Attention Management is the Key to Productivity with Maura Thomas
Hi everyone, it’s Jenn DeWall, and on this week’s episode of The Leadership Habit Podcast, I sat down with Maura Thomas to talk about her newest book. Everyone Wants to Work Here, Attract the Best Talent, Energize Your Team, and Be the Leader in Your Market. In this conversation, there are so many insights that Maura shared that I think are relevant to so many of us, and we can use to be better leaders and also manage our time and attention in a different way.
But before we dive into the show, let me tell you a little bit more about Maura. So with us today is Maura Nevel Thomas, an expert in productivity and work-life balance, and a pioneer in the concept of attention management, which she calls the New Path to productivity. Honestly, I love the whole concept. I know that you will too, but let me tell you a little bit more.
She’s an award-winning international speaker and trainer on individual and corporate productivity and work-life balance and the most widely cited authority on attention management. She’s a TEDx speaker and founder of Regain Your Time. She’s the author of six books, including the one that we’re going to talk about today. Everyone Wants to Work Here, and she was named a top leadership speaker in Inc. Magazine. Maura is often featured in major business outlets, and she’s a regular columnist for both Forbes and Harvard Business Review, with articles there viewed over a million times. Now. I hope you enjoy your conversation. Get your pen and paper handy because she has got a lot of different insights that you can use to manage your attention to be a better leader. Here we go!
Meet Maura Thomas, Author, Speaker and Productivity Expert
Jenn DeWall: Maura Nevel Thomas, welcome to the Leadership Habit. I met you a year ago, and your message stuck with me. You stuck with me. I got to watch you speak and talk about your craft, and I’m so excited that a year later, we get to introduce you to our audience because you are just a rockstar at what you do. You also are coming out with a new book, and I’m just so excited to be able to take your message and share it with our listeners so they can get to know and learn the value that you’ve been sharing with audiences from around the world. So more of a welcome to the show today. We’re so happy to have you.
Maura Thomas: Thanks, Jenn. You are so sweet, and I am excited to be here. I’m really excited about this message from my book, and I just can’t wait to talk about it with you, so thanks.
Jenn DeWall: Yes, well, I, they know the audience knows that I love just the basic origin story. I love to hear how people came to be, you know, where they are today. So if you could go ahead and just introduce yourself to our audience, tell us a little bit more about yourself and how you came to be.
Maura Thomas: Yeah, I have worked in the productivity field for my entire professional career. I started out in the paper-based planner world, and when I worked there, it was part of my job to understand all the paper-based planners and all the productivity systems and what everybody was doing and, and selling and, and teaching. And so I went to all the trainings and I read all the books and I saw all the speakers, and the organization I worked in was global. So a couple times a year I went and sat with 42 peers in 42 from 42 other countries talking about productivity in their country and what was working and what they were teaching. And so I just got this really unique education in the productivity industry. My background is not. I’m not one of those, like, I’ve just always been good at this, so now I’m teaching other people, right? <Laugh>,
It was, it was really just this immersion for years, almost a decade. So when I left and I started my business, that was the skill I had. I knew that I wanted to start a business and you know, you think about like, what do I have to offer people? And people kept telling me, you know, this stuff about productivity that most people don’t know, and you have this, you have this really rich education in it, and that’s what you should teach. And I, while I was at that company, I also got an MBA, so I got sort of the business knowledge and, and that kind of thing. And then I started blogging and as a result of my, in 2009, as a result of my blog, Wiley Publishing came to me, and asked me to write my first book on productivity.
Then I got invited to do a TEDx talk, and then I got invited to write for Harvard Business Review, and then I published my second book, and then another publisher came to me when I started talking about attention management as opposed to time management as the new path to productivity. And so it just all sort of blew up from there. And now this is my sixth book. I write for both Harvard Business Review and Forbes and I travel all over the world helping leaders in teams have more days where they go home saying, oh my gosh, that was such a good day. I got so much done. And fewer days where they say, oh my gosh, I was busy all day and somehow I got nothing done. <Laugh>.
Do Other Cultures Look at Work and Attention Management Differently?
