Hailing from Australia, Neen James is a world-renowned productivity, sales and leadership expert. She’s written nine books including the newly released Attention Pays: How to Drive Profitability, Productivity, and Accountability, which came out in April. And last year she was named one of the world’s Top 30 Leadership Speakers by Global Guru.

James has taught organizations like Virgin, Paramount Pictures, BMW, Johnson and Johnson, Cisco and even the FBI how to create implementable strategies that help their staff avoid distractions, stop interruptions, prioritize daily objectives and say “no” to requests that steal time and focus from real goals and priorities.

She shares eye-opening insight with Go Magazine readers about how dealing with the attention crisis that’s impacting so many of us can significantly boost productivity and help employees and organizations find greater success.

GO MAGAZINE: One of the messages you convey is to practice the art of paying attention. Please tell us more about this and its benefits.

NEEN JAMES: We live lives filled with distractions causing us to feel overwhelmed, overstressed and overtired. We say we’re “crazy busy” and yet we feel we’re accomplishing little of real value. I believe attention is our new currency and like money, we must be deliberate with how it’s spent. We must be mindful and choose to focus our time and attention on what matters most to us professionally, personally and globally. Only then can we achieve higher profits, boost our productivity and raise our level of accountability.

What are your must-dos for time management?

Time management is out the window! It’s a myth. We don’t have a time management crisis, we have an attention crisis. I believe attention is key. We must learn to say “no” to distractions and interruptions that steal our focus and concentration from tasks, relationships and responsibilities that matter most. It’s not reasonable to believe we can schedule our lives. It is reasonable to believe we can control where we give our undivided attention. If someone wants to accomplish a task, they must minimize distractions: shut off email, silence their phone, close their door and give their undivided attention to accomplishing what is most important in that moment. Only then will they free up their time and mind space to concentrate on the next important topic at hand.

What cultural differences do you see between established or legacy industries and the new wave of start-ups or companies that are led by innovation and technology?

New companies and start-ups recognize our world is changing and the pace at which we work must be altered if we’re to remain productive, profitable and accountable. They understand we have technology and brilliant ideas that can help us concentrate our focus and attention on improving the way things have always been done. Their innovative thinking dares them to focus on continual improvements and challenges them to accept change as the new normal. While many established companies find themselves held back by policies, procedures and old management styles, new companies are focusing their time and attention on creating cultures of innovation and creative thinking.

You’ve helped a number of high-profile companies. Have you found that they face a core set of challenges with regards to productivity?

While I believe attention is key to all organizational success, each company and organization faces its own set of unique challenges. When I work with companies, I deliberately create plans and conversations that focus specifically on their needs. Some companies’ very success hinges on delivering new and timely products to market; however, their organizational culture fails to empower employees to say “no” to requests of their time that don’t fit into the priority of the new product. As a result, employees are distracted and waste time on efforts that don’t co-relate to the primary organizational objective. Each business I work with is faced with their own attention crisis and it’s my job to identify where and how they could pay more attention to what matters most to their success.

How can the style of leadership impact the growth of a company? Does the same hold true for all sizes of businesses?

Leadership is key to the success of any organization, no matter the size or focus. Leaders will build a culture of engagement, motivation and accountability when they turn off devices, step away from their computers, stop requiring employees to attend unnecessary meetings and permit employees to take necessary breaks from work to rest and recover. When leaders pay attention to priorities and goals, employees will do the same. Leadership has the power to influence the culture – no matter big or small.

What impacts do distractions have on mental energy or health, quality of work and productivity?

Studies have shown it takes, on average, 23 minutes to refocus on an activity after a distraction or interruption occurs. A simple task can turn into an all-day ordeal when an employee attempts to focus on a task yet faces never-ending distractions such as email, phone calls, unnecessary meetings, text messages and alerts. As a result, employees feel overwhelmed, overtired and overstressed. While technology has its advantages, it has changed our workday from a 9 – 5 to a 24/7 need to be available. When employees feel always on call, they never truly unwind and focus on recovering from the day. This results in stress, taking a toll on their mental health and well-being.

Technology has affected sales and productivity, would you say that it has been largely positive or negative?

Technology certainly has aided in our ability to be productive and efficient with certain tasks and needs. It has also given us a variety of communication platforms to connect with our clients. The challenge, however, is we’ve allowed technology to rule our life, and not just be the tool it was intended to be. We find ourselves distracted from those around us as we busily check email, read alerts, respond to text messages and get lost in social media. As a result, relationships suffer and so does our ability to unwind and decompress. Technology allows us to be bombarded with information each day, naturally speeding up the rate in which we work. This also challenges our ability to unplug and decompress as necessary, leading to overwhelming exhaustion.

How did you last purchase insurance? Did you purchase online or through an insurance broker in person?

I’m fortunate to work with a great broker who assists me with business and auto insurance. Working with them saves me so much time as I trust them to find me the right policy instead of investing so many hours comparing them online. I’d encourage people to work with brokers.

Neen James new Attention Pays: How to Drive Profitability, Productivity, and Accountability book is out now. For more information, check out her official website here.

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