attention was on the people there who had gifted me with their presence on my birthday.
  • If you work in an open office, try to find spaces that help you focus. When I worked in that type of office, I would go sit in a different area than my project teammates. Why? Because it decreased the chances of someone interrupting my work to ask me a project related questions (that, in all honesty, could wait). It also kept me from doing the same to others.  
  • Can’t change desks? Then use props to help communicate that you focusing. This could include wearing headphones (even if you aren’t actually listening to something) or changing your status to “Do not disturb” on your messenger. You could also post a note indicating your need to focus.

How much more productive could you be if you dedicated more attention to a task or project?