How to Take Control of Your Time and Attention
Are you wanting to learn how to slow down, how to manage stress, how to create healthy boundaries, how to have more downtime, or how to have more balance? This post is for you.
If there is one thing that I’d recommend doing immediately as we enter this year, it’s to optimize your time and as a result optimize where your attention goes. Time management is THE master skill in the fast-paced, digital, distraction-full age we live in. Your time and attention are literally two non-renewable resources that you own. Why would you so easily leak them? With proper upfront time management, you start to create a structure that helps you create results, create some space for downtime, and manage your energy. Without this, you’re beholden to external circumstances to get anything done.
Don’t believe me? Venture capitalist Marc Andreeson is one of the most prominent and well-connected figures in Silicon Valley and has admitted that he now lives by his calendar and has done a 180 on his stance on this from a few years ago. By programming his calendar, he’s able to manage the load of things coming at him. Nir Eyal, author of Hooked and Indistractable, also advocates that being indistractable is the new superpower.
Here is a list of best practices for time management, sourced from different experts.
- Put everything in your calendar to track your time allocation and progress over time (including phone-on-silent time). Doing a bit of upfront work each week to plan your calendar (personal and work) will help you spend the rest of the week executing without hassle. Enter everything in and then experiment with what works best for you based on your energy levels and ways of working. There is no magic pie chart for how you should allocate your time, because it will vary depending on your broader responsibilities and lifestyle. But I find that classifying and tracking helps a lot so that you can course-correct. Important tip: identify moments in time where you don’t want distractions and handle the distractions proactively by either silencing your phone or reducing other noise. Here are 11 time management categories I use:
- Bed time / Sleep time – phone on silent
- Free time
- Thinking time – phone on silent
- Meetings (color-coded by priority for visual cues)
- Get things done time (for work. This would include batch times for responding to email) – phone on silent
- Get things done time (personal admin. This would include weekday and weekend tasks)
- Social Connection time
- Meal time
- Health time (fitness, mental health, etc)
- Quality Rest & Recovery time – phone on silent
- Learning time – phone on silent
- Take a hard look at your meetings and align them to your priority lists.
- Mental tip: stop thinking being busy is a good thing. Being a slave to a stacked calendar and overwhelming number of projects is not efficient, nor is it good for your mental and physical health. Be intentional about being busy enough to reach peak productivity. while still leaving space for your personal needs and rest.
- Ditch the To-Do lists and sticky notes, and instead map out the times to get them done in your calendar. Be ruthless in prioritizing what you need to get done this week versus next, and how much time you realistically need for those things. Hot tip from Nir Eyal: measure yourself based on one metric: “Did I end up doing what I said I was going to do this week for as long as I said I would without distraction?” Make sure your calendar reflects what you want to get done and creates capacity for the time needed.
- Do not agree to meetings or calls without a clear desired outcome or without a clear need to meet (vs email, other comms). This is widely discussed but inconsistently adhered to in corporations and organizations.
- Firewall your attention: Tristan Harris was featured in “The Social Dilemma”, is a former Design Ethicist at Google and called “the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience” according to the Atlantic. In his podcast with Tim Ferris in 2019, he talks about some ways to firewall your attention to be less susceptible to digital manipulation (like the many notifications and hooks delivered through your mobile device). Among those are: (1) manage your home screen and only keep functional apps (e.g. directions). (2) change your display to greyscale to strip away the color rewards (psychological hack). (3) Customize vibration for different kinds of notifications to know when to pick up the phone. (4) Take social media breaks (every few months) and digital detox breaks (weekends are great for this). Another pro tip would be to use technology in your favor: the Forest app, FocusMate and countless other tools can help with this.
- Practice, course-correct, and learn what works best for you. It’s easy to conceptually know something but harder to put it into practice and develop new habits. Try making time management a priority this year and practice, course-correct, and be intentional with your precious time!
Thanks for reading,