We’re living in the age of ‘the attention economy’. We all want to be more productive, operate our daily lives in a flow state of high performance, and get more done in less time.
The question is – how?
Since the 90s, everyone’s been talking about time management.
Now the focus has changed.
Today, if you want to get more done in less time and ultimately be more productive, you need to harness the power of your attention.
Attention management is the art of focusing on getting things done for the right reasons, in the right places and at the right moments.
In the age of information overload and neverending pings and calls for our attention, the most valuable currency has become just that: attention. We’re all paying into, and out from – the attention economy now.
Why Time Management Skills Are a Trap
Time management won’t save you. Because time management doesn’t work.
It’s over. You can stop thinking about it. You can stop worrying about it. Do as the yogi does and “let that shizzle go” (read: ‘Aparigraha’ the Sanskrit word for letting go of attachment).
“Woah, Cat, Woah!” you say. “I can’t just forget about time management! Time management is critical! Being great at it is the difference between success and utter failure at accomplishing everything on my to-do list and keeping my boss happy! It’s what keeps my work on the rails through all this chaos!”
… Does it, though?
What’s the most prevalent thought you have about time management? Is it “Pat on the back, me! I’ve really got a handle on my good friend ‘time management.’”
Or is it more like this?
“I’m so bad at time management.”
“I need to do better—get your act together!”
“If I would just manage my time better, I wouldn’t be so behind.”
I thought so.
For most individuals, time management isn’t a truly valued skill, or a notion that makes us think/feel/do better, or be more productive. Instead, it’s a devilish form of self-punishment we inflict on ourselves.
Think about it. We only really talk about time management positively when we’re trying to convince someone else we’re really good at it, like in a job interview.
When we’re alone, we berate ourselves for slacking on time management as if we have a moral obligation to be great at systematizing tasks and projects. We tout our ability to manage our time well, but we secretly resent the concept because we always feel like we’re failing at it.
STOP punishing yourself like that, okay?
I’ll share a piece on the “why not” of time management soon. But right now I want to get you up and running, moving away from imminent burnout, and feeling like yourself again – so I’m going to fast-forward to the “then what” part – how to focus your attention.
Get ready for this radical shift in mindset that will make you feel SO much better and less stressed about your life, your job, or anything else you’re feeling particularly burned out about.
The trick is to pay attention with intention
The Attention Economy | Focus Your Attention Wisely to Be More Productive
Why Attention Management Beats Time Management
Think of your attention as currency. Your attention is valuable, you can use it up on distractions or you can spend it wisely. When you pay attention with intention it feels good, it feels focused and you chose it. All these things are great for cultivating happiness, and happy habits. I dive deeper into that in my Stress vs Flow Masterclass. In short now – when you are mindful and make a decision where to focus – that triggers endorphins, happy hormones, which causes a positive feedback loop and you feel good about both what you are focussing on, and the fact you chose to focus on it.
Now think of those times you are led by apps, pings, other peoples’ demands, it feels disempowering doesn’t it? I’ve been there and I empathise with that feeling. Those noncritical things leak our attention budget. We feel distracted and out of control and that quickly impacts the power of our attention.
So, being more productive is less about estimating how long things take, and more about choosing to focus attention on one thing and eliminating distractions.
THIS is where symptoms of burnout come in. I recently wrote a lot about that, including the Top 5 Lifestyle Habits That Lead To Burnout. Simply by keeping our phones next to us at all times, or clicking between tabs on the web browser, we’re spending our attention currency like it’s going out of style!
Distractions are, by definition, the opposite of actions.
Distractions are, by definition, the opposite of actions.
Our brains are not designed to split focus. In fact, this actually makes us less efficient. All that is happening is that you’re scattering your attention, with a lot of time wasted jumping from one thing to the other.
In a world that is completely maxed out with stimulus, with notifications coming out of our ears and constant pings from always-on technology, our minds are spread so thin, there’s no going deep. There’s no time to settle when you’re living a series of attention jolts.
The things that take your attention away are designed to instantaneously give you little dopamine fixes. You’re being rewarded for getting distracted—but it’s a trick!
It’s absolutely vital that if we intend to be in charge of our own lives, we take control of where we focus our attention. We don’t let an app designer curate our days—we must become designers of the lifestyle we want for ourselves.
Only then can we be more productive. We must become the curators of our own life and pay focussed attention with intention.
In other words, the brain is designed to focus on one thing at a time.
Being more productive is less about estimating how long things take, and more about choosing to focus attention on one thing and eliminating distractions.
So instead of multi-tasking and time management, focusing our attention on one thing at a time is the key to getting more done in less time and being more productive.
The winning move is “single-point focus” or “Dharana,” as we call it in yoga. To achieve that, though, we have to have the capacity to cut out sensory “noise” that distracts us from the task at hand.
The fifth limb of yoga—Pratyahara—practices withdrawing attention from the senses. The ability to allow the world to spin around us without getting embroiled in it. Think of someone serenely meditating in the middle of a busy train station.
The sixth limb of yoga is Dharana, also known as concentration or single-point focus. Single-point focus is an incredibly useful way of getting intentional about your attention.
