Theories of Time & Attention Management

There are many methods and theories that can help ascertain where your time and focus should be when thinking about all your tasks and priorities. The three we are going to touch on are the Eisenhower Method, Mark Forester’s Do It Tomorrow Philosophy, and Clock Time vs. Real Time. Be sure to do a little research of your own to learn about other types of methods that might be useful when trying to establish where your time and focus should be dedicated.

Eisenhower’s MethodDwight D Eisenhower quote

President Dwight D. Eisenhower developed a method of organizing his workload and
priorities into categories using important and urgent criteria. This method may assist you in deciding where you should focus your efforts when trying to complete tasks and items occupying your time and energy. Using important and urgent criteria, the Eisenhower Method can be displayed as an illustration of a quadrant containing the following categories:

  1. Important but Not Urgent
  2. Important and Urgent
  3. Not Important but Urgent
  4. Not Important and Not Urgent

Eisenhower recognized that to possess good time and attention management skills an individual needs to be effective and efficient and spend time on those things that are important and not just the ones that are categorized as urgent. Important activities are defined as items leading to personal and professional goal achievement, while urgent activities are those that call for immediate attention and usually help someone else accomplish their goals.

urgent not urgent quadNow that you know how to classify the tasks and items currently on your responsibility list, consider making a goal to focus at least 75% of your time and energy on those items that fall into the Important and Not Urgent category, while dividing 20% of your remaining time between Important and Urgent and Not Important and Urgent, and spending 5% or less on tasks that fall into the Not Important and Not Urgent quadrant.

Mark Forster’s Do It Tomorrow Philosophy (Importance & Urgency)

Another theory or method to familiarize yourself with when reflecting on the importance or urgency of the tasks and items on your to do list would be Mark Forster’s Do It Tomorrow Philosophy. The principles of his philosophy can help people stay focused and avoid distractions. Forster states that all tasks fall into one of three levels and described levels as:

  • Immediate — tasks that cause you to stop what you’re doing and respond immediately
  • Same Day — tasks that are not immediate but need to be done during that same day
  • Tomorrow — tasks that can be completed at a point sometime in the near future (tomorrow or later)

Forster suggests the following for staying on task:to do list

  • When you are presented with a distraction, put it on tomorrow’s to do list.
  • Try to accomplish a little bit of a project or assignment frequently rather than attempting a large portion all at once.
  • Try using a kitchen timer and really focus on a specific task for a set time and then take a short break. Start small with 15 minute increments and then slowly increase your time as your focus improves.

Clock Time vs. Real Time

Entrepreneur magazine published an article about the idea of clock time versus real time. Clock time is defined as the actual time — seconds, minutes, hours, and days — that pass in our lives. Clock time is measurable and it all passes equally. On the other hand, real time is relative. What you are doing can cause time to have the appearance of passing quickly or dragging on forever. The article goes on to state that life is lived in real time; therefore, systems and strategies created to support clock time don’t work well with a life lived in real time. The authors of this article present the idea that there are only three ways to spend time: thoughts, conversations, and actions. As you keep track of how and when you devote your time to thoughts, conversations, and actions, you’ll understand where it’s being spent and how best to refocus your attention on those tasks and goals you have classified as priorities. To learn more about clock time and real time and some strategies and tips to apply these principles, watch the following short video.