Attention Management: Time Management with a Twist
Do you sometimes feel like the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland? No matter how fast you go, time keeps slipping away without you ever being able to catch up. Rather than trying to catch a continually running clock, research indicates you would be far better off focusing on attention management instead.
Thirty years ago, time management was all the rage. Companies wanted employees to learn how to manage their time better to 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.
Attention Management – A New Way for a New Workplace
A new workplace calls for new strategies to meet its needs. Consequently, the emphasis is shifting to attention management and for good reason. 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, but then your phone rings. You answer it, and it is a minor problem that you can address later. Then an email comes in, then 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.
Attention Management Tools
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 that you don’t do either task as well as you could.
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 simply putting pen to paper and writing down all things you need to do. Then, you prioritize all the items in order of importance. Don’t leave anything out – you can always eliminate things as you go and reprioritize.
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.