Your attention determines the experiences you have, and the experiences you have determine the life you live.
Managing your attention is important to learning and productivity. With the many distractions that abound from electronic and social media, this can be a real challenge.
Why is managing your attention important
Harvard researcher Maura Thomas suggests “attention management is the practice of controlling distractions, being present in the moment, finding flow, and maximising focus, so that you can unleash your genius” (2018).
Attention management is really an exercise in self-awareness. That is, noticing when you your attention has wandered off task, and bringing it back into focus.
It is suggested that foundations of effective attention management are in being clear about your own intentions, goals and values. If these are clear and you are committed to them it should make it easier stay on task voluntarily. You attention can then be focused deliberately on things that matter to you.
Part of this deliberate approach is choosing how to manage your attention and your priorities. This involves external and internal factors. This can include managing distractions as well as creating opportunities to support your priorities.
Managing external factors
External factors are things like your environment – including your use of technology. Some ideas include:
- Establish boundaries in your work space for when you want to work undisturbed, eg
- in open plan offices, have quiet work times
- find a way to signal “do not disturb” eg use headphones, put up a sign
- work in an office with a closed door
- Email and phones
- turn these off from time to time
- silence email/phone notifications
- turn off “push” notifications (designed to attract your attention)
- consider turning off visual email notifications and putting your phone out of sight when you need uninterrupted time
Managing internal factors
Internal factors relate to your own thoughts and behaviour. Suggestions include:
- Managing your thoughts and wandering attention by:
- noticing when you go “off-task” and bringing yourself back
- set yourself periodic reminders (eg timer) to check whether you are on task
- noting down distracting ideas that come to mind to follow up with later
- Managing your behaviour while working, such as:
- complete one task at a time – including computer tasks
- limit the time you spend on computer work, take small breaks to give your brain a break
- take meal breaks away from your work station, including the possibility of spending some time outside
With the abundance of information coming at us from all directions, finding a way to focus is a key skill to master. The benefits are not only in being able to be more productive in work and life. They are also in achieving this with less stress. It really is worth trying. Will you?
Thomas, Maura. 2018. To Control Your Life, Control What You Pay Attention To in Harvard Business Review, 15 March 2018.