Why Can't You Pay Attention Anymore?

CNET News.com is featuring an interview with Dr. Edward Hallowell titled Why can't you pay attention anymore? I'll tell you what...the symptoms of attention deficit trait (ADT) that Dr. Hallowell describes can be found in a majority of Microsoft employees. We're constantly bombarded by Messenger alerts, Outlook reminders, cell phone calls, distribution list e-mails, and many other forms of electronic communication that compete for our attention. I'm not trying to imply that we're unique, but we are a group of overachievers who love to tie ourselves to gadgets. I've heard more than one person comment that "we attend meetings and reply to e-mail during the day and do the real work at night."

Fortunately (or unfortunately), I've been down that path in my past, and first-hand experience tells me that it's a recipe for eventual burnout. I've managed to find my own rhythm over the past ten years or so that has served me very well. I make a real effort to balance life with work. To that end, I put in between 40 and 45 hours at the office in an average work week. If something arises that demands more of my time, of course, I will accommodate it (for example, working long hours ahead of an important demo or product launch). However, I don't allow it to become the norm. Frankly, when I'm comfortable with the balance, I find myself doing "work" at home for fun. Imagine that.

A lot of people feel guilty for working "only" 40 to 45 hours a week. This is too bad. I can tell you that I'm much more productive, creative, and happy when I maintain my balance. On the two-year NxOpinion engagement that I've mentioned here in the past, we were careful not to push our developers too hard, and we kept to a fairly strict 40 (or so) hour work week. We were very productive, morale was high, and I think we only worked one weekend before a major milestone. Although we had a very good project framework and manager in place, I attribute a lot of our success to maintaining that balance.

It can be difficult to buck the trend at a large corporation like Microsoft, but you have to stick to your guns. Take care of yourself, and you will be much better able to take care of others. Don't fall into the "work hard" trap; instead, work smart and be twice as productive.