To get the most out of your day, manage your attention not your time


[Article first published in, 14th September 2015]

…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently.

Herbert Simon, Nobel Prize Laureate

From the Renaissance to 1900, human knowledge has doubled every century; by World War II, a doubling only took 25 years. In 2006, IBM estimated that by 2010 the world’s knowledge would double every 11 hours (pdf). All this information, and similar increases in communication, have created unprecedented challenges for our brains. Overwhelmed and distracted, days pass in a blur of frenetic and relatively mindless activity; relationships get crunched into snatched moments before the screens suck us back. Our most valuable and scarce resource is no longer time—it’s attention.

This article is aimed at those of us who have felt the path to achievement is to maximize our time. It outlines a few of the simple shifts you can make to manage your attention instead. After all, it’s an attention economy. Continue reading…

Time management is only making our busy lives worse

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[This article was first published in]


“Tess…started her way up the dark and crooked lane not made for hasty progress; a street laid out before inches of land had value, and when one-handed clocks sufficiently sub-divided the day” (Thomas Hardy).

Imagine your life without time; without a constant sense that you’re running behind, frustrated that, yet again you are losing the battle against the irresistible force of the ticking clock. Imagine not wishing there were more hours in the day.

We haven’t always been obsessed with time. In fact, as the historian EP Thompson highlighted half a century ago, before the Industrial Revolution clocks were largely irrelevant. Instead of a time orientation, people had a task orientation. They had jobs to do, and so they did them in the natural order, at the natural time. This worked for a largely agricultural society. However, the factories of the Industrial Revolution needed to coordinate hundreds of people, to get them working at the same time, in synchronicity; and that required clocks. So business leaders imposed clock time on their workforce (not without resistance); and eminent leaders, such as Benjamin Franklin, reinforced the value of this with statements such as ‘time is money’. Continue reading…

Sloppiness is a gender issue

shutterstock_107137112 - CopyI work with a leader who is sloppy: a bit disorganized, he forgets things and at times drops the ball. He is also extremely successful and admired. The thing is, his sloppiness is interpreted (accurately) as big thinking and creativity. It occurs to me that I don’t know any women in senior positions who are also sloppy and successful; that bothers me. Continue reading…

Embarrassed about being busy

Embarrassed‘How are you?’

The chances are high that your response would be ‘busy’. Most of us today lead hectic lives, crunching through emails, racing between meetings and juggling competing demands. Overwhelmed by it all, our busyness can come to dominate our work, lives and relationships. Continue reading…

The Busyness Law

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If you saw a man collapse in front of you, in a clearly distressed state and needing help, would you stop and help? The answer is that it depends. In a famous experiment, social psychologists John Darley and Daniel Batson ran an experiment with people who might be expected to help: trainee priests. Just before leaving for the lecture, some trainee priests were told they were late, others had plenty of time. The effects were dramatic. Only 10% of those trainee priests who were late stopped to help the collapsed man (who they had no way of knowing was an actor). Of those with more time, 63% stopped!

Continue reading…

Hot emails and emotional control

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Abraham Lincoln got mad at times.  When he did, he had an interesting technique to deal with it. 

He’d write what he called a ‘hot letter’.  In an article published yesterday in the New York Times, Maria Konnikova describes how Lincoln, for example, wrote a hot letter to General George C. Meade to express his fury and frustration that he’d allowed Robert E. Lee to escape Gettysburg.  He would pour all his bile into these letters, then mark them ‘Never sent. Never signed.’ Continue reading…