attention management and procrastination: attention management is more important than time management

Old-fashioned Productivity

Attention Management & Productivity. Yup. It’s always been a hot topic. 

What is it? In a typical dictionary definition, it’s  “the quality, state, or fact of being able to generate, create, enhance, or bring forth goods and services.” In economics, it’s “the rate at which goods and services having exchange value are brought forth or produced.” 

But is it really? 

Many believe that productivity is synonymous with ticking things off of one’s to-do list. The more the tasks are ticked off, the better the rate of one’s productivity. If one has to go for a walk, have three business calls, write two papers, and read journal articles all in one day, getting each of the tasks done guarantees success and boosts motivation levels, and makes you an expert at time management. People might even start calling you a productivity guru. 

While many continue to be wrapped in old-fashioned and tainted views, there are new theories emerging that reveal the true nature of productivity.

Attention management and procrastination: productivity is seen as being busy all the time
Productivity is viewed as being busy around the clock (Picture credit: https://bit.ly/3o3sWdk)

Attention Management and Motivation

In a New York Times article, “Productivity Isn’t About Time Management. It’s About Attention Management,” written by Adam Grant, a psychologist, author, and professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the problem of a manager, Michael is revealed. His boss expects him to be more productive at work despite Michael’s claims that he has cut off all nonessential meetings and can’t find any other tasks to drop from his calendar. 

“This is going to sound like a joke, but it’s not,” expresses Michael. “My only idea is to drink less water so I don’t have to go to the bathroom so many times.” 

We live in a society that is obsessed with personal productivity. Obsessed. There’s no better way to put it. We dream of four-hour workweeks. We are focused on hustle culture. In fact, we brag about being busy. Everyone is diligent in completing all the tasks laid out for them and still adamant about adding that one more meeting in their Google calendars. We’re told that if we could manage our schedules and time just a little bit better, that we’d achieve everything we’ve always wanted, without realizing how much we’ve already accomplished. 

But the reality is far from it. Because the better option is attention management. 

We all have the same, limited amount of hours in the day. There’s only so much we can do during that time. Prioritizing people and projects matters so that we can achieve things we truly want and not care about how long the tasks take. 

According to Grant, “attention management is the art of focusing on getting things done for the right reasons, in the right places, and at the right moments.”

A lot of the time, we struggle with productivity not because of a lack of efficiency, but because of a lack of motivation. Productivity comes when one learns to enjoy the journey instead of solely focusing on the destination.

“If you pay attention to why you’re excited about the project and who will benefit from it, you’ll be naturally pulled into it by intrinsic motivation,” writes Grant. 

“Striving for productivity without the right intention can be pointless,” says Khe Hy, founder of RadReads, a newsletter and website that explores productivity, money, and ambition. While it might sound simple, Hy suggests that before starting any project you ask yourself, “What is this for?” 

“If you can’t connect the activity to the ultimate driving desire, then you could be the most productive person in the world – you’re just swimming in the wrong direction.”

Attention management and procrastination: Finding intrinsic motivation is key to productivity
People need to think about the “why” behind their work to boost productivity (Picture credit: https://bit.ly/3AESdOb)

Attention Management and Productivity

So how can you shift your focus from time management to attention management? 

Well, there’s still an aspect of time to attention management. It’s the when. When you decide to do what task. 

A series of studies conducted by Julia Lee shows that bad weather is beneficial for productivity since we’re less likely to be distracted by the thought of going outside. For instance, if it’s damp and rainy outside, we’re more likely to stay inside and finish up on work rather than if the sun was beaming in the bright blue sky. 

In fact, researchers found that on days when it rained, Japanese bank employees finished transactions faster. Bad weather days in the United States led to individuals being more efficient in correcting spelling errors in an essay. 

So what do we learn from this? 

It’s much better to schedule the right kind of task for the right time of the day. For instance, if you’re more productive in the morning, then you should keep analytical tasks for that time and focus on creative work in the evening. This is because you’re at peak alertness during the early hours, whereas your evenings are spent in nonlinear thinking. This is reversed if you’re naturally a night owl. 

“It’s not time management, because you might spend the same amount of time on the tasks even after you rearrange your schedule. It’s attention management: You’re noticing the order of tasks that works for you and adjust accordingly,” emphasizes Grant. 

A lot of the times people say that time management is about cutting off all external distractions such as social media. If you spend five minutes scrolling through Instagram while working, you’re doomed. But, that’s not true. As long as you’re mindful of your distractions, there’s no problem. 

Laura Mae Martin, the executive productivity advisor at Alphabet Inc.’s Google, notes, “I think the point of productivity is really being thoughtful about what you want to do, and if that is spending time with family, if that is having a day where you’re just watching Netflix, and then you do it, well, then to me that is a productive day.” 

In 1890, William James wrote in his book, “The Principles of Psychology, Vol. 1,” “My experience is what I agree to attend to.” Let attention management direct your experiences. Because time management won’t do it.

Attention management and procrastination: scheduling should work with when one concentrates on what kind of task
People need to schedule tasks based on their attention system (Picture credit: https://bit.ly/3CHB72R)

Works Cited:

“Productivity Definition & Meaning.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/productivity.

Grant, Adam. “Productivity Isn’t about Time MANAGEMENT. It’s about Attention Management.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 29 Mar. 2019.

Pohle, Allison. “How to Be More Productive at Work.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 30 July 2021.

Thomas, Maura. “To Control Your Life, Control What You Pay Attention To.” Harvard Business Review, 15 Mar. 2018.

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Tags: adam grant, attention management, hustle culture, Mental Health, motivation, procrastination, Productivity, Productivity tips, Psychology, scheduling work, time management,


2 responses to “Attention Management: An End To Procrastination”

  1. […] procrastination can take various forms. Bedtime procrastination is the act of delaying getting into bed. While-in-bed procrastination is when someone is already in […]

  2. […] Attention Management: An End To Procrastination […]

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