Now that it’s 2022, you probably have some goals in mind. The time we’ve spent stuck at home has made us all couch potatoes. With a culture utterly obsessed with productivity, it’s easy to fall into the rabbit whole that is the hustle community. A community that encourages you to work day and night in the name of future success. How can you be like them if you don’t have an ounce of grit? You can literally ask anyone what is the best way to become productive and the answer they’d likely give you is ‘time management.’ I too wholeheartedly believed that time management was the key to live a productive life and that the countless failed attempts were just me. The methodology was correct but it was me who was lacking. There was no significant increase in my productivity. This made me curious to research a better and sustainable way to become more productive. And I stumbled across the practice of ‘attention management.’ Attention management is directing your attention to a said task, at the right time and place. It is to control your environment and behaviors so you can maximize your attention to that one task only.
If there’s a thing time management does right is the act of organizing and planning. However it doesn’t plan the right things. The big difference between time and attention management, is that attention management calls for you to deliberately choose when, where, and how you’ll spend your attention instead of planning at what time of the day you’ll do a task. The key to many things is knowing when is the right time to do them. Just like you know when it’s the right time to flip pancakes, you should know when is the right time to study. Julia Lee led a series of studies that prove that good or bad weather can influence your productivity. Chinese workers performed more efficiently during a rainy day and so did American during bad weather. By that logic, if you know that tomorrow it will rain, take advantage of that day to study. Or say it’s sunny all morning and rainy in the afternoon, your best solution is to study until the afternoon. Now that we’re talking about “when,” let me ask you a quick question, are you a morning or night person? In Dan Pink’s book, coincidentally named “when,” he writes on the evidence regarding how your cyrcathyam rhythm can help you know when you should write creative or analytical works. It proposes that if you are a morning person just like me, you should do your analytical writing during the early mornings when you are at your most awake and energetic self. Then you should save time during the afternoon or evening for creative writing. The same goes for night people but in reverse order. If you are a night person your creativity flows during mornings and your analytical skills are performed best during the afternoons and evenings.
The modern world is a place full of distractions. To prioritize your priorities you have to identify the things that steal your attention. Notifications are designed to attract our bored and wandering minds. I always promise myself that I’ll just check just one notification but we know what that leads to… 30 minutes (or more) of wasted time. Whether that be on social media or the endless void of emails. That’s why you must control those external factors that you know will distract you. Ethier mute your notifications or set time limits to time consuming apps. When you have to work, find a place where no noise will set you apart from your goal. Tell friends, family or whoever you’re with that you’ll be working and would like no bothering. If you happen to be in a loud place you can’t leave I would recommend you to wear noise canceling headphones or ask for some quietness. There are plenty of apps that can mute notifications and help you control your surroundings. You are the one who decides how your time will be spent.
Many of us never notice when we get distracted and when we do it’s usually really late. That’s why you’ve got to recognize when you’re getting distracted. It’ll make you more self conscious and rethink how you spend your time. Your mind wanders off? Just try to gently drive your focus back to where it should be. There are many tasks in life we don’t want to do. Our brain keeps wanting to do all the exciting tasks and we can’t focus. To solve this, always start with a moderately interesting task, then with a boring one, and finish with the most rewarding of them.
Choosing ‘where’ and most importantly ‘when’ you do a task can determine how productive you’ll be. It’s not entirely about planning a schedule, it is about planning how you’ll manage your attention.
Grant, Adam. (2019). ‘Productivity isn’t about time management, it’s about attention management.’ The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/28/smarter-living/productivity-isnt-about-time-management-its-about-attention-management.html
Thomas, Maura. (2018). ‘To Control Your Life, Control What You Pay Attention To.’ Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2018/03/to-control-your-life-control-what-you-pay-attention-to