Don’t lose sight of those seconds

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Aden - Yasmin Abdel Azim - No business can afford to lose sight of even the seconds that are being lost to distractions. Image Credit: Al Khaleej Today

Hours; minutes; seconds...

The units of time have been shaping and organizing our lives since the Babylonians began dividing by 60 - an hour into 60 minutes and a minute into 60 seconds. Yet, somewhere down the line, seconds seem to have dropped off a cliff edge, discarded by society.

Think about it, when was the last time you noted how many seconds were left before it was time to leave the office, or considered how many seconds it might take to complete that task still on your desk? Not only that, imagine how annoyed you would feel if someone asked you to account for your time in that way?

The fact is, in most facets of our everyday lives, the value of the second has been lost, and we need to get it back.

For some, of course, seconds do matter. It was a documentary on Usain Bolt that first got me thinking about the topic. For him, becoming the world’s fastest sprinter meant trimming not seconds, but fractions of seconds, off his race times. Shortly after watching the documentary, I then happened to witness a last-second shot by Boston Celtics player, Jayson Tatum. It was down to the wire and it was that single shot that won them the game.

No rounding up

As these two examples reminded me, in the world of sport, the win is often in the second. It is those with the drive and determination to beat the clock who go on to become champions. Can you imagine how bizarre track sports would become if people started rounding the way we do in daily life?

Bolt would not hold the 100-meter record with a time of 9.58 seconds, he would be the guy who reached the finish line in roughly 10 seconds, which has been a world record since 1968.

As for Boston Celtics, well, if the game had been rounded down to the nearest minute, then Tatum’s winning shot would simply never have happened.

Consuming time

Now, you might point out that sport is one of the only areas of life where seconds count in such a profound way, but it raises an important issue nonetheless. While athletes are pushing themselves to their limits to shave precious seconds off their time, the rest of us are allowing distractions to gobble up not just seconds, but minutes and even hours.

Unnecessary cigarette breaks, chats at the water cooler, and interruptions from colleagues count amongst the daily occurrences that divert our attentions, but the biggest culprit when it comes to 21st century distraction is digital technology. With our smartphones never far from reach and our laptops, tablets and desktop computers all fired up and raring to go, the temptation to stray off course and check emails and social media accounts proves too hard to resist and all too easy to indulge.

Prey to distractions

So ingrained has digital distraction become in our daily lives, we actively seek it out. When a room becomes quiet, when there is a lull in conversation or when a task becomes tedious, our first reaction is to reach for the closest device and start tapping. In fact, one click is all it takes to send minds wandering, leaving trails of sporadic thoughts, half-baked ideas and incomplete tasks.

The result is not only poor productivity, but low morale and a sense of dissatisfaction.

It’s strange when you think about it. Corporations across the globe are investing billions in state-of-the-art technology and machinery in the hopes of cutting seconds off production times. Yet the fact that the human workforce is wasting hours by the bucketload barely seems to raise an eyebrow.

Writing in the “Harvard Business Review”, productivity coach and international speaker Maura Thomas suggests that the solution to the distraction pandemic lies not in time management, but in “attention management”. Ask Usain Bolt, and I suspect his answer would be a little different.

After all, to be a champion, you must hone both.

Seize the second. There is no time to lose.

Tommy Weir is CEO of enaible: AI-powered Leadership and author of “Leadership Style”. Contact him at [email protected]

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