The other day I was talking with a friend who lamented the difficulty she experiences each day in staying focused on the most important things in her life.
Too often, she gets lost in a sea of details and little things.
I can relate.
There are so many distractions: traffic, telephones, social media, and schedules that are out of control.
Everywhere I look there are too many choices and each one of those areas demands that I make a decision…right now!
How am I supposed to keep my attention focused on the priorities in my life?
That’s where attention management comes into play. Stated most simply, attention management is taking active control of the things you pay attention to.
Attention management means keeping the main thing the main thing, deliberately focusing your attention in a direction of your own choosing.
Want to be better at attention management?
Here are some easy steps you can take to help you improve your attention management skills.
Identify What You Actually Do vs. What You Want to Do
Figure out where you are right now.
What are you paying attention to these days?
All too often the life we say we want for ourselves doesn’t match up with the reality of what happens each day.
I may say I want to spend more time writing or exercising, but another week goes by with only a few words written and nothing logged in my exercise journal.
Why not? Where does all the time go?
Take a week and do a time audit — write down everything you do every single day and how much time you spent doing that task.
(Hint: It’s fine to lump “make dinner – 30 minutes” into a single item rather than “chop onion – 5 minutes,” “peel carrots – 3 minutes,” and “slice carrots – 4 minutes.” But “make dinner,” “eat dinner,” and clean up after dinner” are three totally separate items.)
Making a list like this is helpful in several ways. First it helps you realize in concrete terms just how much you DO accomplish every single day. Next, it shows you exactly how you’re spending your time and where you may be burning daylight.
Eliminate Easy Distractions
Each decision we make takes a certain amount of mental energy.
From the moment you wake up in the morning you’re hit with decisions needing to be made. Do you have time for breakfast, and if so, what do you want to eat? What should you wear to work? Do you have your gym clothes in your workout bag? Do you need to make your lunch or should you go out to eat?
The longer the day goes on the more the decisions you need to make pile up, one atop the other. As soon as you get to work, should you check your email or get started planning for the day or jump right in where you left off last night when you left work? It’s not even 8:30am, and already you’ve made hundreds of small decisions. It’s no reason you’re overwhelmed.
Voluntarily cutting back on your options means you have fewer decisions to make, and it also means you have more time and mental energy to think about the remaining decisions before you.
Do you need eight breakfast cereals to choose from? Do you have too many inboxes to check?
Take a look at your life. Where can you cut down on the inconsequential decision making you do each day?
Make life easier on yourself simply by cutting out unnecessary extras.
Practice Big Picture Thinking
Once you’ve eliminated all the easy distractions, it doesn’t take long to see that, unfortunately, there are still plenty of things vying for your attention.
Using big picture thinking tools keeps those things manageable.
Big picture thinking means looking for overarching ideas that unite things that seem to be unrelated.
For example: Peanut butter, oak trees, and honey bees might not immediately seem to be related to one another, but for some people the big picture is “things I’m allergic to.”
Or, if you eat three meals each day, big picture thinking — writing a menu for the week — means there are 21 fewer decisions you will need to make during the next seven days.
It’s far easier to keep track of one thing — “Things I’m Allergic To” or “Menu for the Week” than it is trying to keep track of a dozen different things that give you an allergic reaction or three food plans each day.
Bundling things together into like categories helps you manage the sheer number of things you need to pay attention to.
These are just a few things you can do to help with attention management. And then there’s social media! A topic worthy of its own blog post. So please stay tuned for more about attention management and the positive reframe.
If you’d like to learn more, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am available for individual consult/coaching session as well as professional, in-office training sessions.