The steps outlined in an earlier post are universal steps that will help most of us strengthen our voluntary attention – the attention we have direct control over.
However, each of us is unique as we know from the series on the four different personal Productivity Styles. (Refresher: Are you the Prioritizer, the Planner, the Arranger, or the Visualizer? Or don’t know your Productivity Style and want to find out? Take the Productivity Style Assessment®.)
Here are some methods to manage your voluntary attention that are specifically tailored to your individual Productivity Style. Special recommendation: Please read all the suggestions below, not just those listed under the heading for your primary Productivity Style. Remember that most people have a style that blends elements of two or even more Productivity Styles—which means it’s likely you may discover a tool or technique that works brilliantly for you even if it is designed specifically for those with a different primary style.
IF YOU’RE A PRIORITIZER
Set a timer or an alarm to go off at specific intervals throughout your workday. The alarm serves as a reminder tool to check your focus and concentration.
Then eliminate distractions. When Cory Booker, US Senator and former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, was asked how he was so productive, he replied, “I think it is important to get rid of distractions and miscellaneous choices. When I get up in the morning, I do not have a million clothing items to choose from. The more you limit your choices, thereby limiting thought, the more you can simplify your life and focus energy elsewhere.”
IF YOU’RE A PLANNER
Harness your affinity for planning by carefully planning each day around your varying energy levels, changing patterns in the type of work you do, and scheduled or spontaneous interactions with colleagues and friends. When fashion designer Tory Burch, was asked how she finds balance and plans her time, she said, “I’ve found a way to make things more manageable by prioritizing, focusing on time management and setting boundaries. Sometimes that means rescheduling a meeting.”
IF YOU’RE AN ARRANGER
Pace your work by interspersing solitary work with group projects or conversations with colleagues. The interpersonal interaction will serve as a break and be refreshing, enabling you to more effectively manage your attention and maintain your focus. Claire Watts, U.S. CEO of the giant retail and media company QVC, schedules “open door times” every Tuesday when anyone in the company can visit her to talk, ask a question, or share something they have noticed.
Music of whatever type you prefer (whether classical, soft instrumental, or rock and roll) can also make it easier for you to focus and complete your work.
IF YOU’RE A VISUALIZER
Leverage your affinity for spontaneity and variety by mixing up the type of work you do and the amount of time you dedicate to particular projects. Intersperse fun or very stimulating tasks with routine tasks. For example, when Martha Stewart was asked about how she completes her work, she said, “I try to balance things I have to do with things I want to do. I always find I can be more productive with my work when it’s broken up with a bit of pleasure.”
For you, the less rigid and predictable your schedule is, the better.
We have control over our voluntary attention, and our voluntary attention becomes stronger when we work with (rather than against) the hardwiring of our brains, recognize and deal with the triggers that divert our attention, and leverage our individual Productivity Styles.