Dharana practices, such as focusing on the flame of a candle for a few minutes a day, precede meditation because they prepare the mind to focus with more clarity and awareness.
With that in mind …
Here’s How To Be More Productive And Design The Lifestyle Of Your Dreams
Think of a lifestyle in which you:
- Are an awesome leader
- Feel satisfied in your commitment to being a great friend/coworker/parent/sibling
- Take your pet/person for leisurely walks and play without feeling pressed for time
- Take up hobbies, go on adventure holidays, read books and magazines with enjoyment, take that epsom salt bath …
You know, actually feel happy, joyful, and capable of living out your dreams.
Unless you take control of your attention, how on earth will that be possible? Short answer: it won’t be. So let’s talk about giving some much-needed attention to your own personal attention economy and spending it wisely.
Focusing Your Attention | Big Rocks
This is a really wonderful thing I’m excited to share with you. It’s called putting your “big rocks” first. I’ll go into this in more depth in a separate post, but for now, big rocks is the concept that the first thing you do with your day is the thing that’s going to make the most impact in your life long-term.
If you focus your attention on taking action on a long-term dream first thing in the morning and do that each day, even if for a short amount of time, then you will make that dream a reality—because you’re making a habit of it.
Match Your Energy Cycle | Sacred Scheduling
It’s important to note those times of day when you have lots of energy, and when you have dips. And choose to do what it takes to balance your energy, rather than trying to force yourself to feel differently.
What I mean is this: if you’re an extrovert who gets energy from spending time with people, fix appointments at a time when you feel a dip, like the early afternoon for example, to boost your energy up for the latter part of the day. If you’re more of a shy type, you may want to read and research at this time to recoup energy for the evening. After a while, you get really good at knowing what times are best for calls, creativity, exercise, emails, etc – and plan your attention to focus on the area where it’ll fit your cycle best to balance and boost you, in a real and natural way.
This way you cultivate more harmony in yourself, and your relationships, and in turn become more productive and happier in life. Instead of feeling drained by the end of the day, you get to like yourself more by playing to your strengths. It’s a key part of finding balance and inner peace. I go into this more on my Bounce Back From Burnout Pathway— and I have a free Stress vs Flow Masterclass to give you a taste and start bouncing back and feeling yourself again.
Declutter Your Space | Organize Your Thoughts
That time you take to clear your desk is not wasted time—you’re organising your thoughts in that process. Tidying away the distractions that you don’t need to be looking at right now really helps focus your mind.
Decluttering is advocated by Marie Condo among many others as the Japanese art of “KonMari”. It’s the art of clearing away the tat that weighs you down physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually. The method is easily applicable by holding the item in question and asking the question ‘does this bring me joy?”
The answer is yours to decide and anything that gets a “no” must go.
Attention Economy | Notification Black-Out
Attention economy is when you kill all of the windows on your browser and you just leave open the one you’re working in, especially if it’s a creative task. Turn off notifications so little pings don’t take over your focused headspace. Here’s how you can turn off ALL notifications across all of your devices.
Using Attention Rituals
Employing little rituals, like not looking at your phone for the first hour of the day, help you treat your attention as if it’s sacred. Even five minutes of meditation a day will help you maintain a focussed state and develop a state of flow in which you are so immersed in the task that time disappears.
Enrich your relationships. When you’re with loved ones, or when you are with anyone, for that matter, keep your phone in your pocket, on silent, so that you can be there with them fully. When you deliberately pay attention to someone, the amount of time you spend with them becomes less important. Your relationship will feel enriched instantly because true attention feels special. You’ll both open up more. Relax more. Trust more. Your relationship will grow deeper much faster than if you let the world distract you from being present.
Wherever you focus your attention, let that thing be your one main focus.
So, my friends, do you see how accomplishing what you need to get done to “be successful” isn’t actually about time management, and instead is all about attention?
It’s about training yourself to stay on task, be present with it, and not get yanked out of flow by every notification ping or that Netflix documentary calling your name.
It’s creating a new habit around your attention (which is sacred—remember!). Like any habit, you just need to do it a little and often. Small steps wins the race. And the best way for a busy person to integrate a new habit is to tack it onto an existing habit, rinse and repeat, and build on success.
Success yields confidence, and confidence is what you want to keep your goals in sight—and leave burnout in the dust.
How does that sound? Do you feel energized at just the thought of ditching the “time management” model and investing in the attention economy instead? I really, really hope so.
I’ve designed my Stress vs Flow Masterclass to help you focus your attention and spend less time in overwhelm and more time in action.
Discover how to get into a “Flow State” so that you can breathe more easily, avoid burnout, and actually achieve WAY more in the time you have. If you’ve read this far, then this issue must be close to your heart. The question is – are you ready to feel better?
Say it with me:
I’ll see you in the Masterclass!
Free Stress vs Flow Masterclass
Your pre-holiday season mindset reset with this limited time offer of liver coaching with Cat
Cat founded Nine Lives Yoga in 2012 and has since worked with over 25,000 clients across 11 countries from speaking to hosting retreats to diving deeper with clients through her coaching course. She lives in Brighton where she loves to go running over the South Downs with her dog, and paddleboard into the sunset.