Time Management is Dead. Long Live Attention Management

Think you need more time? Think again. Remember the last time you got loads done? Was it really because you had more time? Or was it because you had the focus, fuel and tools to make the most of the time you had?

What about when get to the end of a busy day, knowing you’ve worked hard, but have no idea what you’ve actually accomplished?

Time without attention is completely useless.

With emails, instant messenger, CRM systems, phone, social media, multiple projects, conflicting deadlines, open offices, colleague and customer demands – it’s possible to be constantly distracted.

How much time we have is arbitrary. It’s the quality of our attention that counts.

Busy is a poor judge of productivity

How often do we answer the question “How’s it going?” with “Busy!”

For those who run our own businesses, ‘busy’ is often seen as a measure of success. Busy means you’re in demand, therefore you must be doing something right. If you’re not busy, what have you done wrong? Is your product substandard? Is your service poor? Have you neglected your marketing?

But what are you actually busy with?

Busy measures how much we put in, not what we create as a result. It measures inputs rather than outcomes, effort rather than results. It tells you how much someone is doing, or how much ‘stuff’ they’ve got going on, but not what they’re actually achieving.

Busy focuses on quantity, not quality. Getting more done, rather than getting the right things done, or even asking what the right things might be. We forget to distinguish between the fake work and the real work – and believe me there’s plenty of fake work out there to keep you busy.

Clear is better than fast – especially with email

In the digital world, everything is instant. Instant notifications. Instant messaging. Instant downloads.

And in the world of email, we get drawn into thinking that faster is better. That a fast response means you’re giving good customer service, delivering to your client, supporting your colleagues. That you’re on it – reliable, responsive and super productive.

Except sometimes fast isn’t better.

The marathon round of email ping pong where no-one is getting ‘it’ because it turns out everyone has a different ‘it’ in mind.

The email you send to the wrong person – or when you mistake one client for another and end up cancelling the wrong appointment – all because you’re trying to move too fast.

The paragraph of context that we typed in our heads but not actually on screen or the tiny typo that’s not hilarious enough to be obvious, like “now” vs “not”.

When fast comes at the expense of clear, it creates more work – and harder work.

Human, not Superhero

Productivity and wellbeing go hand in hand. As human beings, we can only do our best work when we’re at our best.

Research from the Division of Sleep Medicine at the Harvard Medical School suggests that “the negative effects of sleep deprivation are so great that people who are drunk outperform those lacking sleep.” A sobering thought for next time you’re tempted to sacrifice sleep to get a few more things done.

It’s time we stopped equating working long hours with being productive. In fact, the longer you work, the worse your decisions get. Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is to stop working, walk away, recharge and trust yourself to come back fresh.

Grace Marshall is a Productivity Ninja with Think Productive one of the world’s leading productivity training companies, helping organisations across the world survive information overload and get more done with less stress.

She is also head coach and chief encourager at Grace-Marshall.com the author of the award winning How to be REALLY productive, named Best Commuter’s Read in the CMI / British Library 2017 Management Book of the Year Awards.

Grace admits she’s not a naturally organised person. Her passion for productivity began when she got fed up of saying “I haven’t got enough time.”