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How to Be a Productivity Ninja: Attention management

How to Be a Productivity Ninja: Attention management
In any knowledge work job, you're really playing two different roles at once: you're simultaneously the "boss" and the "worker". You're responsible for: Deciding what your work is (boss-mode) Doing the work (worker-mode) Dealing with new information inputs (worker-mode) and reacting to them to decide whether to change your priorities...


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Boss-mode vs worker-mode

Knowledge workers usually have to play 2 roles at the same time - the boss and the worker: They have to choose what their work is (boss-mode) and they have to do the actual work (work-mode), for example.

This situation has the potential to create conflict and lead to indecision about which role should have their attention at different times of the day.

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    Limited attention

    Your attention is a limited resource and you have to be careful where you are spending it.
    If you choose to give away 80 percent of your attention to meetings, you will have 20 percent of your attention just for dealing with a few emails feeling overwhelmed.

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    Levels of attention

    • Proactive attention: you are fully focused and prepared for your most important decisions/ most complex tasks.
    • Active attention: you're plugged in, but also easily distracted.
    • Inactive attention: you're likely to really struggle with complex or difficult tasks.

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    Schedule your work

    ... based on your attention level.
    Save difficult and important task for when your attention level is proactive, leave the intense but easier stuff for those active attention times, and try to save up the easy or dull stuff for when you're capable of little else.

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    Fixes for your attention management issues

    • Make tiny changes to trick your brain and create additional periods of attention (for example, move to a different part of the room every hour).
    • Keep moving and switch tasks every 30-60 minutes.
    • Get outside and go for a quick walk.

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    Extra pockets of attention

    • Take advantage of the periods when you're walking somewhere and make some phone calls. You can use your desk time for other tasks.
    • Keep both a physical and a digital file of reading materials. Take advantage of the time spent commuting or in the waiting rooms for your doctor's appointments.
    • Have a thinking list with big decisions for when you are driving or waiting in line for example.
    • Instead of talking via email with your co-workers, invite them for a coffee.

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    Milton Friedman

    "The best measure of quality thinking is your ability to accurately predict the consequences of your ideas a..."

    Milton Friedman

    Think in Years, Not Days

    Before jumping to a conclusion, think about the long-term consequences of your decision.

    We may respect those able to fling themselves into a hard problem and make a quick choice with seemingly little thought, but making a meaningful decision needs to be done with care for the long-term effects.

    Understand Decision Fatigue

    It’s important to be aware of what state of mind you’re in before tackling a hard choice.

    Decision fatigue happens when the mental energy required to weigh the tradeoffs of our decision becomes too much for us to handle. 

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    Time Management Is Not A Solution

    Time Management Is Not A Solution

    Most people want more done during the course of the day, feeling productive if they have checked more boxes out of their to-do list. Time management has been a fad for a long time, equating product...

    Attention Management

    Shifting our focus towards people and projects, rather than the time it takes for us to work on something is referred to as Attention Management.

    Productivity is not a virtue, but just a means to an end, and it means nothing if the end is not worthy. Paying attention to your intrinsic motivation, on why you are excited about the project will make you push yourself naturally and achieve the goal.

    Lack Of Distractions Promotes Productivity

    Many studies show that bad weather days when it is too cold or rainy, keeps the working people glued to their work, being more productive as they are less distracted by the thought of going outside.

    Put a Deadline on Your Thoughts

    To avoid over-ruminating about a decision, give yourself a time frame to think about it. 

    If it’s a small issue such as what paint color to paint your office, perhaps...

    Schedule Your Thinking Time

    To avoid thinking about problems all day long, schedule a specific time where you give yourself the freedom to think about the issue you need to make a decision about. 

    If thoughts about the issue creep into your brain before your scheduled thinking time, tell yourself “No, I’m going to think about that after dinner, not during this meeting”.

    Problem Solving vs. Worrying

    Dwelling on a problem, thinking “this is horrible, I can’t handle this” or rehashing things that happened in the past are an unproductive use of your time.

    Thinking about what steps you can take to improve the situation or actively thinking of a solution to the problem are helpful toward moving forward.