Personal Attention Management Tips

November 29, 2006 at 4:01 pm | Posted in Attention Management | 20 Comments

In researching attention management I have run across many personal attention management tipcs in newspapers, magazines, and books. I have compiled a set of these tips along with my own ideas and included them below. I used the components of my Enterprise Attention Management conceptual architecture (input, processing, throttle, output at a high level) as a structuring mechanism.

I hope you find them useful. Let me know if you have any additional suggestions.

Manage the Input

  • Unsubscribe to magazines, newspapers, or content streams that generally go unread
  • Politely ask to be removed from mass e-mail lists of friends and relatives that send unwanted “friendly spam.” Or set up a filter in e-mail to block them without their knowledge
  • Set up proactive scans, such as saved searches to alert you to new information
  • Use news aggregators. RSS feed readers such as Attensa, KnowNow, and NewsGator or the RSS functionality in new versions of browsers can syndicate information from dozens or hundreds of sources

Manage the Processing

  • Set aside an afternoon to learn the attentional capabilities of the technology you are currently using. A few moments spent learning how to set up e-mail filters, creating more granular IM status categories, or customizing cellphone ringtones for groups of callers can pay off handsomely over time. Learn to use the “number of unread items” indicators on e-mail, RSS readers, and discussion forums to alert you to new content
  • Use the personalization functionality in portals to place important applications and content on your personal pages where it can be easily scanned
  • Use portals as alerting mechanisms to show summaries of content such as reports that you only need to explore in detail in rare instances when further research is prudent (such as exceeding a threshold)
  • Get in the habit of using presence capabilities and keeping their “buddy lists” up to date
  • Build a social network – learn what people “in the know” are reading
  • One of the biggest promises of modern communication technology is having messages “follow” you (forward to devices you travel with) or alert you to important messages on e-mail or voice-mail. First, consider your appropriate level of response. Then, if you determine it is worth having messages follow you, explore the methods you have available to send alerts via devices you have frequent access to or how to set up forwarding
  • Set up separate accounts to catch messages that deserve different levels of attention. For example, set up a rarely checked free e-mail account for free content that requires registration or temporary communications
  • Send messages using a channel with appropriate urgency and your responses will come back accordingly. For example, post FYI information in a discussion group, send e-mail for messages that can be responded to by the next day, call or personally stop by if an important task demands it
  • Be the first to recommend switching the channel when needed. A phone call that is getting bogged down with details or requires more input may be switched to an e-mail or discussion forum. An IM session that is turning into a short novel may be moved to a phone call with a quick “can I call u?”. A lengthy multi-person e-mail thread should be moved to a discussion forum

Manage the Throttle

  • Set a personal SLA (Service Level Agreement). Many busy executives openly state their response times in their e-mail signatures or voice-mail messages, but even setting the SLA as a personal goal may relieve stress associated with feeling responses must continually be faster. This is particularly important when traveling or on vacation. Do not set expectations for responsiveness that you can’t keep up with
  • Know when to turn off the cell or Blackberry, set IM to “away”, or turn on “out of office” on e-mail

Manage the Consumption

  • Set aside reading time each day or week on the calendar. An hour of uninterrupted time once a week can be worth several hours of interruptible time spread throughout the week
  • Be disciplined about not letting various inboxes get out of control (within the bounds of your personal SLA)
  • Prepare yourself for interruptions. You can increase your resilience to interruptions by leaving breadcrumbs. Regularly dump thoughts being juggled to a persistent form, such as a pad of scratch paper or computer. On your computer: close unused windows, name files and tabs with names that will convey understanding later, and place manual bookmarks within documents being read (i.e., type “[bookmark]” within a long document when stopping for a break)

Understand Yourself and Your Environment

  • Look around to gauge the acceptable level of responsiveness for your job. When evaluating more disruptive forms of technology, determine if the response time benefit exceeds the interruption cost. What would happen if you noticed and responded to the message when back in the office? What are customers/clients expecting? How do your competitors and peers respond? Consider the worst case scenario – “what is the worst that would happen if I turned off the cellphone before dinner?”
  • Use introspection to evaluate how you handle demands for your attention. What are your primary causes of info stress? Are the costs of your current level of availability worth the benefits?





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  1. […] I’d better stop this interruption (caused by reviewing my RSS feeds incidentally) and get back to work … but I have more tips in my posting on Personal Attention Management. […]

  2. […] focus” during your daily reads. UPDATE:  Here are two other great pieces on attention management and  reader regulation. Last 5 posts by BrandonTwitter in the Office: Fast, Aware, Open Teams – […]

  3. […] each day for emails, block out focused time, etc.  See my personal attention management tips here) and doesn’t challenge the couple of folks in an organization that can really do something to […]

  4. […] I’m always on the lookout for what individuals do to help manage their time as well (personal attention management).  For anyone looking for an executive level view of personal attention management, I’d […]

  5. […] (for enterprises see my Enterprise Attention Management conceptual architecture; for individuals my Personal Attention Management tips).  But I also believe in having an accurate picture of costs and […]

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