Is time management an outdated concept?

Posted on July 28, 2014. Filed under: Linda Ray | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Linda Ray, the co-founder and co-director of neuresource group, coined the term “attentional intelligence” in 2012. In this post, she looks at how when we speak about ‘time management, what we are really talking about is ‘attention management’.


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There are a plethora of time management training programs that employees have been obliged to attend in an attempt to support them to become more efficient and ultimately more productive. The question is: do they work?

There is no doubt people walk away with a few useful tips, but do these training programs actually change employee habits around how they manage their time? From my observations and personal experience, the answer is often a resounding no. Is it, in fact, time we are managing? Or are we really managing our attention and focus in an attempt to be more productive?

The issue is really how in charge of our focus and attention we are in the increasingly hyperkinetic world we find ourselves operating within. In a recent interview, Daniel Goleman, the author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, notes:

It has become an axiom of modern life that we’re a people under attack, assailed by a barrage of technologies and near-constant communications. Amidst this wealth of data and information, one resource is in short supply: our ability to pay attention.

Want to know my favourite joke about procrastination?  I'll tell you later.

Want to know my favourite joke about time management?  — I’ll tell you later.

As we learn more about human behaviour through our increasing understanding of the brain, we need to be ready to rethink some of our approaches to how we approach time management. How can we get back in charge of our attention and ultimately reclaim our time — or lack thereof?

In an article published in Global Association for Neurobiology Studies in 2009, by Lynda Klau  she suggests that old solutions to time management don’t work and most traditional approaches to time management only ask us to change our behaviours, as if all our conflicts with time could be solved simply by ‘establishing our priorities’, ‘sticking to a concrete schedule’, or ‘organising our files’.

These external solutions are logical, but they’re not psychological: they ignore the internal emotional conflicts and pressures that influence us on the most fundamental levels. Klau proposes that key to improving our relationship with time is to develop a ‘mindful awareness’ of ourselves at all levels.

Students in our Diploma of Neuroscience of Leadership report noticeable improvements in their productivity through being introduced to simple concepts that support them to grow their ‘attentional intelligence’. For example:

It seems so obvious, and yet we don’t do the things each day that support us to be productive. I have been amazed at the improvements in my productivity by simply prioritising prioristing, practicing mindfulness and taking charge again of my attention. I now know how mentally taxing prioristising is and why I need to do it at the beginning of my day if I am to have any hope of getting through my ever expanding to do list. There is intense satisfaction in crossing off a greater number of items each day because I am now much more mindful of where my attention is focused and whether it is where it should be or I want it to be.

Replace time management strategy with a focus management strategy

Given the importance of attention and focus we recommend you develop a focus management strategy. Try out the following tips:

  1. Do a distraction management audit. Identify all of the external and internal distractions that vie for your attention and develop strategies to minimize them (e.g., turn off the pop-up email alert and ensure you don’t start a hard thinking task when you are hungry or thirsty).
  2. Chunk your day into the areas you want to focus on that will add value and schedule them into your diary. If you notice your attention moving from your plan, gently bring your attention back to where you want it to be.
  3. Try to remain in the present moment, if you notice your thoughts turning to past events or to the future, bring your attention back to the present moment.
  4. When you run out of puff, rather than pushing yourself to the limit, take a brain break. This might sound counter intuitive, however, we know the brain works best in 20-25 minute time periods before we begin looking for a different focus for our attention. Work with your natural biology as opposed to against it.
  5. When you experience something unexpected that leads to frustration, anger, or disappointment, notice the feeling and label it. The very act of labelling your feeling or emotion will lessen the impact and dampen down arousal in your limbic brain. The limbic brain is designed to make us pay attention to perceived threats in the environment and can easily derail our best intentions to stay focused.
  6. Celebrate what you have achieved in the day rather than ruminate on what you haven’t accomplished, and reset your attention plan for the next day accordingly.

Developing your attentional intelligence and becoming the CEO of your attention is key to reclaiming time. Implementing simple strategies to notice where your attention is focused and to bring it back to where you want it to be will improve your productivity and maybe even give you some extra time to do the things you enjoy.


linda-ray-copy1Linda is the Managing Director of NeuroCapability and the co-founder/director of neuresource groupThese organisations are playing key roles in developing a new generation of thinking leaders through delivery of the Diploma of Neuroscience of Leadership and other innovative programs informed by neuroscience.  Linda is gaining recognition both in Australia and internationally as a thought leader in the neuroleadership field.  She is actively contributing to the body of knowledge that supports the building of individual and organisational ‘neurocapability’.



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