I have to thank my friends at OnBrand Partners, Peter and Kate, for this one. Apparently on average, for forty seven per cent of our waking hours our minds are not where our bodies are. You would have to ask Harvard University for more information about this nugget. Professor Julian Birkinshaw from London Business School in the recently published article ‘Are you paying attention?’ added that ‘Contrary to popular belief, our scarcest resource in the workplace isn’t time – it’s attention.’
Now is it? I’m not sure how we work these things out. Driving in this morning I was mulling over these comments and then realised that I hadn’t been engaged in driving at all. Or was I? I managed to get here in one piece. I made many complicated manoeuvres and was in charge of a highly dangerous piece of equipment that could have caused some damage if I’d lost control. I was aware of some periods of possible danger which I managed to navigate through but was I aware or working on auto-pilot?
Most of the time I was driving I was thinking about the day ahead, the meetings I had and the things that I needed to get done. I was mentally preparing myself and so was engaged and mindful of some activity. So in this case Harvard University may well be right. My body was driving yet my mind, or at least a part of it, had drifted off to a higher plane.
Is this a problem? Perhaps, yet we need to be mindful that boredom and distraction can be gifts. Letting our minds wander can lead to the creative sparks that move a business forward or create new ideas for services and products. It may also be the very thing that keeps us sane when doing a repetitive or unstimulating role. What would our world be like if we weren’t allowed to dream, or that we needed to restrict this activity only to the periods when we weren’t being paid?
The question is how much time do we stay attentive and how much time do we wander? Of course there are times when we must be attentive and fully engaged in what we are doing. There are some roles where high levels of attentiveness are required. Those involved in airport security, for example, change their activities regularly during the day to help the keep up their concentration. I certainly wouldn’t want to be operated on by a surgeon who is dreaming of their summer holiday or be in a plane where the pilot is thinking about their evening meal.
How much time are we actually engaged? Can you have a conversation while watching the television? Can you read a book while eating a sandwich yet enjoy both? Is thinking about a way to improve the process you are working with being attentive or being distracted?
It is not as simple as being in the moment or not. It could be that humans can only operate in short bursts of attentiveness and that about half of our time is as good as you’re going to get.
I still don’t know how they measure such things.