Do you find yourself easily distracted? Are you always bombarded with information put in front of your face? Whether that’s your cell phone or social media sites, plenty of distractions can come up from electronic usage. If you struggle to confront your distractions, maybe it’s time to consider looking into attention management. But what is attention management, you may ask?
What is attention management?
We’ve all heard of the meaning behind time management, which has been around for decades. Some people excel while others may struggle to manage their time and attention.
Attention management is a modern practice centering around controlling distractions and staying focused to produce the best results. Maura Thomas, a productivity expert, has looked into attention management as a practical productivity technique in the 21st century. While she thinks of the term as “the practice of controlling your attention,” it’s more important than ever as we live in an age of constant distractions.
What are the different types of attention?
The attention management model goes into areas that affect both the individual and collectivist levels. There are a few types of attention to consider:
1.) Selective attention- focusing on one thing at a time (example: writing an article non-stop without being distracted)
2.) Divided attention- focusing on two events at once (example: writing an article while doing some light reading- so researching at the same time)
3.) Sustained attention- focusing for an extended period (example: working on a task or two for a few hours non-stop, no breaks)
4.) Executive attention- focus on completing steps to achieving a goal (example: writing a paper- follow an outline, list out main points, write the first draft, then write a final draft)
What does attention management involve? How can it help?
As mentioned earlier, attention management is about controlling distractions. It’s uniquely different from time management in that we’re easily distracted by more things around us. Electronics and the internet have made it more challenging to stay focused, so our attention span declines in that manner.
In this post, I will lay out a couple of points of what attention management is all about. These are points that Thomas goes over on her website, and I’ll dive deeper. These points include:
Requiring s single focus
Living a life of choice
Being more fluid than time management
Flexible for modern practices
A collection of behaviors
What is attention management?
Requires a single focus
For the most part, focus is all about working on one task at a time. That may sound easier said than done, but exceptional attention is needed when more challenging tasks need to be taken care of.
If you’re writing a report that needs to get done the next day, it’ll be harder to finish it with email, and social news feeds open. Or if working on a task requires multiple steps to complete, taking one step at a time should be the right approach.
When I work on tasks that need my utmost attention, I tend to remain focused for long periods. Some jobs need “single focus” and aren’t meant for multi-tasking. If I’m writing a paper while talking on the phone, there’s no way I can stay focused on doing those two things at once. Also, I likely would come up with a poorly written paper in that case.
As Thomas emphasizes this point, the key term to remember is “one.” It’s hard to give all of your attention to all things going on in one single moment.
Living a life of choice
Through attention management, we can be more proactive than reactive. One thing people struggle with is they’ll react quickly to things that happen at the moment.
Often, it’s likely distractions that waste more time. Today, it’s much more difficult in the presence of smartphones and social media. These things demand our attention that it can drain away valuable time. More so, it’s eye-opening to think that people can be distracted at any moment. Even when you’re out and about with your phone in your pocket, you’re one quick distraction away.
Instead of reaction and distraction, living a life of choice should be the end goal. Going down this route means to decide where your attention goes. Also, not letting other demands make our decisions. Choosing to settle in this approach is being against a constantly distracting environment. It’s saying yes to keeping more of your time- time dedicated to doing meaningful work.
More fluid than time management
There are plenty of time management techniques that can help you be more productive. They’ve proven to work over the years, such as the good old to-do list. To-do lists are a universal approach that works well but can be useless if attention management is left out of the picture.
If you make a to-do list every day, followed by checking email for the next few hours, you’re already destined for failure. This situation happens to a lot of people who will get distracted when things come up. You originally focused on the to-do list earlier, but the shift turns away to other demanding things at the moment. More so, you don’t cross off all the things on your to-do list once the end of the day rolls by.
If you’re one of these people and feel frustrated, it’s probably an issue with attention management. Time management tips help, but controlling your attention could make the difference in the case I brought up earlier.
Flexible for modern work schedule
For those having flexible options for work, it’s easier to take on attention management today. If you happen to work from home, you have some control over when you want to focus. If you’d rather take care of your challenging work in the afternoon, that might be an option. So having more time options can be beneficial to work on your attention spans.
Primarily if you work a flexible schedule, you’ll have more to focus on more important tasks. Even if it’s not on actual work, it can also mean setting time to work with others. Or setting time during breaks when we may not be paying attention. It’s a good reminder that our brains need to recharge when we’re not focusing.
A collection of behaviors
Attention management is not a simple term to keep in mind. The name revolves around a group of actions to make attention to the forefront. The following terms include:
When you practice these skills over time, it’ll be much easier to pay attention to. Though it’s not easy, it certainly can be rewarding if practiced correctly. When we do practice these skills, the more time we’ll have on hand as our productivity increases.
I may not have mastered all of these skills yet, but I’ve gotten better knowing how to practice them correctly. The key takeaway I would give is to be patient and stick with the daily exercises you take part in. The more you stick to them, the much easier it’ll be down the road.
Attention management is not a new phenomenon that came about recently. The meaning of controlling our attention has been around for a long time. It’s more relevant today in the ever-changing world we’re living in right now. Distractions that consist of technology have made it much more difficult in today’s environment.
But as I reviewed earlier, attention management can help solve the most common issues people encounter. If it’s practicing a single focus, that might help improve somebody’s productivity. For those who have flexible work schedules, there are more options available for setting time aside to focus.
Although it may be difficult to remain focused today, attention management techniques can be very useful. Thomas discusses in more detail about the quadrants in the attention management model. For more information, visit her website or check out her book on attention management.
Have you overcome any attention issues? Do you struggle with attention management skills?
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Eric is a time management consultant and owner of the blog, quitkillingtime.com. He takes great pride in helping people manage their time, personally and professionally. Eric is a firm believer in time freedom, as he believes in taking ownership of time. “Time is your most important asset. It can be your best friend or worst enemy. How you use your time can shape the future you desire to have.” In his leisure time, Eric loves to write and read whenever possible. He likes to go for long walks out in nature and been taking Zumba classes every week at his local gym. You can follow Eric via Facebook and LinkedIn.