What Is Attention Management? How Can It Improve Focus?

Is it easy for you to get distracted? Are you always bombarded with information put in front of you? There are plenty of distractions to be found on social media or cell phones. It may be time to consider attention management if you struggle with distractions. Now, what is attention management? I’ll talk about that here and explain what it really means in this post.

What is attention management?

We’ve all heard of the meaning behind time management, which has been around for decades. Some people excel while others may struggle to manage their time and attention. 

Attention management is a modern practice centering around controlling distractions and staying focused to produce the best results. Maura Thomas, a productivity expert, has looked into attention management as a practical productivity technique in the 21st century. While she thinks of the term as “the practice of controlling your attention,” it’s more important than ever as we live in an age of constant distractions.

What is attention management: Understanding attention management well can help with avoiding distractions.

What are the different types of attention?

The attention management model goes into areas that affect both the individual and collectivist levels. There are a few types of attention to consider:

1.) Selective attention- focusing on one thing at a time

  • Example: Writing an article non-stop without being distracted

2.) Divided attention- focusing on two events at once

  • Example: Writing an article while doing some light reading- so researching at the same time

3.) Sustained attention- focusing for an extended period

  • Example: Working on a task or two for a few hours non-stop, no breaks

4.) Executive attention- focus on completing steps to achieving a goal

  • Example: Writing a paper- follow an outline, list out main points, write the first draft, then write a final draft

What does attention management involve? How can it help?

As mentioned earlier, attention management is about controlling distractions. It’s uniquely different from time management in that we’re easily distracted by more things around us.

Electronics and the internet have made it more challenging to stay focused, so our attention span declines in that manner. These are points that Thomas goes over on her website, and I’ll dive deeper. These points include:

  • Requiring single focus
  • Living a life of choice
  • Being more fluid than time management
  • Flexible for modern practices
  • A collection of behaviors

Requires a single focus

For the most part, focus is all about working on one task at a time. That may sound easier said than done, but exceptional attention is needed when more challenging tasks need to be taken care of.

If you’re writing a report that needs to get done the next day, it’ll be harder to finish it with email, and social news feeds open. Or if working on a task requires multiple steps to complete, taking one step at a time should be the right approach.

What is attention management: Attention management works when you focus on one thing.

When I work on tasks that need my utmost attention, I tend to remain focused for long periods. Some jobs need “single focus” and aren’t meant for multi-tasking. If I’m writing a paper while talking on the phone, there’s no way I can stay focused on doing those two things at once. Also, I likely would come up with a poorly written paper in that case.

As Thomas emphasizes this point, the key term to remember is “one.” It’s hard to give all of your attention to all things going on in one single moment.

Living a life of choice

Through attention management, we can be more proactive than reactive. One thing people struggle with is they’ll react quickly to things that happen at the moment. 

Often, it’s likely distractions that waste more time. Today, it’s much more difficult in the presence of smartphones and social media.

These things demand our attention and that can drain away valuable time. More so, it’s eye-opening to think that people can be distracted at any moment.

What is attention management: Having choices for attention management can help.

Even when you’re out and about with your phone in your pocket, you’re one quick distraction away. Instead of reaction and distraction, living a life of choice should be the end goal.

Going down this route means to decide where your attention goes. Also, not letting other demands make our decisions.

Choosing to settle in this approach is being against a constantly distracting environment. It’s saying yes to keeping more of your time- time dedicated to doing meaningful work.

According to Thomas, the basic definition of attention management is “the practice of controlling your attention”. At this point, it’s more important than ever as we live in an age of constant distractions.

Eric T. Seil (Founder of notimekillers.com)

More fluid than time management

There are plenty of time management techniques that can help you be more productive. They’ve proven to work over the years, such as the good old to-do list.

To-do lists are a universal approach that works well but can be useless if attention management is left out of the picture. If you make a to-do list every day, followed by checking email for the next few hours, you’re already destined for failure.

This situation happens to a lot of people who will get distracted when things come up. More so, you don’t cross off all the things on your to-do list once the end of the day rolls by.

What is attention management: Being fluid with time management can work well with consistency.

Flexible for modern work schedule

For those having flexible options for work, it’s easier to take on attention management today. If you happen to work from home, you have some control over when you want to focus.

If you’d rather take care of your challenging work in the afternoon, that might be an option. So having more time options can be beneficial to work on your attention spans.

Primarily if you work a flexible schedule, you’ll have more to focus on more important tasks. Even if it’s not actual work, it can also mean setting time to work with others.

Or setting time during breaks when we may not be paying attention. It’s a good reminder that our brains need to recharge when we’re not focusing.