Jenn DeWall: Yeah, that’s the reality I feel like of so much of us. So what that feels like more your, your resume, your accolades, I, there’s so many things I wish we had four or five hours to be able to unpack even, you know, to get to the surface of like just so much knowledge that you have. But I’m curious, I love that, you know, you were able to sit and learn from people in different cultures, like you said, the 42 different people, 42 different countries. What do you think from where you sat, what are some of the, I guess the variances that you noticed across cultures? Is it that we prioritize, like our, and I’m gonna sound very uneducated asking this, like, is it that we priorit how we prioritize our family? Or is it who we’re trying to serve? What are some of the differences you notice and how we manage our time across cultures?
Maura Thomas: Yeah, I one of the biggest differences that, I mean, a lot of people talk about is that I think in in the US and in other cultures as well, we are very, very focused on work, which in some ways is not at all a bad thing. But I think people, excuse me, I think people in Europe and some other cultures are a lot better at prioritizing things outside of work and working to live instead of living to work. And I understand getting passion from your work, but I write a lot about burnout and work-life balance and and I, I help people a lot. This is the biggest challenge, primarily in the US that I see, is that people just, that they’re having the joy sucked out of their days because work is such a priority. And so that’s, I think that’s the biggest cultural difference that I saw.
Jenn DeWall: Gosh, this makes me want to almost, I wish I could have that messaging, you know, that conditioning removed out of me <laugh>, you know, where you could just, wow, find more of that peace, find more of that choice, stop the “Sunday scaries”, stop worrying about certain things or, you know, I think, and maybe, I’m not sure if you see it in a, in a particular population or like certain characteristics of people that I’m more prone and vulnerable to burnout, but as a perfectionist and someone that has a high sense of, you know, my success professionally comes back to my worth, like all the time how I feel about myself. And so yeah, there’s, how do I learn the stopping point of being like, Jenn, it’s okay. It’s okay because I will still be incredibly hard on myself and I’m sitting here at 40 and this is a message I’m intrigued by, and I know the wrong ways that I’m continuing to do, but yet it’s hard to break that habit.
I wish it was never conditioned with that to some extent, just to be able to find the beautiful joys in life. And I got, I feel like your message, I mean, must help so many people just because I know so many people that are also in that spot of feeling like we’re never good enough. And I asked you just on this pre-call, so I wanna ask this and then we’re gonna dive into your book. But in terms of our ability to be, you know, effective to manage our time, I honestly feel like every week I’m like, how in the heck did people do this 20 years ago, 30 years ago? Like, how in the heck were they successful? Because it feels like I can’t do it, I don’t have enough time. What do you think is the biggest difference between maybe that judgment of thinking that people had it easier then than what we do today?
Attention Management When Distractions are Literally at Your Fingertips
Maura Thomas: Oh, a hundred percent. I think people had it easier then <laugh>. When, I mean, it, it absolutely, in, in the days before the internet and internet connected smartphones, there were many fewer demands on us. I mean, now we have just dozens of communication channels and information. The biggest difference now is that information is no longer passive information is pushed to us through our technology, where 30 years ago information was passive. If you wanted to know something, you had to go seek it out. You had to go to the library. You had to find today’s paper, right? I remember even just as, as recently as like, you know, seven or 10 years ago, I was talking to my mom, and she was like, oh, oh, it’s top of the hour. I have to go. I have to go because they’re gonna put the weather on the news at the top of the hour and I have to go. And she had an iPhone. I was like, mom, just tap the button on your phone that has weather you, like, you don’t have to rearrange your life now around the news. But that’s how it used to be. We had to seek information out and now information is pushed to us whether we want it or not.
Jenn DeWall: Oh my gosh. Whether we need it or not, because I can think of how many distractions or Yeah, I’ll, I’ll spare the audience of knowing like the distractions that I can fall prey to on the internet, but it’s so easy.
Everyone Has The Same Amount of Time – We Just Get Distracted
Maura Thomas: Yeah, and that’s the thing. That’s, that’s why my 2009 when I started writing, I started shifting because everybody thinks that the path to productivity is better time management. If I just manage my time better than I can achieve more of what’s most important to me, which is how I define productivity. But the thing is, we all, everybody who has ever walked the face of the planet, gets the same 24 hours. And on the days where you say, I got so much done. And on the days where you say, oh my God, I got nothing done, it was still, you had the same 24 hours. Yeah. So it’s not that we don’t have enough time. And even if you did manage your time successfully, which is essentially calendaring, right? Planning your day, I’m gonna do this at this time and this at this time, and that’s how I’ll get everything done.
