Time management is the process of organizing and planning your time between different activities. While Attention management is the practice of controlling distractions and being present in the moment.
The problem though is we assume we have control over time, we don’t. Only our attention determines the experiences we have, and in turn, determines the life we live. Or said another way: you must control your attention to control your life.
Attention management is about being intentional instead of reactive. It is the ability to recognize when your attention has gone awry and to deliberately bring the focus back to your priorities. This is a day-to-day struggle for all especially because distractions are at their all-time high.
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With the internet and other devices leading the way, checking things off a to-do list has been very challenging. There’s this conflict between our goals and the lure of distractions. Practicing attention management means fighting back against these distractions and creating opportunities throughout your day to support your priorities
The ultimate result is the ability to create a life of choice, around things that are important to you. It’s more than just exercising focus. It is deliberately choosing where you direct your attention at any given moment, based on an understanding of your priorities and goals.
According to Maura Thomas, a productivity expert and author of Attention Management. “When most people think of managing their time, their first instinct is to make an appointment with themselves (at 9 a.m., I’m going to finish my quarterly analysis; at 10:30, I’ll start answering emails). The issue, as Thomas points out, is that it’s easy—the easiest—to break an appointment with yourself. Who’s going to stop you?”
Through her research, writing, and experience teaching productivity, Thomas has come to define attention management as “a collection of behaviors that give you the opportunity to recognize where your head is at, and [the ability] to shift to the brain state that is more relevant in the moment.”
Attention not Time
If you want to be more productive, your focus should largely be on your attention, not your time. We all have 24 hrs. a day, the difference is in how you end up using them. We can’t control time itself, but we can control what we do with it – and that largely depends on where your attention is used.
Attention Management needs a mix of focus, self-control, boundaries, and willpower. Sounds intimidating but with awareness and consistent action you can build this into a new habit.
The reality is most people maintain continuous partial attention throughout the day, hopping from task to task and managing several things without being truly engaged in any one of them. People often think multitasking makes them more productive, but the opposite is true.
According to research whenever you break your concentration – such as switching from one task to another – it takes almost 30 minutes each time to properly refocus.
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Top tips for Managing your Attention
1. Control your Attention
To better manage your attention, you need to understand how it is actually spent. Try to identify the unconscious tasks and behaviors that disrupt you.
2. Control your Environment
The environment around you has a major impact on your attention and focus.
- Set boundaries with others. When you’re at work, close your door or you could consider using headphones or putting up a “do not disturb” sign.
- Organize your workspace a clean space equals a clear mind.
- Design your surroundings This could be buying an office plant or a small fish tank which would ease your stress whenever your look at them.
3. Remove Distractions
Defend your attention by managing distractions proactively.
Technology is the #1 cause of distractions. Remember, it’s there to serve you, not the other way around! Decide to take control:
- Leverage the “Do Not Disturb” feature on your devices
- Switch on Airplane Mode
- Turn off notifications and alerts
- Reduce your screen time
4. Control your Behavior
When your technology is tamed and your do-not-disturb sign is up, is time to do single-tasking. Give your full attention to one task until it’s complete. Take breaks, “unplug” completely (no technology), refresh your mind and move your body as often as you can. Try it for 15-20 minutes but make sure you go back and finish the planned task.
Try the Pomodoro technique. The idea is to set a timer of 20 minutes and stay completely focussed for those 20 minutes, then take a break.
5. Learn to Prioritize
Motivation is crucial to managing your attention, but motivation tends to fade. Having a clear idea of your goals can be a huge help. Try to figure out which tasks will actually help you accomplish your goals, and put them first.
You might want to use the “Eisenhower Principle” to understand which tasks are really important and which are urgent.
6. Practice Focus Exercise
A Harvard study stated that we spend almost 50% of our waking time thinking about something other than what we are supposed to be doing. This can include: contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or may never happen at all.
Start building productive habits that’ll train your brain to stay focused by gradually increasing your level of concentration.
- Meditation helps to keep you calm and collected.
- Breathing exercises to release your anxieties.
- Eye exercises This exercise will help you take a break from the screen and increase your attention level.
7. Control your thoughts This is the most challenging and difficult part because minds are made to wander. Practice noticing when your mind is veering off in its own direction, and gently guide your focus back to where you want it.
Practicing attention management will not eliminate distractions from your day. But as you start to recognize when you become distracted, and you build your “attention muscle habit”, you’ll start to reclaim your life.
Another great read: YOUR PAST IS NOT YOUR FUTURE: SIMPLE WAYS TO THRIVE