What happens if I don’t?

Most of us ask, “What happens if I do…?”  Yet, in my creative work and consulting, I find it’s not the most important question. “What happens if I don’t….?”  – that’s the important question.

Ask anyone with a terminal illness if time really is equal to money. It isn’t. You can get money back. You can not get time back.

That overused equivalency is a misinterpretation from the classical Greek works of Antiphon, “The most costly outlay is time.” It was overused – and sometimes misused – by managers following Fredrick Taylor’s work on improving industrial processes. I would argue that even time isn’t our most valuable resource – it’s our attention. What we can and do pay attention to over the course of an hour, day, week or lifetime determines our results individually and collectively.

There are only 168 hours in a week, no matter how you slice them. I have repeated empirical evidence that humans can’t focus for all 168 hours, but what we pay attention to during the available hours matters. (My college cramming and the resulting grades was the first of my many experiments with this.)

That’s why the question, ‘What happens if I don’t?’ can focus a project rapidly. It’s not being comfortable with what we’re doing – it’s being comfortable with what’s left undone.  To get clear as individuals and groups on what we are here to do means stating clearly what we are not here to do – on this project, in this job, with this organization, with this life.

Have you ever crafted an ‘attention spending plan’ for a project, staff, company or yourself? What would it look like?

For some further reading on this, take a look at this McKinsey article and this 99u blog post. I’ll pick up the thread in later blog posts.

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