Get Your Focus Back: Using Attention Management to Improve Productivity

by Pranav Ramesh
May 31, 2022

Doree Morales couldn’t seem to crack the code. As a newly hired software developer, she hasn’t been able to keep up with her daily responsibilities, much less ever get ahead or brainstorm solutions to larger software issues. It seemed like all she was able to accomplish each day was respond to endless emails or put out fires.  

Doree recalled back to the final interview that helped land her this job. “What’s one area you struggle with or need more improvement in?” she was asked. “Time management,” was her response. It was an honest answer and something she had struggled with at her previous job. But was the problem Doree? Or was it something else? 

It’s not surprising if you feel similarly. While many employers have made significant efforts to improve employee wellness in the workplace, especially because of Covid-19, things are still challenging for employees and employers alike across most industries. With staffing shortages and poor employee engagement, the only certainty is there’s never enough time to get the work done. 

There’s some good news though. Time management has another side to it. Learning about attention management, and developing skills around this concept, can provide relief and make for better, more productive time spent working.  

  

Time-management vs. Attention-management

Traditionally, time management has been thought of as the process of organizing and planning how to divide your time between different activities. But “time” isn’t something that’s always under our control. Time is better thought of as an indefinite, autonomic construct- something that we have very little control over. It’s inherently unmanageable. We can’t control how many minutes are in an hour or how many hours are in a day. Wouldn’t it be nice to add more hours in the day from say, 5-10 pm? But that’s not how time works.  

We also can’t control everything that happens within those highly specific hours in which we plan to manage our time. Emergencies happen at work or home, new projects take priority over old ones, and distractions abound from many sources throughout the day. This helps explain why time management is often an unattainable and unsuccessful approach to productivity for a lot of us.  

Conversely, attention management is the practice of controlling distractions, being present in the moment, finding flow, and maximizing focus, so that you can reach your potential and be productive. Attention management places less emphasis on how much you can get done within a certain period and instead helps limit distractions and sharpen your focus.

Doree came to understand she had little control over her physical “time” at work. This helped her reframe her thinking. If she couldn’t stop the minutes giving way to hours while she pressed away working on things outside of her scope at work, she could at least turn