It’s like a puzzle, right? I have this much room on my calendar and I’ll just stick things in until they fit, right. But how you manage your time only matters to the extent that you also devote your attention. If you book something on your calendar, you book a proposal, right? At two o’clock I’m gonna do this proposal. So the proposal comes in, but then an email pops up and, oh, let me check what that is. And then, you know, the notifications on your phone and then the phone rings and then somebody interrupts you, Hey, do you have a minute? And the time goes by with you only giving your attention to that proposal in two minute increments and getting distracted in between at the end of that hour that you set aside to do the proposal, it won’t be done. Right.
Maura Thomas: So our biggest challenge in the 21st century is not that we don’t have enough time, it’s that we have too many distractions and you can’t solve a distraction problem with a time solution. The antidote to distraction is attention. And so what is much more relevant today in the 21st century than time management is attention management. And that’s why all my productivity books have this underlying theme. If you don’t manage your managing, your attention is foundational. And you have to learn that before you can do anything else. Including my new book where I help leaders create an environment where their teams can get work done because organizations are so full of distraction and that distraction is inadvertently created usually by the leaders.
Jenn DeWall: Oh my gosh, I love that we’re gonna bring, be bringing this in and even just thinking the working styles that we have. I had read a statistic, I don’t know, a few months ago that had said something that 85% of people have their email open in the background <laugh>. And I’m like,
Maura Thomas: Well, I bet the number’s higher than that. I bet the number’s higher than that. Yeah.
Jenn DeWall: But how, like, thank goodness that like you are here to help people focus on, you know, it’s that attention management, but how are people supposed to be, how are we supposed to learn this, right? When like, those distractions keep getting more and more, like at what point are we supposed to now introduce this at an, you know, an elementary or early education time to like get people prepared and not just say, I expect you to answer that, but I’m just more curious of like, how are we supposed to start to learn this so we can prioritize that? Or there’s just so many layers I feel like to our attention. But okay, we’re <laugh>, we’re, how, how would you say that? Like people can learn that today and then we’re gonna go into your book.
You Can’t Control Time— But You Can Manage Your Attention
Maura Thomas: Yeah, I mean, I think the first thing is to raise awareness. A lot of people accept like distraction is just part of the world and this is just how the world is. And I just have to figure out how to navigate this, how to, how to get all my work done and, and live my life in spite of constant distraction. And I reject that premise because here’s, here’s the beautiful thing about attention management. Over time management, you cannot manage time. It marches on it. You can’t slow it down, you can’t back it up, you can’t bend it to your will in any way. But there is only one person who can control your attention and that is you. And so we, a lot of people, and people do this with their kids too, like, oh, this is just the world they grow up in. I think the best thing that parents can do for their children is help them learn how to be less distracted, help them learn to manage their attention. And one of the primary ways to do that, adults can do that with their kids, is to model it. So to me, attention management is the most important skill, and it’s not gonna, that’s not gonna change anytime. No,
Jenn DeWall: I mean, and I can just picture even kids or like just the TikTok or you see the attention spans dropping over the last like few decades, which like, how can they get shorter? Can they even get shorter? Like, what does that mean if they, cause I thought, and I’m sure, you know, as I thought I’d read a stat that was, it used to be 13 seconds in the early two thousands, and now it’s like five or six seconds. And honestly, can it get shorter <laugh>? I don’t know if it can, that’s a really short amount of time. Mm-Hmm. Yeah.
Maura Thomas: We can’t, we, we can’t apply ourselves in, you know, 30 second, one minute, two minute increments. We can’t, we can’t, I call it unleashing your genius. We can’t muster the full range of our, not only our, our wisdom and our skills and our talents and our abilities and our knowledge, but we also can’t be our most diplomatic and our most empathetic and our most compassionate and our most kind. Right? You’re frazzled all day long. And I mean, how many times people say to me like, oh my gosh, I snapped at my kids, I snapped at my coworker. Right? I was just so stressed and so frustrated. Right? And it’s not because we are not nice people, it’s because we have stuff coming at us all day long and that is super stressful and we can’t be our best selves in one minute increments.
