The other day a friend sent me an infographic depicting the creative process. The graphic showed that the time spent on the creative process could be sliced five ways: 5% inspiration, 5% work, 30% binge eating, 30% discouraged napping and 30% random internet surfing. Although this graphic was created in jest, it doesn’t stray far from reality if my attention is left unmanaged.
I remember attending a conference during which one of the speakers said, “The difference between people that achieve their goals and the ones that don’t is the way they think and the way they spend their spare time.” There is certainly truth in that statement and it obviously resonated with me because I still remember it. Now, however, I would amend that statement to say “where they focus their attention” rather than “the way they spend their spare time.”
I’ve realized managing time is a losing battle. No matter what I do, time will march on; at its own pace, and that pace is the same for everyone. I can’t create or reproduce time, or slow it or turn it around.
What I can do, however, is manage my attention, and that is a resource we all possess. My attention reflects the conscious decisions about which activities will occupy my time. I am where my attention is, not necessarily where my body is.
Putting this in practice means having a clear understanding of my priorities. There’s a big difference between managing my attention to accomplish priorities and checking off items on my to-do list. My natural tendency is to do what is fun, convenient, or absolutely necessary at any given time—but my true priorities rarely fit into any of those groups. Staying in control of my attention means constantly asking myself, “If I could accomplish only one thing right now, what should that one thing be?”
Dwight D. Eisenhower used what is now called the Eisenhower Method for managing attention. After identifying tasks confronting him, he drew a square and divided it into four quadrants. Each task was then designated to one of the quadrants, according to which of the 4 D’s he deemed most appropriate: Do it, Dump it, Delegate it, or Defer it.
One of my biggest challenges is distinguishing between “important” and “urgent” activities. Important activities are beneficial and should be accomplished, if not right away, then eventually. Urgent activities are time sensitive, but not necessarily crucial to my bigger goals.
As I identify priorities, I have to be realistic about what I can accomplish and be honest with myself about what I truly want to achieve. This helps me decide where I should invest my attention…important tasks are not always the things that appear urgent.
Eisenhower often said, “What’s important is seldom urgent, and what’s urgent is seldom important.” Tweet That
What’s competing for your attention?