Forget Time Management. Try Attention.

Don't spend your day constantly battling the clock--it's a battle you won't win. Instead, decide what your priorities are and focus your attention on them. 

No matter what you do, time marches on at its own pace--tick, tick, tick. There's nothing you can do to change that (unless you can travel close to the speed of light). Time is a great equalizer; it runs at the same speed for everybody, rich or poor, jet pilot or snail farmer. You can't manufacture time, you can't reproduce time, you can't slow time down, or turn it around and make it run in the other direction. You can't trade bad hours for good ones either.

What you can manage, however, is your attention. Attention is a resource we all possess. Your attention reflects your conscious decisions about which activities will occupy your time. You are where your attention is, not necessarily where your body is.

The first step is to precisely understand your priorities. There's a big difference between managing your attention to accomplish priorities and checking off items on your to-do list. Your natural tendency is to do what is fun, convenient, or absolutely necessary at any given time--but your true priorities may not fit into any of those categories. So, ask yourself, "If I could accomplish only one thing right now, what would that one thing be?" Your answer will quickly identify your top priority, which is where you should be directing your attention.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, the World War II general who went on to become a popular President of the United States, used what is now called the Eisenhower Method for managing attention. After identifying the tasks confronting him, he drew a square and divided it into four quadrants. Each task was then designated to one of the four quadrants, according to which of the 4 D's was the most appropriate: Do it, dump it, delegate it, or defer it.

Be sure to distinguish between "urgent" and "important" 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 your bigger goals.

As you identify priorities, be realistic about what you can accomplish. Be honest with yourself about what you truly want to achieve in your life and work. Where do you want to invest your attention? Although important tasks are your top priorities, most of the time these are not the things that appear to be urgent. Don't be fooled into thinking that whatever seems urgent is worth taking your attention from your most important goal. Eisenhower's mantra was "What's important is seldom urgent, and what's urgent is seldom important." Less important priorities should not receive more attention than more important priorities.


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