Productivity is not about time management, but about attention management

Original author: Adam Grant
  • Transfer

Time management is not really a solution, but part of the problem



Article author: Adam M. Grant, American psychologist and writer; Professor of Wharton School of Business; the author of three New York Times best sellers, as well as the book “To work with the head. Success Patterns from an IT Specialist. ”

A few years ago, during a break in leadership classes, where I was a teacher, manager Michael approached me uncertainly. His boss said he needed to be more productive, and he spent several hours studying what he was wasting his time on. He has already cut back on all optional meetings. He could not find tasks that could be thrown out of the calendar. He did not see an obvious way to make them more effective.

“It will sound like a joke, but in reality everything is serious,” he admitted. “The only thing that occurred to me was to drink less water so as not to run to the toilet so often.”

We live in a culture obsessed with personal productivity. We swallow books on how to do things, and dream of four-hour work weeks. We serve the cult of fuss and boast about how busy we are. We are often told that the key to doing things is to manage time. If you can better plan your calendar, you can achieve nirvana of productivity.

However, after two decades of studying productivity, I became convinced that time management is not really a solution, but part of the problem.

For most of my career I am often asked the question: “How can I do more?” Sometimes people ask me because they know that I work as an organizational psychologist, and productivity is one of the areas that I study. They ask me more often because they read mean article about me in the New York Times or my popular book that says how much I do.

But in fact, I don’t feel particularly productive. I do not constantly cope with my daily goals, so it was difficult for me to answer this question. Only after a conversation with Michael it dawned on me: productivity is not related to time management. There are a limited number of hours in a day, and if we concentrate on managing time, we’ll just better understand how much time we are wasting.

It’s better to do attention management: prioritize people and projects that matter and not pay attention to how much time it takes them.

Attention management is the art of focusing on doing things with the right goals, in the right places and at the right time.

Well, fine, but why do we need to change the object of concentration?


It is generally accepted that when managing time, a person should set goals for himself related to the completion of work on a task. I decided to do this when writing this article. The goal was 1,200 words, so I sat down at my computer at 8 a.m. and gave myself three hours, which would be enough to write an article at a leisurely speed of six words per minute. For the next six minutes, I sat writing zero words and just stared at the blinking cursor. The only completed task was to search on Google for information on whether the cursor was named after all the writers who cursed it [eng. cursor - cursor (from Latin cursor - runner), to curse - curse / approx. transl.]. (Yes, I know that you are mocking me, you, a flashing under-rectangle). Then I wondered how many words per minute I could basically write, and I passed the typing test.

In the end, I despaired and moved on to managing attention. Alvin Brooks White once wrote: “Every morning I wake up, torn between the desire to improve (or save) the world, and the desire to enjoy (or taste) the world. Because of this, it’s difficult to plan your day. ” But as a result of my research, I found that productive people do not worry about choosing which of these desires to satisfy. They simultaneously follow both, leaning towards projects, both interesting to them personally and important from a social point of view.

So, instead of focusing on how quickly I would like to finish this article, I asked myself why I agreed to write it at all: I can learn something new from the synthesis of my research; I’ll finally have a link to which I can send people when they ask me questions about productivity; she can help some of them. As a result, I began to think about different people who could read it, which reminded me of Michael. Hoba.

Often our productivity problems are not due to lack of efficiency, but because of lack of motivation. Productivity is not a virtue, it is a means to an end. It is virtuous only when the goal is worthy. If your goal is productivity, you have to rely on willpower to force yourself to do this task. If you pay attention to why you like this project and who will benefit from it, you will naturally be drawn into it by intrinsic motivation.

But how can I not be distracted from the task, if time does not bother me?


Attention management includes the ability to notice where exactly you manage to do what you intended. I grew up in Michigan, and when I returned there to study in graduate school, I tried to convince my friend from the West Coast to come with me.

“It's too gray and cold,” she said after she came to visit during a blizzard. And then she went to study at Stanford. And the next winter in Michigan was the coldest and grayest of all that I could remember, and I was never more productive. In addition to work, there was absolutely nothing to do!

