Taking Control Of Your Time And Attention

how to be more intentional with your time and attention

How do you start your Monday mornings? If you’re like many people, Mondays (and most days) start with checking your email, Slack, or other tools you use to communicate and collaborate with co-workers. And for many people, a quick check turns into an hour or more of responding to messages, answering questions, providing updates, and problem-solving. For some people, this turns into “where did my day go?” These can be important activities. But are they the highest leverage activities? In other words, are these the activities that you would choose to do assuming your goal is to have the most impact during the week ahead?

“Most of us live in an overstimulating environment. We are bombarded by abrasive, insistent, and often meaningless claims on our senses. To the extent that we allow our attention to be jerked around in this way, we are allowing our inner world to be created by others.” by Catherine MacCoun from On Becoming An Alchemist

Attention is a resource just like time, money, etc. And like time, attention is one of our scarest resources. Either we choose how to spend our attention or other people spend it for us. Even though an email or Slack message may seem important, it’s up to you to decide if and when to spend your attention on it. You were hired to achieve an outcome. And therefore, it’s up to you to ask the question “Is spending my attention on this going to contribute to the outcome I’m working towards?”

If you already ask these types of questions regularly, congratulations. You’re doing something called metacognition, which awareness, understanding, and control of your thought process. You may also know this as “self-reflection” or “active thinking”. From a metacognitive view, there’s a lot happening in the above question. You’re stepping back from a potential task and considering it in the context of your overall work and objective. You’re potentially asking more questions such as “What is my goal for this week?” or “This keeps happening. Is there a way to reduce these types of requests?” You’re considering if there are alternative tasks that could be higher leverage. You’re deciding how, if, and when you’ll respond. In other words, you’re taking ownership of your attention and intentionally deciding what to do with it.

If you don’t ask these types of questions regularly, don’t worry - many people don’t. Metacognition is a practice which humans are very capable of doing yet it’s not a practice that’s in our nature. Metacognition is something that needs to be learned and practiced to develop expertise and a habit of asking these powerful questions. If you regularly practice asking these types of questions, you’ll develop an almost seamless habit over time of asking them regularly.

The trick with creating new habits is actually doing something enough to make it a habit. That’s why we’re creating The Week Ahead, a free weekly email delivered every Monday morning with powerful questions to help you prepare for the week ahead. Every week you’ll receive an email with powerful questions to help you reflect on last week and prepare for the week ahead. You can respond however you want - send yourself an email, use a Google Doc, write in a paper journal. But over time, this weekly reminder and taking time to practice will help you develop expertise and a habit of asking and answering powerful questions. And over time, it will help you take control of your time and attention.

The Week Ahead is also about helping you to use powerful questions beyond Monday mornings. Asking these types of questions can be applied almost anywhere - with your team, manager, and other co-workers - having dramatic effects on your effectiveness while also saving time. People often say “think outside the box” or “get creative”. Powerful questions are a structured way of doing those things.

We’re excited to release this tool out into the world to learn about how people are using it and co-create even more helpful tools for humans at work. What are your favorite powerful questions? How have you used powerful questions to prioritize your time and attention? What tips do you have for people who are new to powerful questions?