First Word: Choose to pay attention

A good friend shared with me a quote that resonated in describing the confusing world we live in: “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Back in the early sixties, the diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) had yet to become a household acronym and Prozac and Ritalin were still figments of some chemist’s imagination. I remember a teacher could spank me soundly if she thought I had misbehaved – and one teacher even resorted to tying me to my desk so I could sit still long enough to finish my math. Those were the days when such behavior was dismissed as a bad mix of too much energy and not enough focus.

Today’s business world seems intent on either creating additional victims of ADHD or teaching us to multi-task during every activity. Have you watched someone drive erratically while deep in conversation on a cell phone, or talked to someone on the phone who was obviously preoccupied with typing an e-mail at the same time? Then you get the picture.

Information overload is a choice. Unfortunately while we try to process everything flung our way and perform at peak efficiency we are setting ourselves up to fail miserably. I speak as someone who has become a victim of my own poor choices in that regard. The temptation is great because we have all of these nifty devices that make us so easily accessible: the phone in your pocket, the BlackBerry in your briefcase, the laptop with all of your contact files and the iPod containing every song you’ve ever liked in your life.

We have become so preoccupied with being preoccupied that we’ve become too busy to maintain the things that truly matter most: our relationships with others. For me, there is nothing like visiting with someone, either in person or by phone. I still prefer a handwritten note to an e-mail, voice mail, fax, text message or the number of other alternative methods of communication these days. This is even though my penmanship borders on illegible, and only those with an advanced degree in hieroglyphics can figure out what I am trying to say in handwritten notes.

Recently, we were able to meet with all twelve of our finalists for the Contractor of the Year program we promote along with our partners, Caterpillar and Wacker. These finalists told us – as have all of our past finalists – that the relationships they develop with their customers, suppliers and employees are what make them successful. Somehow, amid the wealth of information available, these profitable contractors have placed their priorities in the proper order. They pay extraordinary attention to making sure they say what they will do, then do it. It sounds so easy, until the next time we let ourselves fall victim to sensory overload.