Naturally, a few studiesled by Julia Lee (now living in Michigan) show that bad weather has a positive effect on productivity, as we are less likely to be distracted by thoughts of taking a walk. Researchers found that on rainy days, Japanese bank employees made payments faster, and when America was in bad weather, people more effectively corrected text errors. Given this, I deliberately waited to start writing this article after the snowfall, when the melting porridge outside my window became unattractive.

My favorite part of managing attention is when. Most of the difficulties we face with productivity are related to tasks that we do not want, but must do. For many years, I believed that these tasks should be performed immediately after interesting ones in order to use the accumulated energy. And then my colleague Jihe Shin and I conducted a study in a Korean department store, and found that if you give employees a very interesting task, then they will perform much more boring tasks much worse.

One possible reason for this is the effects of the so-called effect. attention balance. Your mind is trying to return to an interesting task, and violates the concentration on the uninteresting. But in the experiment, where the Americans first watched the videos, and then performed the tedious task of entering data, we discovered a different mechanism: the contrast effect. Interesting or funny videos make the task of entering data seem even more painful, as a sweet dessert makes the taste of bitter vegetables even more disgusting. So, if you want to gain energy for a boring task, do it after a relatively interesting one, and save the most interesting for later as a reward. It’s not a matter of time, but of choosing the right moment.

Creators and Managers


I guess that you want to become not only more productive, but also more creative.

It all comes down to the fact that productivity and creativity require opposing attention management strategies. Productivity is nourished by the construction of attention filters that help to abandon thoughts that are unrelated to the business or distract from it. Creativity is fueled by eliminating these filters and accepting such thoughts.

How to get the best of these two areas? In his book “When,” Dan Pink writes of evidence that your circadian rhythmscan help you choose the right time for both productive and creative work. If you like to get up early, you should do analytical work in the morning, when you are most alert; leave routine tasks for lunch time; Allow creative work in the afternoons or evenings, when your thinking is most likely to be non-linear. If you are an owl, it is better to engage in creative projects in the morning, and analytical tasks in the afternoon and evening. And this is not time management, because you can spend the same amount of time completing tasks even after rebuilding your agenda. This is attention management: you notice the sequence in which you are better off doing the work, and adapt to it.

Managing work time means also thinking differently about how to plan work. I really like Paul Graham’s proposal to divide the week into “creative” and “managerial” days.

On management days, meet and make calls. On creative days, find time for productivity and creativity, knowing that you will not be distracted by those things that usually disrupt the workflow. Unfortunately, few of us have the luxury of such planning, which means that we need to look for ways to allocate time for creation.

Time management says that we need to completely get rid of distractions - not only those for which others are responsible, but also from those that we ourselves generate. If you are sucked in social networks, you need to stop it. Attention management offers an alternative: think about when to get distracted.

Studying at school, I killed every Saturday to watch TV, and then I was disgusted with it because of this. But I did not give up the TV. I introduced a rule: I turn on the TV only if I know in advance what I want to watch. I adapted the same policy to social networks: if I work, then I go there only to share content. And I set aside the scroll of the tape at a time when I can’t do anything - I’m waiting for the plane to take off, or resting after the exercises.

Most of the writers with whom I am familiar are waiting for creative days to work, and believe that they need 4-6 hours to delve into a difficult problem or tackle a big idea. However, there is evidence that people who write for long periods of time achieve less than people who write in brief passages. Significant progress can be made in surprisingly short intervals: when graduate students were taught to write in 15-minute intervals, they completed their dissertations faster.

If you are trying to be more productive, you don’t need to analyze how you spend your time. Pay attention to what absorbs your attention. I first looked at the watch after I remembered the story of Michael. Now 10:36, and I exceeded my goal by 500 words. Decide for yourself whether the past 156 minutes have been a good example of using my attention, and the few minutes you spent reading an article have been a good use of yours.

Which reminds me of one more thing: I'm sure high-performance people have an eighth habit. They do not spend all their time reading about the seven habits of highly effective people.

Also popular now: