All greatness has something in common. Brilliant thinkers go past obvious and capture spectacular. Extraordinary inventors overlook the justified critic and imagine newness. Rising artists don’t Google inspiration — they patiently watch it grow.
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Some of us are the fastest draw at a dinner party — we find answers in milliseconds. I once knew a teenager who could type and text from inside his pocket. Teens play three video games at a time. There are people skilled in today’s technology who track six social media sites at once. Unfortunately, we can’t seem to slow our minds to identify purpose in life or gather unique thoughts that clarify our future.
What we’ve lost is our attention span. Some readers did not get to the third paragraph of this article. Attention span is the tool or aptitude to slow other activity. It teaches us to pay enough attention to a thought or action that we understand its nature, its provenance and the opportunity packed inside. This attribute takes us past the quick and obvious to capture the hidden essence. A friend sent an article on attention deficit. I joke that the introduction was good, but I didn’t have time to finish it.
The Mastery Circle of priorities
My response to a short attention span is to suggest selecting your top five priorities, place them in a circle diagram and then give them the honor they deserve. When your top five priorities are written and visible your focus on each one will grow. All of them do not require the same amount of time, energy or effort. What they need is what they need — sometimes minutes, sometimes months.
Walking for cleansing
A medium walk clears more than just your digestive tract. Smart innovators learn early about the two parts of a productive walk. During the first part or on a very short walk your brain will focus on problems and worries. This seems natural. The second part comes at a different place for all of us. At some point during a walk your brain sees an opportunity to explore opportunity. Here is where the thinkers, inventors and artists capture a competitive edge. While other multitaskers feel there is no time, the outliers receive a gift of clarity and direction. An attention span is an investment.
Reading for wisdom
The best competitive edge in the world is reading books. Posts, articles and professional journals are good. Minimal career success requires that we read them; just remember they are written to be temporary. They are written for our early attention. For our longer and deeper attention, the exceptional writer may take years, not months, to put his or her best wisdom between those hardcover pages. Ninety-nine out of a hundred people who desperately need this wisdom will never take the time to get past chapter one. They are busy doing quick and superficial searches or multitasking lower priorities that have become urgent.
Watching paint dry and enjoying your life
I have a unique view on watching paint dry — I like it. I or someone I love probably picked the colors, did the painting and will enjoy the blending of tones with furniture, window coverings and accent walls. Slowing down and reflecting on the achievement may look foolish to a visitor or delivery person. It completes the process for me.
You nurture an attention span by making it enjoyable or at least minimizing any discomfort. The result is enough minutes of single focus to lose track of time. Short attention spans are why a three-minute video on cats goes viral while a 60-minute session on family and team dynamics lacks views.
During the writing of this article, I protected my attention span with sounds of a waterfall, a warm and sunny patio, French roast (dark) and reading glasses that work. My phone remained out of reach. For you the reader, congratulations on making it this far. My guess is you added some comfort, even joy to your surroundings. Perhaps a familiar chair with good lighting. Maybe you sipped on a beverage in an air conditioned room or outside on a warm and windless day. Yes, it must have been those things that kept you focused. I won’t presume it was this attention grabbing article.
So, you want to go places. You yearn to touch greatness — get an attention span.
Rick Griggs is a former Intel Corp. training manager and inventor of the rolestorming creativity tool. He runs the 10-month Leadership Mastery Academy. firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-690-7327.