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Attention management is the key to working effectively: Bury

By Staff

Self-help sections of most bookstores are overflowing with time management publications promising anything from four-day work weeks to overnight methods for improving productivity with the help of yet another fancy day planner or smartphone app, Toronto lawyer and certified executive coach Michael Bury tells

But while helpful, these offerings can be a waste of time, he says.

"Concentrating your efforts on time allocation is only part of the equation and often part of a bigger problem," Bury says. "You can set aside all the time in the world to do something, but unless you are properly motivated, you will spend too much time dealing with false starts and distractions."

"Time will end up being a big black hole — the more you have, the more a task will fill it up."

He says many of his clients complain about how overwhelmed and busy they are. “I’m very busy” has become the new response to “How are you doing?” he says.

"Truth be told, feelings of being too busy and the related anxiety, are just that, feelings," Bury says. "And if you dig a bit deeper, these emotions are directly tied to how committed we feel to accomplishing a task.

"In many cases, we subconsciously create a mindset which prevents us from getting things done. We become the proverbial 'deer in the headlights' as deadlines loom."

The first thing he advises his clients to do is to take a step back and recognize their feelings — try and get a sense of what’s contributing to your personal roadblocks, Bury explains.

"As lawyers, we are not trained to be mindful and to look inwards. We are always on the lookout for our clients," he says. "That needs to change.

"To move forward, you need to set aside the time for yourself in a productive way. Make sure you also create the environment to do this. Being surrounded by constant distractions and interruptions will not help."

Self-reflection isn’t easy, Bury says, and it’s something you have to turn into a regular habit. He says if a person doesn't see the immediate value of completing a task, then it’s all too easy to find reasons to procrastinate.

Checking social media for a "short break” will quickly turn into an hour or more if you are not careful, he says, hence the need to identify the reasons for doing something for yourself so that there is motivation built into the task.

"It’s also important to learn to control your technology as part of your environment," Bury says. "Technology is there to serve you, not the other way around.

"So turn off your email and 'push' notifications which are designed to steal your attention for parts of the day. This will allow you to engage in more stretches of focused work on tasks and activities that you choose instead of checking your email every time your phone beeps."

In addition to controlling your technology, Bury suggests setting boundaries with others, especially if you are working from home or in an open space office setting. For example, use headphones when you need to focus and let others know you are not available for certain parts of the day unless it’s an emergency. This approach will give you the stretches of time you need to get things done, Bury says.

"In the end, it’s more about 'attention management,' than time management," he says.

What is it about a particular task or objective that captures your attention and moves you forward to complete it? Bury asks.

"Once you focus on attention management, you will realize that getting things done is not about carving out time — it’s about prioritizing what requires your attention and understanding why," he says. "And when you learn to control your attention, you will quickly regain control over emotions and get unstuck."

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