Make sure you know where your attention is
I wake up at 4:00 a.m. I love that silence and focus-time that I can get from 4:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. Most of the time, I can accomplish more in those two and a half hours than during the rest of my day.
First I write down everything that has my attention
As soon as I finish getting ready for the day (shower, getting dressed etc.), I open DayOne on the iPad or iPhone and write down everything that has my attention. It doesn’t matter if it is the project that I have been working on for 10 hours a day for a month or something dumb. Everything gets written down. Usually this process takes 5 to 10 minutes. The reason for this exercise is to identify where my attention is, which is critical to start work efficiently and with total focus and concentration.
If you begin your day with this exercise, you will begin identifying some patterns. More importantly, you will identify where your attention is. You will see little, unimportant things coming to your mind morning after morning. Guess what? That unimportant thing is where your attention is. That little annoying and insignificant thing that has showed up on the list three times is distracting you from the big project. That thing is consuming your focus and concentration.
Imagine you have one important project. When you sit down to work on it, you need to be able to focus and to concentrate; otherwise, the time and effort will be wasted. To avoid distractions, do the exercise in the morning. If 10 things (other than the project) show up on the list, you need to get them done first in order to clean your mind.
It’s important to manage your attention properly, not ignore it
Think of how many times while you were working on an important project that a random thought — for example, buying a new coffee machine to replace the broken one – came to your mind. You know it will take just 15 minutes to pick a new one on Amazon, but instead you continue working on your project because it is much more important. It is much better to stop, open the browser, go to Amazon.com, review the coffee machines, make a decision, order the device and close the browser. Then, get back to the project (yes, that important one on which you were working). Your attention will now be dedicated exclusively to the task. The result will be better — the work, much more pleasant.
Similar situations occur time and again. This article is another real-life example. I have been busy writing books, tips, presentations, and more. The idea to write this text had drawn my attention for days. It appeared on my morning attention list four times in a row. One morning I finally said, “I am finishing X and then I will write the article for Productive! Magazine.” In the middle of X, I stopped, opened a new text file and begin working on the article. Why? Because my focus was on the fact that I wanted to complete this column. I wasn’t really concentrating on the document I was working on, and because of that, I wasn’t able to write it well, let alone write it at all.
Don’t manage time. Manage focus and attention.
I am aware that many people experience similar problems, although we have done our best to learn to manage ourselves and to manage time. And that’s it! Stop managing time, start managing focus and attention. Identify where your attention is.
I am sure there are other methods to do it. For me, it is simple: Every morning after having coffee and before my daily review, I open DayOne and write down everything that has my attention. Then, I quickly review the list. If there is something to be collected, it goes directly to my inbox. If there is stuff that repeats, it goes higher on the “Next Action” list.
You will surely discover that some of those issues are obvious and petty. You are right, they aren’t important per se. In the earlier example, the coffee machine wasn’t important compared to the project. Thinking about the coffee machine, however, was weakening my ability to focus and to concentrate on the project. If you don’t protect your focus and don’t know where your attention is, you are simply wandering and hoping to get someplace. Not exactly something that I would call “Productive!”
Photo: Flickr / gr33ndata CC BY-ND 2.0