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From the CEO
November 26, 2019

Dear Members:

As credit union leaders, we all wear many hats, and the challenge of being personally productive throughout the day is very real. The topic of personal productivity was recently addressed by presenter Maura Thomas at Corporate One’s Leadership Experience conference, and I found her presentation to be insightful and instructive. Maura, formerly named a top leadership speaker in Inc. Magazine, outlined how we can “Get EMPOWERED Over Our Productivity” and “Kick Time Management to the Curb!” Given this is the time of year when people begin to contemplate resolutions for the upcoming New Year, I wanted to share Maura’s insights with you.

Managing your attention vs. managing your time

Maura’s key insight to boosting personal productivity is managing your attention versus your time. As busy professionals, we rely on technology to live and work; however, it’s this very technology that presents some of the greatest challenges to our success. To manage “information overload,” most of us turn to the old lessons of “time management,” but there are some new work-life management skills more suitable for the 21st century, such as “attention management.”

Attention management, according to Maura, offers the ability to consciously direct your attention in any given moment, to be more proactive than reactive, and to maintain control rather than inadvertently relinquish it. It’s about regaining control over your attention and thereby taking control of your life. Attention management empowers your productivity. As Maura states, “An unfortunate by-product of our harried lives is that our constant distractions erode our attention spans and our patience. The result is that we’re no longer open to seeking depth and nuance. We think we know a thing or two about a breathtaking number of things, but we don’t have more than a passing familiarity with any of them. When we never go below the surface of all the information available to us, we miss out on a great deal, including the chance to build the kind of rich expertise that makes us stand out from others and gives us an edge in our careers.”

Stopping the “fires”

In addition, an office where everyone is always “putting out fires” is not a productive one. Yet, it’s easy to fall into the behavior of boasting about how busy we are. Maura emphasized that constant, frantic activity doesn’t mean your office is fast-paced and exciting; it just means you work amidst chaos. “Behaviors that would actually help you prevent some of those fires—like planning, deep thinking, and learning time —end up feeling like a luxury that you can’t afford to indulge,” she states. But, as leaders, developing these behaviors is a necessity not a luxury.

So, what are some of the ways we can start developing these behaviors? Examples include:

  • Organizing your to-do list by categories versus tasks. These kinds of lists will be more effective when you use action verbs and aim to be as specific as possible. For example, use the word “call” instead of “follow up.”
  • Putting away your smartphone when working. Maura cites a study of 800 smartphone users showing that just the presence of a device causes distractions.
  • Designating specific times throughout the day to answer emails. Don’t be tethered to your inbox.
  • Setting expectations with your staff on response times to emails. Some employees may think you expect them to respond instantly to every message they receive, which prevents them from focusing deeply on other important tasks.
  • Carving out “do not disturb” time. This can be as simple as taping a sign to your office door, or, if you don’t have an office, placing a sign on the back of your desk chair.

As the holiday season is now in full swing, many of us are busier than ever with more distractions than ever confronting us. I know it’s challenging, but I encourage you to take a closer look at dedicating some time to practice those behaviors Maura suggests so that we can all attempt to find greater job satisfaction and become more productive and efficient in the workplace.

Melissa Ashley