Jenn DeWall: Oh my gosh, Maura, I just appreciate you sharing that for everyone that needs to hear that, right? That we’re not necessarily set up for success right now and, and certain things and that. But I do, I love your message in the sense that it feels really empowering because time management feels like something that I, I can’t control, but attention does feel like something that I can control. And so it feels like you’ve given me, you know, just that, that million dollar like value and something that I actually can own, but I have to manage my distractions. But I like that it feels like I can, I can focus on that. I can get some control back or I can take that control into the situation.
You can Live in Reaction and Distraction or with Intention and Choice
Maura Thomas: Absolutely no one can but you, we either live a life of reaction and distraction, or we live a life of intention and choice, and the decision is entirely ours.
Jenn DeWall: Oh my gosh, you’re hitting deep. I guarantee someone right now is like, how am I living my life? I I’m processing this real time with you. All right, let’s, I just, I’m loving this conversation already so far. And again, just giving people that space to be humans, I love that your message does that to be like, you’re not a bad person. Things are just not there. And I, I just really appreciate that. Because I think in sometimes when we do talk about it as time, there is a little bit more shame. Like you’re just not managing your time, whether you could be more, and I feel like there’s empathy in your message, which is just goes a long way given the amount of things that we have to get done. But let’s, let’s dive into, or unless, do you have a response on that? Sorry.
Maura Thomas: No. Well, not on that, but I was just thinking about what you said because I think a lot of people feel like you when you were saying like, I’m a perfectionist and I get, you know, work is what makes me feel fulfilled, fulfilled and successful and, you know, and I just wanna do a good job. And so, and, and I think so many people feel that way. We work a lot because we are driven and we’re motivated and that’s a good thing. And nobody should feel bad about that. But here is a way to think about it that might help you. I know you and probably most of your listeners, we are what, what some people call knowledge workers, right? We are people whose job outputs are brain functions, right? Our job outputs are things like relationships and thinking and critical thinking and analysis and ideas and connections, right? Among different things and innovation, right? If your job outputs come out of your brain, then you need to make sure that your brain is functioning well on a given day. And the only way that your brain functions well is if you take care of your body in your mind, right? You need physical and emotional wellbeing to be good at your job. And so the thing that I love to tell my audiences is that sometimes the best thing you can do for your work is not work.
Jenn DeWall: I want that. I wanna listen to that on a day. Like, and honestly like, cause it’s hard if I’m being hon you know, that I just got through Covid. I didn’t take a single day off like when I had Covid because it’s like, there’s just so much stuff that you have to do and like, I’m not great at that. Because it’s always that churn. I know I’m probably a poster child for burnout right now, but I love just even like saying that message because it’s to someone like me, it is a hard reality to consider. Excuse me. Like, you want me to not work? I don’t understand that messaging does not compute in my conditioning <laugh> mm-hmm. <Affirmative> mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. Like it’s, and it’s a good reminder, but like I just Yeah, I love that.
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What Inspired Maura’s New Book: Everyone Wants to Work Here
Jenn DeWall: Okay, let’s dive into your book. You’ve got so much knowledge to share. So your newest book, your sixth book, congratulations. Just, you know, on that too, like, that’s a huge accomplishment. Congratulations, Maura.
Maura Thomas: Thank you. Thank you. I’m so excited.
Jenn DeWall: Your Sixth Book, Everyone Wants to Work Here: Attract the Best Talent, Energize Your Team, and be the leader in the market. All right. Let’s know, what inspired you to write this book, knowing it’s your sixth. What inspired you to write this story? Or not story, but this book?
Productivity Issues Usually Start with the Behavior of Leaders
Maura Thomas: Yeah, so I spend a fair bit of time in my job working with– I work with whole teams, but I also work a lot with specifically leadership teams. And so I would, prior to that, I would go in and leaders would hire me and I would train their team members on how to be more productive and how to manage their attention. But what I quickly realized is that the environment that people were working in did not support the training that I was delivering. And so I realized that without addressing the root of the problem, my training was just a bandaid, right? You can, you can teach people the best practices, but if they can’t implement them in the environment in which they work, then it’s never going to help. So I realize the bottom line, usually the biggest impediment to the team’s productivity is the behavior of the leaders and the culture of the organization.
