“Attention Management Is Foundational To Productivity”
Today we talk to Maura Thomas about her work as a speaker and trainer for corporate and individual productivity.
Tiffany studied Language and Economics, and now likes to write about business topics and conduct interviews with interesting people. She spends her free time looking after her plants and with her dog.
Maura Thomas is an award-winning speaker and trainer, offering keynote presentations and training on individual and corporate productivity and work-life balance. With her very own Empowered Productivity™ System, Maura has trained thousands of individuals at hundreds of organizations helping them control their attention and achieve significant results. Today she’s with us and we have the chance to ask her some questions about her daily work.
Maura, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview today. We’re curious to find out more about you and your work life. Let’s start with some easy questions. Would you fill in the blanks for us, please?
If I wasn’t working as a productivity trainer, I would probably have become… ?
...the owner of some other business, maybe a real-estate-related franchise of some kind.
The best thing about my job is… ?
...the impact it has on people’s lives. I get the best messages every week from clients! This week’s was from a healthcare provider and mom of 6 children, and it read, “Thank you…this has been nothing short of life-changing for me!”
The best business trip I’ve ever had the chance to go on took me to… ?
...Venice, to work with the U.S. Army Africa Command. It was a beautiful location and an honor to work with our brave and selfless military personnel.
Since Covid-19, I changed the way I…?
…deliver my work. I used to work on-site with my clients, in a different geographic location every week. I do miss the travel, but now I just head into my home studio, see my great clients on my 42” screen, and shut the lights when I’m finished. I feel very fortunate that my work is adaptable and very lucky that Covid has not created a hardship for me, except for the fact that I won’t see much of my family for a year or more. That’s hard, but not nearly as hard as the hundreds of thousands of people who are losing their loved ones to this awful pandemic. Wear a mask! It not only protects you, but it protects others, and it’s one of the most important ways we will get this catastrophe under control.
The most flattering thing a client has ever said to me was... ?
...that they find me inspiring.
Thanks, Maura! Now let’s get some insights into your work: You’re a successful productivity speaker and trainer, offering keynote presentations and trainings for teams, leadership teams, and individuals. On your website, you’re saying „Time management doesn’t work, attention management is the new path to productivity.“ What does this mean?
I believe time management is an outdated idea that has far outlived its usefulness in the 21st century. There are four primary reasons I believe this to be true:
- The phrase “time management” gives the impression that we have the ability to “manage” time in some way. We can’t slow it down, or back it up, or bend it to our will in any way. So pretending we can somehow manage it holds us back.
- Lack of time is not our problem. Everyone gets the same 24-hours in a day, and many people figure out how to accomplish big things.
- When I ask people how, specifically, they manage time, they typically tell me that they make appointments with themselves on their calendar. But I find few people who do this successfully because the first person we will break an appointment with is ourselves. So most people spend too much time moving things around on their calendar, and too little time actually accomplishing things. Also, appointments on your calendar don’t give you a big picture of what’s on your plate, or any sense of priority, so your responsibilities are hard to manage that way.
- Lastly, even if you are successful at “managing your time,” by making an appointment with yourself to do some task, if you try to complete that task while you’re also checking each new email as it arrives, and allowing people to interrupt you live or via your technology, the task is unlikely to be completed in the time you allotted. Only if you give your full attention to a task it can be done in the best possible way in the least amount of time. Therefore, how you manage your time only matters to the extent that you also devote your attention.
As I mentioned above, lack of time is not our problem. Too many distractions is our problem today. And we can’t solve a distraction problem with a time management solution. This is why I believe, and help people discover, that attention management is the new path to productivity.
That's 100% true. Distraction is definitely a big problem today, especially with everybody working from home! You have developed the Empowered Productivity™ System, a process for achieving significant results and living a life of choice. Please tell us a little bit about it. ?
Most people don’t realize that the way we handle all of our responsibilities as busy people, the way we store, organize, manage, and act on all of our commitments, communication, and information, can be systematized. Any time you can systematize activities, those activities get easier, more efficient, and less stressful. Empowered Productivity is a “workflow management system,” or I like to call it a “lifeflow management system”—because it works for your whole life, not just your professional life—for accomplishing what’s important to us, and thoughtfully acting with intention, instead of reacting out of habit.
Sounds super plausible to follow a workflow that can be used not only for your professional but your whole life. For the first years of your career, you worked with the well-known productivity consultant David Allen, years before his famous time-management method called "Getting Things Done" was published. There are similarities between your "Empowered Productivity" and Allen’s "Getting Things Done", but over the years your teachings and strategies have diverged. What would you say are the main differences?
