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  • Amanda Whittaker

Time vs. attention.

I was listening to Tim Ferriss’s Tribe of Mentors on my way into work. If you’re not familiar with the format of this book, it’s a series of interviews with over 100 successful people all asked the same few questions. I love the variance of responses and the (assumed) strategic order of the content so you’ll get a point/counter-point perspective on the same topic. Fascinating and intoxicating for a learner like me.

Anyway, this particular morning was timely. I was driving in excited for a total team meeting with the sole purpose of gearing up for an exciting close to the year and gaining valuable feedback from the team on how best to close the revenue gap. My mind was at peace that I was prepared for the conversation but racing with anticipation to get the conversation going. I love these days. I live for these days. I find myself wanting to extend the time so we can all be around the table longer. I am so lucky to have these humans in my proximity.

That’s when I hear “Pay close attention to what you’re spending your time on. Time and attention are very different things.” Ok. I am listening. As someone who is strong in focus and loves a good prioritization discussion, I felt like this would be a nice little affirmation I was on the right track to motivating my team. Boom. Nope. Turn left. Man, I love when I am stopped in my tracks. Instead, I found myself hanging on every word, nodding when he quoted Peter Drucker “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all” and immediately making a list of how I think this awareness could be used to bring growth and meaningful revenue to start-up culture.

Here are 2 things I took away from 13 minutes with Jason Fried, founder of Basecamp.

1. Time is constant for all of us, we have all been given the same number of hours, we all have the same chances for distractions and a tendency to think “if I just had more time.
2. You’ll always have less attention than time. Therefore, time without attention is worthless. What we need to give more value to is where, who, what we are giving our attention to. Take a close look at how much of your activities get your full attention. It’s where you do your best work. You may be surprised how much time you suddenly found.

My tips to ensure the right things get your attention:

Tip #1: Each day write on a post-it note, in your notebook or on a dry erase board, wherever it's going to be visible. The point is write it down (not type or think) for intentionality - one thing that when you leave the working hours will be done. Without fail, other stuff will fight for your time and by all means, we all do more than one thing a day, but your attention will remain on the one thing and you will get in a habit of clearing space for what’s most important.

Tip #2: If something continues to linger on your to-do list for more than 5 days, ask yourself, did it really need to be done at all, could I delegate it to someone else or do it first thing. Typically, these are the things that you think will be hardest, or you’re most uncomfortable with so we avoid the pain of struggle. However, rarely are they as tough as they seem or better yet, someone else did it better. Either way, dang it feels good when it’s done.

Tip #3: Protect and preserve your precious resource of attention. Hit the do not disturb function on your phone, shut off your email, be purposeful in accepting invites. No one can take from you what you so willingly give away.

Tip #4: When I get overwhelmed with so much to do that, I don’t know what my one thing is each day, I just do something. It’s amazing how momentum kicks in and the act of marking off “respond to so and so’s email” will jumpstart the next task and the next that I realize the most important thing that I could do that day was to have just done something. So, don’t stress deciding. Likely “the one thing” will vary from mundane tasks to huge multi-day tasks but break it down into pieces, take one action after another and course correct along the way. Guard your one thing like it’s your job, because it is.

Needless to say, I didn’t extend the meeting duration, but I did put my phone away, turned off applications that would have created notifications and my team got my full attention. We covered the most important topics in the allotted time, created follow up tasks and left just as energized. I can’t wait to see all we accomplish together.

— Amanda

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