Productivity – The Power of Attention

It’s not time management but attention management that really counts


September is a good time to get back on track with routines that help your days to go more smoothly and that make you feel more productive. It’s a natural time of year, with getting back to school, summer winding down, vacations finishing, a change of season soon, to recommit to projects you’ve been wanting to finish up or start anew, and to set things up for yourself in a way that helps you to get done what your intention is.

I have a few ideas about how to get back on track with your energy and focus around all of those important things, so you can feel more ease in your daily life – and most of these considerations have more to do with managing your attention rather than managing your time.

Did you know

Your own precious attention and the capacity you have to sustain it on any one thing (or person) is the greatest gift you have available to yourself; to being able to pursue your dreams; to having a rich work life; to future success; and to improving your relationships.

Please read ahead to explore some of these ideas and see how honing in on your attention might be helpful to you.…

I propose that tending to and enhancing your capacity for attention will be the most helpful thing you can do to improve your productivity and feeling of satisfaction in your life.

You can build your attention muscle with mindfulness practices, and in doing so, change your relationship to your thoughts and feelings – to one where they don’t always rule the show and get in the way of your doing what you set out to do.

Our success is connected to our capacity for attention

Here are a few good ideas about developing and growing your capacity for attention and letting that improve your productivity:

  • Try to prioritize the carving out of some time to get your thoughts together and plan for your week. Taking some of that quiet, still, uninterrupted time to get beyond your surface thoughts and the running daily log of incessant chatter of things to be done, can lead you to be more deeply and meaningfully productive. And to feel better about all that there is to do.
  • Create a success list rather than a to do list – put items on that list that will help you to feel a certain way (accomplished, at peace, kind, generous, confident, etc.); or reframe your to do’s by adding the feeling they will give you, once completed. Even the things we don’t like doing can generate positive feelings within us, (responsible, being a good human being, on top of things, courageous, resilient, etc.).
  • Work on one major project in a season. Allow yourself to focus on one overall goal at a time. Notice, but let go of the feeling of missing out on all of those distractions lurking by the wayside. If you keep coming back to your main project, chances are greater that you will actually complete it rather than spend another quarter fretting about where to start or that you’ve gotten nothing done. See your larger goal as something that might take a season, or three months to complete and consider it in terms of how you want it to make you feel – not just what you want to achieve. And break it down to significant tasks that might take one to three weeks to do. And break those tasks down even further to subtasks that are manageable in a week’s time, or even in a single work period’s time. Celebrate small successes. Consider the value of easy individual very specific baby steps, that (like baby steps) when added up all together, create a foundation for walking, running, and even dancing.
  • Be thoughtful and mindful about how you start your day – every day. Priming yourself with mindfulness meditation gets your attention muscle in shape so it’s more resilient and ready to deal in a wise way with the onslaught of demands for that attention throughout the day that come up. Spending time “doing nothing” is actually helpful to being able to do more, with integrity and compassion. You might try periods of exercise, yoga, or meditation, or free writing (i.e. morning pages of stream of conscious writing for a few minutes to get all that “ stuff” off your mind), to prime your attention to be best used during the day. Set an intention for how you want to feel during the day and what you might need to do to enhance that happening.
  • Don’t forget to pay attention to how you end your day as well. Again, a few moments of Mindfulness, or a gratitude list, or wish yourself well, if you had an especially stressful day and send well wishes to anyone who stressed you out throughout the day. See if you lived your intention for the day.
  • When you notice you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed as you look at your list of what needs to be accomplished, pause and ask yourself if there’s anything on that list that will help make everything else you have to do a little easier. (Often times this might be a few moments of slow deep breathing).
  • As important as it is to give your precious attention to planning time and deep thinking, it’s also important to give your precious attention to time to taking action. Don’t let your attention be lost in worries or procrastinations, or delusions of self deficiency, or ruminations that take away from your capacity to proceed.
  • When you’re actually working on something, try to work deeply. Focused periods of attention for 45 to 90 minutes straight, without a device or screen nearby are best suited for making meaningful progress on your projects. To aid this, set up your environment with intention and attention. Turn your phone or computer to airline mode or some experience of do not disturb. You might put your phone in another room so you don’t see, hear or feel all the alerts and notices coming through. You might also write a “onesie” – in big letters on a paper or post it – the one task you’re working on in this 45 to 90 minute period, and every time you notice being tempted to wander your attention away, gently bring it back and see that onesie for an instant reminder of where to bring back that precious attention. The more you hold your attention and bring it back to where it needs to be, the more productive you will find yourself. Set up a schedule where you are only checking your email three times a day. Every time you check your email, it can take upwards of 10 minutes to bring your mind back to the task at hand and begin again from wherever you left off.
  • If you do find yourself surfing on the Internet, try an experiment and jot down everywhere you go in a few moments time. This is a good way to track your mind – so often we chase our thoughts and attention in one million different directions and don’t really know what we’ve frittered our precious attention away to. This simple practice might have the added benefit of helping you to notice first and then choose differently about where you put your attention. In any case, even being mindful of everything that catches your eye along the way can be an attention centering exercise. Notice what arises into your awareness, and then fades away. Let go of that and purposefully bring yourself back to your breath and heart.

Attention is not about stopping your thinking

Managing your attention better is not an effort to stop thinking, nor to remove all of those extraneous thoughts from your head. It’s about gently and purposefully bringing your attention back to where you want it to be – once you notice it’s wandered – with kindness toward yourself and those around you.

And oh yeah – that kindness toward yourself is also very important in increasing your productivity. The less you criticize yourself for your pace, your style, your mistakes, your emotions, your inadequacies, the more productive you can be. Lend some accepting attention to your efforts and you will find yourself being more satisfied with what you get done.

I’d love to hear from you – what do you notice gets in the way of you being as productive as you would like? How do you think your attention level affects your productivity?

If you or someone you love need help to move through the obstacles you are facing in a kinder way, please contact me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
[email protected]
(510) 482-4445

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