And so I wrote a book about five years ago addressing this and this new book, everyone wants to work here is really building on that. We have a whole new world than we had five years ago with af, you know, post-pandemic. A lot of the principles from that book, work Without Walls, are still relevant, but this book really is my most current. My message is to address the root of this problem. It’s the most current, the most relevant, I think, solution. Because most leaders that I talk to when I bring up some of these things, it’s really an eye-opener. It’s really very, I mean, it’s not rocket science that I teach. It’s not even. It’s not even that revolutionary. It’s just something people don’t think about. And I do that a lot in my work.
I talk about shining a light. We don’t think about the way we work until somebody forces us to think about the way we work. And then it’s like, oh, that’s not smart. What am I doing? <Laugh>, right? And so, so that’s what the book is about, how leaders are unintentionally creating a culture that is undermining their team’s ability to do their best work. And so when you have a workforce who goes home every day and say, oh my gosh, I worked so hard, and still I got nothing done again, that makes people really demotivated, really exhausted, really burned out. It makes them start to feel negative. It sucks the joy out of their days. And, and then if they’re unhappy at work, then they go home and they’re unhappy. And it just is this huge snowball effect. So that’s what the book is about.
How Leaders Unintentionally Undermine Productivity
Jenn DeWall: Well, and it’s an important read, right? Giving us the gift of our presence and ability to be our best. Instead of feeling like every single day I’m just set up to fail in some capacity. Like either I’m, I’m not, you know, meeting or matching someone’s expectations or I just am not able to deliver. And I love that we’re gonna be talking about shining a light. And I, I again, appreciate the way that you share that because if you are doing some of these things, you know, you don’t have to shame yourself. It’s just an opportunity to reflect and think about what you could do differently. So I really appreciate you have that so much in your messages, and I just think our world needs that because we are so, again, probably my perfectionist, but we are so incredibly critical of ourselves and wanting to be the best and just creating that space to be human, I think. Is there, all right, let, let’s shine some light right now. So Maura, from your perspective, what is the single biggest issue that hampers individual and organizational success?
Maura Thomas: In a word, the single biggest issue is distraction. We are bombarded all day long with communication and information, and we have just sort of adopted this belief that everything requires an immediate response. We think that we will be providing better service if we respond immediately. We think that people expect an immediate response, and I, in some cases, people would like an immediate response. But the problem is what happens inside organizations is that we inadvertently create a culture of urgency. And when everything is urgent, nothing is urgent. And when every incoming communication, that might be some system-generated auto notification or the most important message from your biggest client or your boss or anything in between! Any communication that you receive could be any of those things. And the only way you know is to read it as it arrives. And not just email, but chat and DMs and, you know, all the, all these different communication channels that we get.
The only way to know if it’s an emergency or if it’s important, or if it requires an immediate response is to check it. And so we get a message every like 30 seconds, every minute, every two minutes, we get a new message. So how do you get anything else done if you have to read every message as it arrives? And that distraction issue is infecting every corner of business operations. That’s the primary message of the book. And it in, I mean, it just, in it infects work-life balance. It infects communication. It infects personal workflow. It impacts quality. It impacts operational excellence. It impacts growth. It sabotages all of those things. And so, so seeking out the root of distraction and solving it can save organizations millions and make employees happier and more productive and less stressed.
What is a Reasonable Turnaround Time for Emails?
Jenn DeWall: I want this working utopia for us! We deserve it. Right? We, because we are in that place. How do you, you know, when I even talked about that stat of like 85% of people had their email open. When I teach for Crestcom, like teaching the classes, I know that some people are multitasking in a virtual world. And when we talk about that, like there’s a lot of fear, I feel like in what if something right? At like, so how do you even approach that in our modern-day world where emails become such a big part of our jobs, which not see it in our job descriptions, right? Like that you have to manage this, but it’s such a big part of our jobs. How do you even start to approach that? Because right now, from where I listen, when I hear leaders talk about that, it’s like, well, what if I, it’s everything you just shared. Like, what if I miss something? What if I need to do this? I I have to check my email first thing in the morning or else like, and so how do you, this messaging has been such that culture of urgency, as you said, I love that. Like how the heck did we get here and why are we still, you know, kind of maybe expecting people to do a 24-hour turnaround? Okay, here’s a, here’s a straight of question. Is a 24-hour response time even feasible anymore in our world?
