Many people measure their lives by an unofficial equation; time is the raw input, your schedule is the machine and productivity is the end output. If you’re not being productive enough, then it must be your schedule that is flawed because time is consistent, right?
While time is consistent, how we perceive it in relation to ourselves, our tasks and achievements is nothing close to uniform. For me, thirty minutes playing with my daughter feels different than one hour sitting in a meeting. That is because my attention is fully engaged when I’m with my daughter; I want to get the most out of that time and nothing else matters.
While time will relentlessly march on, what you do have control over is your attention. Start to look at time in regards to what you choose to spend attention on and the quality of that attention.
If you think about it in tech terms, we have a limited attention bandwidth that we choose to devote at all times to a variety of things. If you look back on your day and feel as though nothing got accomplished, you didn’t waste time, you misallocated your attention.
Devote your entire attention bandwidth to important and fulfilling tasks and you will stop seeing time as the limited resource which is constantly being stolen from you. Instead, understand that each moment of your life is simply what you have decided to devote your attention bandwidth to. These allocation decisions over the long run will shape your life and how you see yourself.
The Choice is Yours
Seeing the world this way will show you that only you decide to allocate attention to the tasks and responsibilities that are in your life. You decide what quality of attention they should be given. That effects your perception of time and of your productivity.
Try the following to make the most of your limited attention bandwidth:
Focus on What Matters
Pareto’s Principle, also called the 80/20 rule, states that 80% of our outcomes come from 20% of our actions. So, find that 20% of your activities that are making most of your results and focus your attention bandwidth on them as much as possible.
When doing so, make sure you are fully engaged. Turn off, hide or mute any distraction that has the potential to lure you away from what creates most of the results you are looking for. That might also mean saying “No” to a new task that comes your way or delegating it to someone else.
Batch Process the Mundane
We all have tasks that are boring, routine or we just don’t want to do. Instead of procrastinating or scattering them through out the day, set aside one block of time to do them. Give them your full attention and get them out of the way.
This might mean checking email or voice mails only two or three times a day. When you do attend to these tasks, you will be fully engaged and they won’t be popping up throughout the day to beckon you away from your important 20%.
Having a system of organization is key to making the most of your day. It makes devoting your attention in the right quantities to the right things automatic. Something like David Allen’s GTD system helps you take tasks, sort them into relevant “bins”, prioritize projects and break down them down into manageable bits.
Imagine your attention bandwidth is a powerful laser. You can point it all at one thing or break it up into several smaller beams. The latter is essentially what disorganiztion and multitasking do to you. If you’re properly organized, you will have targets laid out in succession of priority for the full power of your attention weapon.
In the end, you can’t dwell on time “passing you by.” Organize your life and find what tasks are the most important and give them the full power of your attention bandwidth. Get rid of the things that don’t truly matter, elimate distractions and give your full attention to what you’re doing (no multitasking) and you’ll see time and your life in a much less stressful way.
I’ve been hacking at various business ideas since I was 16. I’m a full stack developer and love crafting user experiences. I’ve been nose deep in code since I put the legos down, and built several successful businesses in the process. I’ve lost some hair, gained some experience and throughly enjoyed the journey.