It’s Not Your Time They Want

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Does it ever feel like everyone wants some of your time? With three kids, I understand. My three children need me. They need to see me, communicate with me, jump on my back, and know I care. With kids, it can seem like whatever time you give them is never enough. They always want more. Your family wants your time, your friends want your time, your clients want your time–and in the crossfire of all this demand, sometimes you are deceived into thinking that time is what it’s all about–if you just give them more time, maybe they will be happy. Time is certainly valuable, but if you think all people want is your time, you’re likely to give it to them and still fail to satisfy their pleas. It’s not really your time they want, it’s your attention.

Time – attention = disengaged
Time + attention = engaged

People don’t want to communicate with someone who isn’t listening, go on a date with someone whose mind is elsewhere, or trust a task to someone who doesn’t really care. “But I care!” you might be saying. Not if you don’t pay attention. Your values and priorities are made clear to those around you by how you invest your attention. When you fail to pay attention, even if you’re staring the person in the face, you are broadcasting the message “I don’t care”. And, trust me, we can tell.

Distractions abound. Attention is limited. People can’t drive the 5 minutes between their house and the grocery store without checking their phone. If you wish to set yourself apart, if you really want to make a difference, be someone who pays attention. The power of presence can’t be overstated. Here are some times I believe you owe your undivided attention.

During mealtime
In my house, we don’t check our phones at the dinner table or take calls while we eat. We communicate and interact with one another in real life social situations. If I feel my phone vibrate, I leave it in my pocket. It can wait. I apply the same rules to meals with clients and friends.

During dates
I’m sad to say I feel the need to include this, but I’ve seen situations far too often where one or both people spend a good portion of their “romantic” time looking at their phone. Opt for actual face time, not virtual face time. If you care to build a meaningful relationship, start by paying attention to that relationship.

During public speaking
I’ve been on both ends of this. I’ve heard more speakers in my lifetime than 10 average people combined, and I know it can be tedious, but with very few exceptions, I think it’s rude to spend a speaker’s time on social media or returning emails. As a public speaker, there’s nothing more frustrating than speaking to a distracted crowd. It’s not worth your time if you are in the audience learning nothing. It’s not worth your time if you are the speaker whose words fall on deaf ears. Learn while you can. Text later.

During personal discussions
My time is punctuated regularly by unplanned conversation, and I allow it. Nothing is more valuable than people, and I permit people a certain freedom to alter my daily plans, in moderation, when they need me. If I intentionally permit a conversation, I do my best to engage the person attentively. Acting distracted or rushed is a good way to show a lack of disinterest. If you really need to do something else, reschedule a convenient time to let them continue the story–a time when you can pay attention.

During planned recreation
I don’t just focus at work, I focus at play, and I encourage you to do the same. If you’re taking a day at the beach or going to see a movie, get the most out of your time. Let go of work and stop worrying about who said what on social media. Have fun. Go all in. Be present in your pleasure.

During phone calls
Anyone who knows me knows I am notoriously hard to reach via phone. Because calls require immediate attention, and my time is often already accounted for, I don’t accept random, inconvenient calls. I schedule calls (my wife being an exception) and make sure I’m somewhere quiet to hear and take note of what will be said. When you’re talking to someone in the background or noisily working on an unrelated task, it shows how little you value the time of the person you are communicating with. If you don’t want to talk to them, don’t. Better to refuse a call than pay no attention to the caller.

During spiritual time
I pray and meditate, and I highly recommend both practices. When I do so, I put my phone on airplane mode or leave it somewhere else. Focusing for an extended period of time is challenging, but it’s well worth your effort to give attention to your spiritual health. These kinds of practices can also highlight our limited attention span and challenge our ability to focus our attention, enhancing our ability to engage in daily activities.

Be wherever you are

Whatever you happen to be doing, do it. Invest time into things that deserve your attention, and give it generously to those deserving things. Remember, people care more about your attention than your time, and would rather have five minutes of engagement than an hour of distraction.

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