Maura Thomas: It is. I think that we have to set expectations, but for sure, so here’s the thing we, to answer your question, like one of the smallest ways to, to solve this that I, that I talk about in the book is that we need leaders need to create inside their organization communication guidelines. Because the problem is we keep introducing more and more and more ways to communicate, but we don’t provide any guidance about which tool do we use in which situation. And so when leaders don’t provide any guidance, what happens is it defaults to each individual’s personal preference, whether those individuals are inside the organization or whether there are clients or vendors outside their organization. Well, this client always needs an immediate response, but this client seems fine if it’s, or, or this client prefers phone call and this client seems to prefer email and this client seems to like text message or th and thi each individual person inside the organization, we all work together and Joe seems to prefer, you know, a, a, a message on our team collaboration tool.
And Mary seems to prefer email and Lisa likes phone calls and, and Mark always wants to set a meeting. And so I don’t know, I’m just gonna send all the information in all the ways, right? And that way I’ll just cover everyone no matter what they like, they’ll get it the way they want it. I’m gonna send it in all the ways. And so now instead of having one communication about one issue, you have two or three or four or five communications about one issue that everybody has to clear. I ha yeah, I got it in text and I got it in email. I mean, how many times have you gotten a chat or a text that said, Hey, I just sent you an email. Go check that email. Right? Right. And then, and then have you ever gotten sucked in and you’re like, you text back and you’re like, yeah, I got it.
And I responded, did you get the response right? So now you’re having a conversation about your conversation, which, so this is where the volume of communication is so much higher than it needs to be inside organizations, but the efficiency of communication is so much lower than it should be inside organizations. And every additional minute that we spend managing excess communication is a minute that we’re not spending doing our actual job. Whether it’s selling or designing or solving problems or analyzing things like the thing our genius that we were hired for is buried in an avalanche of 250 emails. Then I have to look at the minute they arrive.
Jenn DeWall: Oh my gosh. So like so much there. I know someone’s like, this is the reality of my life right now. It feels like I’m constantly there. And I, I just lost my train of thought in what you had cheered in terms of the expression you use because I love the language and I, I know that you had, we had talked about this on the pre-call last week, can you describe or access communication is what you just said, which I love that we’re in a world where we’re just managing access communication and I’ve never thought about it like that where we do get those messages delivered in so many ways and sometimes they can be, you know, I guess the things that create that urgency of like what we actually have to do sometimes it’s just, I don’t even need to know this right now. Why was I even included on this? But you talk about the sta because I struggle with this and I didn’t realize that like you had really more talked about this and I probably did get it from you when I heard you last year. But communication debt, please tell our audience what communication debt is.
Getting out of “Communication Debt” by Setting Expectations
Maura Thomas: Yes. So I borrowed with permission, I borrowed this phrase from a tech entrepreneur named Henry Poddar. Apparently, there’s like a technology debt thing in the tech world. But he applied it to communication. It’s basically just the idea that we always owe someone something, right? Some form of communication. When you look at your phone, I call it the tyranny of the little red dot, right? You look at your phone and you’ve got 17 unread email messages and three text messages and four voicemails and you missed six calls and 17 LinkedIn notifications and blah blah blah, right? All my
Jenn DeWall: Gosh, the dots
Maura Thomas: Have a little red dot on them and we feel like, oh my gosh, I, to sum up the number of all the, the numbers on all the little red dots and that’s my debt, right? I owe everybody all these stuff. Not to mention all the other stuff that I already saw that I still haven’t gotten to yet. And so it just feels like we are drowning in this avalanche of debt where we always owe someone something. And so that’s why there’s a whole chapter in the book dedicated to teaching how to create communication guidelines and set up communication guidelines in your organization. So you should never leave your, I would never advocate leaving your customers hanging if they have an emergency. But what you need to say is like routine communication. We do like this. If you have an emergency, we are there for you, but it can’t be buried in with all the other routine stuff.