One of the primary ways is with my focus on attention management. When David started in this industry, and even when I started in this industry years after him, distraction was not nearly the problem that it is today. I believe attention management is foundational to productivity because if you can’t control your attention, you can’t accomplish your most important work, or make the most of the moments of your life because those things require undistracted work time and presence.
Absolutely! I also read that in your years of working in productivity, there were parts of your system that you needed to change, in order to adapt to the times. I assume these changes were about digitalization? What changes did you make?
Yes, I started my work in the productivity field when paper-based planners were the primary tool we had to manage our responsibilities, and they did a great job because our lives were simpler then. We weren’t faced with the constant onslaught of communication and information we deal with today, thanks to the constant presence of our multiple internet-connected devices, which are specifically designed to steal our attention. So I had to adapt my teachings to reap the benefit of these great new tools which have added so much to our lives, but also create methods to teach people how to minimize the many challenges they also present to us.
You’ve already helped thousands of executives and leaders make the most out of their and their teams’ productivity. Many of our readers are business owners and CEOs. What would you tell them—how do they empower their team’s productivity and make them happier at the same time?
Where do I begin?! I’ve written 7 books on the topic, 3 already published, and 4 more coming out in 2021. But one simple answer is that business owners and CEOs hire their employees for their brainpower. This brainpower is collectively a company’s most expensive investment and also its most unique competitive advantage. Maximize the investment and leverage the advantage by giving intentional thought to your team’s ability to develop what I call “brainpower momentum!”
If your organization is driven by distraction, where “always-on” work and multitasking are the norm, this means your culture may be the biggest obstacle to your team’s productivity. There is a better way to work—better for employees, better for the organization’s success, better for the company’s reputation, and better for society as a whole. That “better way” is built on a culture of attention management.
Let’s assume one of our readers got inspired and has now decided to work on their team’s productivity with the help of a trainer. Are there any special tips they should consider when choosing a trainer?
Yes, there are several. Here are the two most important.
- Don’t outsource the work of finding and vetting trainers to an admin or other support staff. If you don’t have an experienced learning and development professional on staff, speak directly with your potential trainers to explain in your own words why you believe training will be useful for your organization, and what kind of outcomes you hope to achieve. That direct conversation between you and the provider will prove useful to you not only for the training you are currently in the market to purchase but for future training purchases also. Purchasing corporate training is a complex process that leaders should handle directly to achieve the best results.
- In order to maximize the return on your professional development dollars, you need to facilitate long-term behavior change, and even the best trainer can’t do this by themselves. Plan to partner with your trainer to maximize the impact on your attendees and the return on your investment. Speaking with them yourself at the beginning of the process will lay the groundwork for this important relationship moving forward. Don’t worry if you don’t know what to ask. An experienced trainer will guide the conversation and help you both determine if you are a good fit for each other.
Thanks a lot for those tips! In your spare time, you offer free presentations to non-profits and are very active when it comes to charity. You even received training from former Vice President Al Gore when you volunteered as a Climate Project speaker. Wow! Can you tell us more about that?
It was very exciting and important work! Vice President Gore and a team of climate scientists from around the world have been sounding the alarm about the dangers of climate change for more than a decade and educating people about how to share the message in their communities. It was an honor to meet climate change activists from all over the world and learn the science directly from the smartest thinkers on the topic.
What a fantastic opportunity! We really cannot talk about climate change often enough! Maura, we’re very proud to say that you’re a Mailbutler user. How does using Mailbutler go hand in hand with your Empowered Productivity™ System?
Helping people achieve their most significant results depends in large part on their efficiency. Mailbutler saves me so much time and makes one of the most important tools of my work—email—much easier and more efficient.
Wonderful. We're so happy to hear that you enjoy using Mailbutler. Here comes the last question: Which Mailbutler features do you use the most and why?
I could go on and on about the templates alone. I have more than a dozen, and the list grows every week. I’m often surprised at how frequently I say almost the same thing in emails because the content is central to my operations, like how to execute my contracts and how to make credit card payments. Templates have been a real-time saver for me.
The ability to schedule messages for later delivery is also important since I use Apple Mail, which does not have this feature built in. I am a big fan of Mailbutler and recommend it to all of my clients!
Thank you so much for this interview Maura, it was a pleasure having you here. All the best for 2021!
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