Manage Your Time, Not Your Attention

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
– Steve Jobs

There are only 24 hours in the day. We all know it, yet for some reason, we try to manage them as if they were . . . well manageable.

Now add to the fact that you’re working. People are coming in and out, meetings are scheduled, emails are plying up, your supervisor has questions, your staff needs direction, and vendors are trying to sell your products.

Forget about moving mountains; you may be lucky to move a molehill.

You try managing time through checklists and meetings.

But meetings take up more time, and while checklists may provide some satisfaction, usually all they do is serve as a reminder of all the things you did not get done.

You are in luck though; there is hope!

It is just a matter of shifting your mindset from trying to manage “your” time to managing your attention and focusing on the simple rather than the complex.

Before I explain it though, here’s a quick exercise to try.

Author Paco Underhill explains in his book, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, that “Shoppers not only walk right; they reach right too, most of them being right-handed.”

Put down this article and watch look at your office space for a few minutes.

You will likely see a steady stream of people walking towards the right. It isn’t magic.

It’s just that you weren’t aware of this fact before.

Now that you are, you have a heightened awareness.

This happens a lot with first time expecting parents. Now that they are expecting a baby, it seems like everyone is expecting as well!

No matter how you slice or dice it, there always was and always will be 168 hours in a week.

Your attention is something that you can manage.

All you need now is a little help from Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Eisenhower served as our 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961.

Before his days in the White House, he served as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II.

What you may not know is that it was during his time in Europe he used what is now referred to as the Eisenhower Method for completing his tasks.

Eisenhower would draw a square and divide it into four quadrants.

He would split one axis into important and unimportant.

On the other axis, he would split it into urgent and not urgent.

Items that landed within the unimportant/not urgent quadrant were dropped off his radar completely.

There’s no point in completing a task that’s neither important or urgent.

Those tasks that fell within the important/urgent sector were completed personally and immediately by Eisenhower himself.

Unimportant/urgent items were delegated to others under his command, and finally, important/not urgent items were scheduled at a later date and personally completed by Eisenhower.

(See the chart below)

Eisenhower Method

Your key to success is knowing when to do something and when to delegate it to someone else.

It often seems more natural to try and do everything by yourself.

After all, we have been taught that if you want something done, then do it yourself.

And saying “no” when asked for something may seem difficult at first, but saying “no” allows you to say “yes” for the things are essential.

Likewise, delegating opportunities to your staff empowers them and gives them a sense of pride in ownership of those tasks. It is easy to be complex; it is harder to be simple.

But the key to successful time management is letting go of the notion that it can be managed and instead focusing on what can be managed, your attention.

Scot Maitland
scot@scotmaitland.com