Time Management vs. Attention Management: 5 Steps to Get You On the Right Path
When it comes to punctuality and Time Management, my Aunt Sheila sure knew how to make a schedule work for her! She would plan intricate routes to her vacation destination, my Uncle Lloyd driving the RV, and a couple kids in tow. She knew exactly how long they would stop at the Grand Canyon on the way to their destination, so that they would arrive just in time, just where she wanted to be. She even knew exactly how many rolls of film she needed to take specific pictures with the attractions. She scheduled Christmas events the same way, and when her son, Doug, was late to arrive with the grand-kids, pushing her schedule of gift-opening into the start time of dinner, my Aunt Shelia wasn’t very good at concealing her disappointment and frustrations. But that kind of “attention” to detail is exactly what I want to piece out here.
The thing about time management is that it’s all done outside of your head! You plan and schedule, you set things in your calendar for a specific date and time, you come up with an Agenda for the meeting, you have expectations about how the day will go…
… and then what? Does everything go off without a hitch? Do clients never reschedule? Do Board Members never bring up topics that weren’t planned for in the Agenda? Of course not!! Life, if nothing else, is full of the unexpected.
And so, I share with you the updated terminology — it’s isn’t our TIME that we need to manage, so much as it is our attention.
Attention management, then, is just what it sounds like – the ability to take control of your focus in an increasingly busy and distracting world. We are inundated with so many options to attract our attention. Will we look up at the world, or down at our phones? If we’re looking at the world, then we all know how many distractions there can be, from people to noise to lights and signs. And if we’re down the rabbit hole of our devices, the internet provides an endless amount of options to keep us engaged until the end of time itself.
But the truth of the matter is, even when it doesn’t feel that way, we get to choose what we will give our attention to, what will keep our focus for the longest.
And while we cannot create more time in the day, we can all pay more attention.
Here are five steps to help you get onto the right path with Attention Management:
Figure out what you need to pay attention to first. We don’t know what to give our attention to if we haven’t given our attention to sorting out what task is more important! What a mouthful. But seriously, what is most needed will find it’s way to the top whether you give it that spot or not, so might as well take a moment to sort out your list.
2) Controlling Distractions:
Distractions come in two flavours, External (like your phone, social media, or people) and Internal (like emotions, self-doubt, or fatigue). In order to control them you must first address the problem them pose. If it is your phone, turn it to Airplane mode, if it’s people let them know you need X amount of time to complete your task and request they do not interrupt. When it comes to internal, it’s a little trickier — it’s pretty difficult to complete a task when we think there’s no point because we’re no good at it anyhow. Talking back to our internal monologue can start off seeming silly, but giving positive self-talk in response to any negative self-talk is one way, as well as affirmations and challenging the truth of that self-talk with un-refutable evidence. As far as fatigue goes, good sleep hygiene is the foundation of most things in life — if you aren’t getting enough sleep, it’s time to examine why, and maybe bring in a medical professional if what you’re already doing isn’t working.
3) Being Present in the Moment:
They say that depression comes from thinking about the past, and anxiety comes from thinking about the future. The best, and only, place to be is in your own present moment. Focusing on the here and now will allow you to manage stress and expectations, give you better decision making abilities, strengthen your relationships and even improve your creativity. Some steps to consider in placing yourself in the now — breath, engage your senses, notice the small things, and don’t give up! The more you practice being here in this moment, the easier it will get.
4) Maximizing Your Focus:
This is the breaking point. If you can focus on what you are doing and maintain that focus — you are paying attention! And if you fail that’s okay, just bring it back again and again until you get it right. It’s important to know the things that can break your focus, like a cluttered office or the wrong time of day, or something you forgot to schedule into your calendar. It’s also necessary to ensure you only focus on one task at a time. The concept of good multi-tasking is a myth. Research suggests we’re not really multi-tasking, we’re just task-switching quickly and it is not sustainable. But most of all — PLAN and TAKE BREAKS! Get up, stretch, use the facilities, grab a fresh cup of coffee/tea. And then come back to your task.
5) Finding Your Flow:
Some might call this “hyper focus”. When you are engaged in a task that takes all of your attention for any period of time, this is flow. Your mind and body working as one. It is easier to find when an important task is also a task you enjoy. The combination of pleasure and task fulfillment can lead to extended attention. Things to consider — as discussed above, set your environment, prepare your mind and body (have water ready, remain calm and relaxed), and choose a task that matters to you. You’ll find that you are most productive when you are able to enter a state of flow.
Some say, tongue-in-cheek, “You are what you eat.” I like to paraphrase that as “What you focus on is what you become.” If we’re always paying attention to the negative and completing empty joyless tasks, we will find ourselves being negative, empty, joyless people. Conversely, when we combat the negative with positive self-talk, and focus on important task that we enjoy, we can be more present and engage in a state of flow, enabling us to be our best selves.
Don’t get me wrong, we still need to complete menial tasks — someone has to scrub the toilet, and someone has to send out those emails, and someone has to feed the cat (yes, every day!). But when we focus on the parts we enjoy, we complete tasks quicker and get back to the things we want to do most.
If this information resonated with you, and you want to go deeper, there is a great Attention Management course available on my site. This course offers audio files, an eBook, an amazing WorkBook and bonus articles. Click here to contact me for pricing.