Attention Management: Time Management with a Twist
Do you sometimes feel like the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland? You go around saying, “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date.” Time just seems to slip away without you being able to catch up.
Thirty years ago time management was all the rage. Companies wanted employees to learn how to manage their time better and be more productive. Sticky notes started appearing on computers, calendars were full of scheduled meetings, and multitasking became the buzzword. For a while, it seemed time management was working. Then the digital information age took over.
Sticky notes and making to-do lists just didn’t seem to work as well as they once did. Texts, emails, and interruptions disrupted the best-laid-out schedules. Distractions occurred that put you behind schedule, not only making you stressed, but also feeling guilty that somehow you weren’t able to manage your time effectively.
A new workplace calls for new strategies to meet its needs, and the emphasis now is on attention management. What is attention management? It is focusing on like tasks and devoting chunks of time to those tasks on your schedule. Instead of using time as the measurement, you use the attention you need to complete the tasks you prioritize as important.
Let’s say you have an important report that needs to be done by the end of the day. You chunk out the time on your calendar, and then your phone rings. You answer it and it is a minor problem that can be taken care of later on. Then an email comes in, and a text and you shift your focus to those and doing something about them. All of a sudden it is nearly the end of the day and you have not finished the report.
Focused or sustained attention is where you concentrate on something to the exclusion of everything else. Using this attention management technique, go back to where you allocated time on your schedule to complete the report. When the phone rings, unless it’s your boss or someone critically important, don’t answer it. That’s what voicemail is for! Ignore texts and emails if they are not crucial. Unless something is an emergency, it can wait while you focus your attention on the task at hand.
At the end of the day when you have finished your report, you can answer the texts, emails, and voicemails, and your calendar is ready for another day of attention management! Today’s workplace has become a hotbed of information overload and constant digital and human distractions. Using a few simple tools, such as prioritizing, chunking and brain dumps can get you in better control of where to focus your attention.
Multitasking—One fact you should know: multitasking is a myth. You may think you are multitasking when you are on the phone, cutting carrots for dinner and watching your kids, but in truth, you are using other forms of attention that don’t require high cognitive skills. If you think you can write that report while talking on the phone or answering your email, you are using divided attention. What happens is neither task is done as well as it could be.
Brain Dump—Time management is not completely dead – it just requires an update for today’s digital workplace. You still make lists but update that list by doing a brain dump. What is that? A brain dump is where you put all the things you need to do or that are going around in your head on a list. Then you prioritize all the items in order of importance. Don’t leave anything out – you can always eliminate something if you think it is not as important as you first thought.
Chunking—Chunking is putting like tasks together where you can focus your attention on those items. Instead of having five separate items, like answering texts, emails, voicemails, memos, and correspondence, you can chunk them all together at the beginning or end of the day. Voila! No more constant interruptions.