Manage Your Attention, Boost Productivity

We talk a lot about time management on here. And while I absolutely believe in its importance, a recent article in the New York Times encouraged me to consider the importance of a different type of management — attention management. While it might be a subtle difference, it’s a unique approach to increasing your productivity. Instead of looking at our limited time in a given day, we’re forced to look more closely at where we’re directing our attention. Here’s how it can be useful:


Managing your attention means focusing on what you spend your time on more than on how much time you spend. We can use every time-management strategy out there, but if we don’t prioritize our tasks and eliminate the non-essentials, it’s often still challenging to get everything done in a day. When you’re confident that you’re engaging in your most important task at that time, you’ll be able to give it as much time as it requires.

Tap into What Brings You Joy

Sometimes, a lack of motivation is at the root of our lower productivity. That low motivation can come from a disconnection from our purpose and interests. When your to-do list feels like it’s full of things you have to do and nothing that you get to do, there’s a problem. How could anyone expect to maintain motivation in that scenario? This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to change the items on your to-do list. For most professionals, that’s just not possible. Instead, it often means that you need to re-frame them. Perhaps you’ve lost sight of why you’re doing the work you do. What used to feel exciting and inspiring now feels like the norm. To effectively manage your attention, reflect on what elements of your work give you purpose and meaning, and see which items on your to-do list you can shift from things you have to do to things you get to do. When you do this, you’ll likely find that your performance, productivity, and happiness increase.

Strategically Time Your Less Interesting Tasks

You’re probably not going to be able to shift every task to one that you’re excited to complete, and that’s okay. For those tasks that don’t really grab our interest, we can be intentional about where we place them in our schedules. Some people might think that doing a task they really enjoy first would be a good way to prepare for a less enjoyable task. Research shows, however, that such a strategy tends to backfire. Instead of continuing on to that second task with the same energy and motivation we had with the first, the sharp contrast can actually make the second task feel even more difficult to complete. The best strategy for stacking your tasks? Start with something moderate, then move on to a less appealing task, and use the tasks you really enjoy as a reward.


Attention management is a bit more of a broad strategy than time management. Instead of thinking about how many minutes are in a day, you’re paying careful attention to where you direct your focus and when. For me, I think a combination approach is a surefire way to ramp up productivity.

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