You have to do this if you have an emergency, whatever that is, right? I, and I have a sample chart in the book about like here, here’s an example of of how you can teach your team and then also your external stakeholders. This is how we communicate in the technology world. Technology companies have something called SLAs, service level agreements. This is how we operate. And I think every company should have a certain amount of SLAs like, this is how we do business, this is how things get done here. This is how we do our best work for you. If you are communicating for this purpose, use this tool. If you’re communicating for this purpose, use this tool. And when we create those guidelines, we unburden our team from their communication debt to a certain extent, and then they have more time to do the things that you hired them for in the first place.
Jenn DeWall: My gosh. It’s like, it’s out when you say it. I’m like, why isn’t everyone doing this? Why are we not doing this right now? <Laugh>, because it, I even think about tensions with customers, right? Of feeling like ike someone can’t respond, I can’t respond in that time that they need. But I love educating that piece of like educating your customers and your SLA or you know, just in those conversations of, in an emergency, please contact us in this way so we can respond in that way. because I think that that’s the piece is like everything is a priority. We’re not even sure we missed things that probably we shouldn’t have missed, but why are we not thinking about the communication guidelines? I just love that and I love that you do provide that as a filter in a way because you’re already just making things seem like this could actually happen. But you know what I mean? Like, this could actually happen. Like it’s not some pie in the sky. Like Yeah, if you, you know, adjust your organizational vision, if you change these group norms like everything’s there, like start here, it actually feels like you can give that nice orientation to make it a reality. And then I’m, I imagine like what ways do you recommend like educating your organization or how do you even start that as a leader? Because what if you are the problem and you’re the one that’s not adhering to the guidelines,
Make Communication Guidelines Part of Organizational Culture
Maura Thomas: Right? And that is a hundred percent. So it has to start at the top because I mean, the truth is the behavior, the culture in an organization is created by the behavior of everyone in the organization, right? The way that everybody acts contributes to the culture, but the leaders have more, more influence on the culture because everybody looks to the leaders. Like you get what you tolerate to a certain extent from team members, but the people actually look to the leaders to say, well, if they’re operating this way, that’s how I should operate. And so the leaders have to create the communication guidelines with, with the, you know, to to, to the extent that it’s relevant with the participation of the team. But then once those guidelines are created, the leaders need to invite the team to help hold them accountable because change is hard– and change is hard for everyone. And so, but it just takes, you know, we don’t think about the way we work and so a leader might forget to follow the communication guidelines and now he’s been doing it, he or she has been doing it for a week and then after the week it’s like, oh man. And nobody called them out and they, it was just because they forgot and now they’ve sort of undermined all of their efforts. So we need other people to hold us accountable, but sometimes it can be scary to remind the boss, <laugh>, like you
Jenn DeWall: Oh yeah
Like you said we were gonna do this and you’re not doing it right. Yeah. So creating a, a culture where people feel safe to uphold the values of the organization is really important
Jenn DeWall: From your perspective, like knowing that you have written about topics, you know, burnout, especially any advice you would have for, I don’t know if in the book, if there’s more prescriptive offerings, you know, even thinking about, hey, here’s some norms that actually might be effective to combat this burnout. Whether that’s not checking emails on the weekends or, you know, I don’t know if you have any rules of thumb or like recommendations or from your experience what you’ve seen be effective because I feel like people are very, very tethered in every single way. And so how do you even start to, I guess, have them drop that security or like that tetheredness that we have, are there recommended norms that can work to combat this burnout so we actually can give the right attention, we can be effective and successful?
Don’t Underestimate the Real Cost of “Just Checking a Few Emails”
Maura Thomas: Yeah, absolutely. In the book I talk about, I don’t know, there’s maybe like eight or 10 reasons for burnout, right? It’s not an easy issue there, there are many reasons why people feel burnout, but one of the most common reasons for burnout is pretty simple and it’s just working too much. Most people really overvalue the benefit of, oh, let me just knock out some emails tonight or I’ll get caught up on Saturday or I’ll, you know, I’ll, I’ll spend the morning on Christmas, just, you know, nobody will be bothering me so I’ll be able to get some stuff done before we do family stuff, right? We overvalue how much that will help and we undervalue the cost every time you choose to work or to, and you know, scanning your email and your messages from your phone, that counts as working because it keeps your head thinking about work.
