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Managing your Time - 19 July 2012

Fiona O’Loughlin is one of Australia’s most popular comedians, famous for the jokes and stories she shares about motherhood: “I’ve got five kids. I know that’s an awful lot of kids in this day and age but my husband and I are going to keep trying till we get one we like!”

In her extraordinary memoir, Me of the Never Never, she writes about one of her stand-up shows at which she delivered an underwhelming performance. When a colleague asked how it went, Fiona replied: “The audience seemed happy, but I definitely phoned it in tonight.”

‘Phoning it in’ is an expression used among comedians to describe the times when they perform on autopilot. They’re still funny. The audience still laughs. But the comedian isn’t truly present. They’re there in physical form, but it’s somewhat robotic. They say all the right things and make all the right moves but their heart isn’t really in it.

Many managers in the workplace also phone it in. They give good feedback, they pass on relevant information, and they tick off the items on their management checklist. But their heart’s not in it. And when their heart’s not in it, it appears in their deflated body language and it comes out in their disinterested tone. They’re there but they’re not really present.

The situation is always exacerbated whenever their workload increases. When, all of a sudden, they have a lot of work to do, they resort to the ultimate phone-it-in: time management. They look at their to-do list and contemplate what should be done, delegated, or dumped … You know, all the stuff we learn in time management courses.

But, sometimes, we don’t need time management. What we need is attention management. There is a disproportionate amount of effort allocated in workplaces to learning how to manage time. Of greater urgency, perhaps, is to allocate less effort on managing time and more effort on managing attention. It’s not about doing more for employees; it’s just about being aware of them. In particular:

- Look out for unexpected changes in their behaviour and the words they use
- Listen as though you need to share what you’re hearing with someone else
- Take the occasional break so that your mind is refreshed and refocused
- Know that multi-tasking is doing two activities feebly rather than doing one well
- Get a decent night’s sleep so that you’re more alert
- Consider that maybe you’re the employee you most need to motivate
- Remember to breathe (it raises levels of awareness when done deeply enough)

Richard Moss is a doctor and author who specialises in conscious living. He once wrote: “The greatest gift you can give another is the purity of your attention.” That’s the kind of thing that just can’t be phoned in.

 

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