Career Advice

Don’t Manage Your Time, Manage Your Attention

manage your attention
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“Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.” ~ Albert Einstein

What if you stopped worrying about how you spent your time, and instead considered how you spent your attention? I’ll tell youyou’d get more done and be happier!

Someone may spend their time sitting in a chair, but where’s their mind? Are they thinking about the person sitting nearby? Are they brainstorming business ideas? Are they pondering on the things they’re thankful for? Are they pouting about their bad luck? 

The critical choice we have repeatedly in life is where to direct our attention. Some might argue that this is implied in “how we spend time,” but when I hear “spending time,” I think of actions – eating, sleeping, going to the pool, writing, reading, sitting in a chair, etc.

Don’t Manage Your Time, Manage Your Attention

Align Your Mind and Body

Spending time is about what your body is doing. Spending attention is about where your mind is, which is more important. A Harvard study found that being distracted makes us unhappy, and it was defined as being somewhere or doing something physically with the mind being somewhere else. This is an attention issue, not one of time. This is about being present where you are, and being in touch with your immediate environment. And it means to stop texting one group of people while you’re physically with another group of people, for Pete’s and everyone else’s sake!

To put it another way, when you sit down to work, and you let yourself be pulled away by notifications and cat videos, you’re technically “working,” but your attention is splintered. Compare the results of this work session to one of complete attention on your task at hand, and the difference will be shocking. Some people get more done in 20 minutes than others get done in 4 hours, and it’s because they manage their attention that much more effectively.

 

Why Attention Is More Powerful Than Time

Attention is power. People dress in flashy clothing to attract it. Advertisers spend billions of dollars to catch your eye for five seconds. Rock stars and movie stars are praised for their ability to entertain (i.e., hold people’s attention for hours). For something as coveted and valuable as our attention, it’s ironic that everyone focuses on time management instead. Time management is boring, it leaves room for interpretation, and it lets your mind drift in any direction.

What to do about it: When you sit down to work because it’s 5 PM, don’t think about working for an hour until your spin class. Decide to focus deeply on your task for the next 5 minutes, and then renew that for another 5 minutes if necessary. Given the human propensity to lose focus (especially in our modern world of distraction), it’s most useful to aim for short bursts of laser focus. If you aim to “work for an hour,” your attention on that task will vary greatly, and therefore, so will your results.

Whatever your goal, from happiness to success, focus on where your attention goes and time will take care of itself. You DO have enough time in the day, but do you have enough focus in your day? That is the question.

Many people are familiar with the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 principle, which states that 80% of the results come from 20% of the work. This is a great way to explain the power of focused work compared to unfocused workfocused work will always generate disproportionately great results.

As an experiment today, focus on managing your attention more than your time. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well it renews your energy and boosts your productivity.

Photo credit: Unsplash.com

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Michael

    April 13, 2016 at 5:21 am

    Hey Stephen I enjoyed the article, I can definitely see this in today’s society of instant gratification and dinging phones or tablets. I think it is one of my biggest frustrations with my teenagers when they’ve been given a task in the house to do. If they would manage there attention more, the time of the action would follow without them really realizing it.

  2. Seth

    April 26, 2016 at 9:48 pm

    Good article, enjoyed it. How does attention management differs from the theory or concept of mindfulness, which to me look similar.

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