Now I feel free, and hope is creeping back. Maybe because I’m paying attention to what I have rather than what’s missing. — Doug Cooper
“Pay attention” is a phrase that gets used so much it’s begun to lose its meaning. Our teachers, bosses, coworkers, family, pets, and loved ones all want our attention. The problem is, our attention is limited. How do we give our limited time and attention to all the right things?
We all want to live happier and healthier lives. Many of us tend to put all of our attention towards getting more money, becoming more popular, and how to get the latest trendy item because we think that will lead us to the life we want. Companies encourage this belief; they spend billions of dollars on ads that steal our attention through billboards, magazines, mobile apps, commercials, websites, and any other place they can. Advertisements, along with email, push notifications, and dozens of other distractions are all competing for our time and attention. They all want our time and attention because they realize how precious that is. But our time and attention can do so much more than just feed into their sales pitch.
We can use that time and attention to work on meaningful projects, to create beautiful moments with friends and family, to give back to our community, improve our health, and to learn and grow as a person.
Time and attention may not seem like a big deal, but they’re our most precious resources. How we spend our time and attention shows us how we spend our life. We can use our time and attention to create habits that help or hinder us.
Now that we have some reasons to shift our focus, let’s learn how to go about doing that and claiming our time, and our lives, back.
Be aware of how you spend your days
In order to change how we spend our time and attention, we have to see where it’s currently going. Mark on a calendar where your chunks of time are going each day. How often do you get distracted throughout the day? What is distracting you? The more specific answers that we can find, the more effective we will be in making our change. Make sure to write down your answers, as having a list to look at it will really help implement the change. If your smartphone takes up a lot of your time each day, consider downloading Moment, an app that helps do some of the tracking for you.
Determine what’s important to you
What do you find important? What’s meaningful to your life? What gives you the most joy and fulfillment? Write all these things down, and compare them to the list of how your days are currently spent. Are there any overlaps? What differences do you notice? Don’t beat yourself up if these lists are drastically different. Being at step two is something to be proud of, so hold your head high and keep marching forward to step three.
Plan out your days.
Using the list of things that are important, meaningful, or bring you joy, plan out your day for tomorrow. If you’re feeling ambitious, try planning out the rest of the week. While there are some tasks that still need to be done that don’t make the list, like taking out the trash or paying bills, making this change will help fill your day with activities that truly bring out the best qualities in life. Think of your plan as a guideline, rather than a strict set of rules. Sometimes unexpected events come up, and that’s okay. By having a plan, there will already be an improvement on how you manage your time.
Make adjustments accordingly
Maybe after following this process for a week, you’ve discovered that one of the activities doesn’t take up nearly as much time as you thought. Or perhaps you are sick so you need to rest rather than go for your scheduled run. That’s okay, this plan is to help you become your best self, not bully you around every day. Just make sure the changes that you make are beneficial and appropriate to your life. Every month or so, take a look at how you schedule your tasks. Did what you find valuable, important, and joyful last month still hold true today? If it does, great. If not, be okay with letting it go. Consistently evaluating our priorities allows us to spend our time and attention on what matters most to us.
Getting our attention back on track
As the old adage goes, “You are what you eat”, but I believe we can use that truism in other contexts too. How we spend our time can demonstrate what we really find important, and how we really live our life. By letting go of old habits and activities, we can make room for new ones, and spend our time and attention on activities that truly make us happy. Thank you for spending your time and attention here, I hope these changes serve you well.