And so every time we choose to do that, we fail to appreciate the cost because if you’re working, you’re not exercising, you’re not sleeping, you’re not reading a book, you’re not going out to dinner with friends, you’re not right, doing all of that other stuff that feeds you physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, right? And so one of the biggest reasons for burnout is simply working too much. And so I tell my clients, you need to define work-life balance for your team. And an easy definition is don’t work too much. And when people ask me, well what’s too much? How do you know what too much is? There’s a lot of research on what too much is and there’s a whole, there’s reams of research and I quoted in the book, the answer though is the ideal number of work hours per week on average is somewhere between 38 and 45 hours of work per week.
And there are weeks for everyone, no question about it. Like, this is just a busy week, and I have to work 60 hours. Like that happens to everyone. But then you have to try to find a week soon where you can work like 30 to make up, right? So that there’s an an average on average if you look at over a month or over six weeks or two months. And if you figure like, yeah, I worked about, you know, somewhere between on average 38 to 45 hours, that seems to be the magic number. Not only what’s interesting, not only for our personal wellbeing but also for our productivity. When we work more than 45 hours a week, productivity actually starts to go down and it doesn’t feel that way. And it’s very counterintuitive, but it’s the truth.
Jenn DeWall: Oh my gosh, I love that. Even as a closing point, No! I don’t want to wrap up by the way, I love everything that you’ve been sharing with us, but just that reminder that it, you know, check in with yourself. You might feel like you’re not doing enough because it’s going to feel counterintuitive, but your productivity drops. I think that’s a really important message to share with people that pushing yourself is not necessarily going to yield the results or the impact that you want to have. So Maura, we talked about your book today. Your book is going to be out soon. When does your book drop and how can our audience get in touch with you?
Where to Learn More From Maura Thomas and Pre-Order Her Book:
Maura Thomas: Yes. So again, the book is called Everyone Wants to Work Here. So we pull those initials, E W T W H, right? So at MauraThomas.Com/EWTWH, that’s where people can pre-order the book it, it drops April 18th, so it’ll ship shortly after that. And the pre-order there, I’m offering thousands of dollars of benefits in pre-orders, but you can’t get that if you pre-order at a retail outlet, you have to come to my website and pre-order to get those benefits. So MauraThomas.com/ewtwh.
Jenn DeWall: Oh my gosh, thank you so much more for coming on the show and your teams, you, I mean, if you’re listening in this chair, like think about how much our time and our attention matters like this book is really, maybe it’s because it’s hitting me as someone that’s in burnout land right now. And I just think it’s a really, really important book that we need to all do a better job at creating better places to work and supporting or creating those communication guidelines that can actually help us enjoy a quality of life instead of just being tethered to the expectations are constantly working. Maura, thank you so much for just taking the time to share your experience, to talk about attention management, to talk about distractions, communication, debt, excess information. I mean, you dropped so many different considerations that we need to be very mindful of and I just really am grateful that we were able to have you on the show. Thank you so much for your time, your attention. We greatly appreciate it.
Maura Thomas: It was my honor. Jenn, thanks so much for having me.
Jenn DeWall: Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode of a Leadership Habit podcast. I feel like I really needed to hear Maura’s message as I often find myself getting caught up in distractions, not focusing my attention on the right things. Now of course, if you want to get her newest book, everyone wants to work here, you can pre-order that on her website, MauraThomas.com. There you get access to bonus material. You should order it for yourself, order it for your team, head on over to MauraThomas.com and there you can pick up her latest book. Everyone wants to work here.
And of course, if you’re looking to develop the leadership skillsets of your team, Crestcom offers a comprehensive year-long leadership training program that’s focused on helping all of your leaders go from managers to leaders, to people that are seeing the human that have the right tools to create success. Head on over to Crestcom.com to learn more about us, our complimentary webinars, our free eBooks, white papers, and of course you can even request a complimentary two-hour leadership skills workshop just for you and your team. Until next time, thank you so much for listening and of course, if you enjoyed this, share it or leave us a review on your favorite podcast streaming platform. Thank you.