Project Management and performance, attention and focus

Project Management and performance, attention and focus

The way you and your team pay attention and focus is crucial to achieving sustained optimal performance, especially when delivering projects. Optimal performance is sustainably achieving goals efficiently and effectively, to the best of your ability within current conditions. 

To perform, individuals, teams, and organizations manage and apply situation specific technical and administrative skills, project, program, and process management, supported by relationship capabilities like communications, conflict management, decision making, and expectations management.

These capabilities rely on attention and a realistic perspective informed by positive values like objectivity and servant leadership. A realistic perspective realizes that change is inevitable and that there is uncertainty because we live and work in a complex system.

In particular the attention to detail, which is needed when running projects and teams. There are of course other aspects such as perspective and values which are equally important; however this article is dealing with attention to detail

There are three finds of attention, there is;

  • Focused attention – directed to a specific object. It is concentration like shining a flashlight on an object, for example, a person in a conversation or work on a task. On an organizational level, focused attention directs resources to a specific project or process.
  • Open attention – seeing or being objectively aware of what is occurring in a broad expanse, mindful awareness. Open attention enables a stepping back from focus to be in touch with what is occurring in and around the object of focus.
  • Executive attention – deciding what within the field of open attention to attend to and what to do about it, regulating responses with awareness and discernment.

There are objects of attention, which are;

  • A project, an organization, a task, presentation, thought, sound, physical sensation, or any observable phenomena.
  • There are three modes, being: awareness of self, others, and the wider world. 
  • With self-focus, the primary objects are thoughts, physical sensations, and feelings. With other-focus, the principal objects are other people and things and their behavior.  Focus outward is diffuse open awareness without focusing on any particular object. It is seeing the big picture and disengaging from routine attentiveness to allow for creativity and exploration.

In respect to running projects the following are referenced as objects, a project is an object. It focuses an organization’s attention by dedicating human effort and other resources to create or change a product, put on an event or make a change of any kind. Effective project stakeholders are aware of the impact their actions have on their environment and the way the environment impacts the project. Executives govern to manage a portfolio of projects, avoid distractions, and choose the most effective places to focus attention.

Projects, tasks, or activities, whether performed by teams or individuals, are objects of attention. A project team focuses on the project. Teams and individuals focus on performing, attentive to the way they perform and interact, aware of what impact they are having on their environment and how their environment is affecting them, their tasks, and projects.

Focus is paramount when running projects because to lose focus, then performance suffers. Fail to be attentive to what’s going on in and around the project team and performance suffers. Other aspects are;

  • Concentration and skillful attention elicit a flow experience, being in the zone, a state of optimal performance and deep relaxation.
  • Consider what happens when sponsors or clients lose interest in a project, they once considered important. Other “interesting” things crop up to grab their attention. Resources start getting pulled away. The project manager is less able to influence some stakeholders to fulfill commitments. Performance suffers.

There will be times, depending on the complexity of the project for fatigue and distractions to get in the way.Attention is a natural capacity that varies in strength depending on one’s energy level and powers of concentration. The tired mind easily slips away from objects of focus and lacks the strength to bring focus back to the object. 

Open attention and executive function suffer because the mind is too easily drawn to the many distractions that call to it and it is too weak to return to awareness. It may seem relaxing to just go with the mental stream of thoughts, feelings, and external distractions. However, when you regularly allow yourself to flit from one thing to another as they randomly appear, you weaken your powers of concentration.

There are three things which enhance all the aspects of attention – focus, open awareness, and executive function:

  1. Strong concentration, mindfulness, and objectivity aided by minimizing distractions and managing the ones that cannot be avoided
  2. A process and systems view that recognizes the realities of interdependence, cause and effect relationships, and continuous change
  3. Values upon which to base skillful decision making.

Let the practice of consciously managing distractions seep into day to day, moment to moment experience. When you notice that your focus has slipped away, make the effort to bring it back. The more you bring your mind back to a chosen object of focus, the more you strengthen your power of concentration.

There are many exercises to strengthen your power of concentration. One is to take a few minutes a day to sit quietly and count your out-breaths from one to ten. If you lose count, start from one again. 

Cultivate relaxed concentration. Distractions will come. Congratulate yourself for noticing and going back to the counting or whatever your object of focus is. No need to strain or over think it. Your open attention notices distraction and your executive function brings you back or lets the mind wander. Let us know how you deal with attention when running projects; it would be great to hear from you. All the best on your project management journey.

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