A collection of behaviors

Attention management is not a simple term to keep in mind. The name revolves around a group of actions to make attention to the forefront. The following terms include:

  • Focus
  • Concentration
  • Mindfulness
  • Presence
  • Flow

When you practice these skills over time, it’ll be much easier to pay attention to. Though it’s not easy, it certainly can be rewarding if practiced correctly.

When we practice these skills, the more time we’ll have on hand as our productivity increases. I may not have mastered all of these skills yet, but I’ve gotten better knowing how to practice them correctly.

The key takeaway is to be patient and stick with the daily exercises you take part in. The more you stick to them, the much easier it’ll be down the road.

What is attention management:  In this post, we discuss the idea of attention management and how it can reduce distractions.

Final Words

Attention management is not a new phenomenon that came about recently. The meaning of controlling our attention has been around for a long time.

It’s more relevant today in the ever-changing world we’re living in right now. Distractions that consist of technology have made it much more difficult in today’s environment. 

But as I reviewed earlier, attention management can help solve the most common issues people encounter.

  • If it’s practicing a single focus, that might help improve somebody’s productivity.
  • For those who have flexible work schedules, there are more options available for setting time aside to focus. 

Although it may be difficult to remain focused today, attention management techniques can be very useful. Thomas discusses in more detail about the quadrants in the attention management model. For more information, visit her website or check out her book on attention management.

Your Turn: Do you struggle with attention management?

I would like to get your thoughts on this terminology. Have you overcome any attention issues? Do you struggle with attention management skills?

If you’re skilled at it, what practices do you find to be effective? What have you been successful with keeping your attention sharp?

Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below. I look forward to reading your responses, and I’ll gladly respond promptly.

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Eric is the owner and chief editor of notimekillers.com. 

He takes great pride in helping people manage their time and grow their businesses. 

Eric is a firm believer in financial and time freedom, as he believes in financial independence and taking ownership of your time. 

“Time is your most important asset. It can be your best friend or worst enemy. How you use your time can shape the future you desire to have.” 

In his leisure time, Eric loves to write and read whenever possible. He enjoys going for long walks outdoors while doing in-home workout videos every week. 

You can also connect with Eric via LinkedIn.

Self Photo 2019: Here's a picture at a building in downtown Chicago.

4 thoughts on “What Is Attention Management? How Can It Improve Focus?”

  1. I never knew there was an actual term for it, but the content you provided is very intriguing. I pride myself in being a multitasker but when it comes to things that are more important (i.e. studying). 

    I recognize that I need to devote my attention to solely that subject and remove other distractions. Sometimes I throw my phone across the room so I’m not tempted to scroll instead of study, and if I want it I have to get up and walk across the room to get it. 

    What are tricks you have use personally?

    • Hi Shelbi,

      Attention management has been around for some time, and it’s simple if done properly. Not a lot of people are familiar with it, but they apply it nearly everyday.

      It sounds like you have some good practices to avoiding distractions. The idea of throwing your phone in another room can help a lot.

      Regarding your question, some tricks that I use include the following:

      -I’ll put my phone in another room when I need to focus (i.e. conducting deep work). Sometimes, I won’t check it for a couple of hours for maximum productivity.

      -I’ll set a timer when I’m working on specific tasks. Working on a task for 30-45 minutes can help a lot, and when that time is up, then I stop to take a break.

      -I use distraction-blocking apps, such as the Freedom app. It does come in handy when I need to remove distracting websites on my laptop. 

      To learn more about the app, check out the review I did on Freedom a while back. I think you’ll find it useful.

      Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts- they’re very much appreciated.

  2. This post rings true for me more than I like to admit! I definitely struggle with attention management.

    I work from home (not a flexible schedule) and find myself constantly distracted by Slack messages from other employees about different tasks they need me to work on. It has been tough to manage because I can only turn off notifications for a short time seeing as we use Slack to communicate.

    One thing I have been doing is scheduling two hours of focus time each morning where I can ignore all messages, emails etc. and focus – or at least attempt to focus – on the most pressing task I have.

    An interesting thing I learned recently was that it is very common in adults who experienced severe trauma in their childhood to have great difficulty with attention span and that they often display symptoms (if that’s the right word) of ADHD despite not actually having it. Apparently, distraction is a learned survival behaviour in these cases.

    • Hi Victoria,

      A lot of people struggle with attention management. As you brought up, it can be challenging attempting to stay focused when needed.

      Being distracted from constant messages is tough. A tool such as Slack is great for communication, but can easily  be a productivity killer.

      I like how you’re tackling this approach- by scheduling two hours of focus time to get work done. That’s something I do as well, and it’s very effective.

      That study you brought up is interesting- I’ll have to look into it. But I do believe that’s likely the case, especially in childhood. Distraction is something to overcome in the long run.

      Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts- they’re greatly appreciated.


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