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ATD Blog

Time Management Is Not the Path to Improved Productivity, Part 2

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

In part one of this series, I explained why time management has become outdated as a productivity concept and why today's busy knowledge workers instead need attention management skills to be productive. In this second part, I'll explain what attention management entails, its benefits, and how you can offer your internal customers a more relevant professional development solution for sustained productivity and success.

Update your training offerings by taking the following three factors into account as you look to help employees get better at organizing, managing, and executing on their workload:

  • Employees must be clear about role priorities—the ultimate goals of their position—rather than simply prioritizing specific tasks. They must also be free from unnecessary obstacles to getting their most important work done.
  • Time management is no longer effective in our sophisticated world of technology; attention management is the new path to productivity.
  • Employees must learn a workflow management methodology so that they can systematize their work. This will serve as a guiding light in a fog of distraction.

During a training I was delivering, I spoke with several members of a sales staff. They were excited about learning to better manage their workflow. But then they shared that their next biggest challenge was dealing with all of the administrative tasks their company imposed on them, such as travel arrangements, technology troubleshooting, and reporting. They were evaluated strictly on their sales numbers, and felt that these administrative requirements were contrary to their mission. When I shared this with their boss, he felt his hands were tied because he didn’t have the budget to bring on an administrative staff person. We decided that the solution was a part-time, contract, virtual assistant that the team could share. This reinforced to the team that sales was their primary priority, and also freed them up to do more of the work they were hired to do.

My work with clients has also reinforced studies showing that constant distraction is sabotaging our focus and increasing our impatience, making “deep work” not only hard to fit into the schedule, but also something that initially feels difficult and unpleasant. Yet accomplishing these higher-level tasks is what makes us feel satisfied at the end of the day, and enjoy our jobs more. Productivity training based in attention management teaches people in all job roles how to control distractions by putting boundaries around their attention, how to harness their focus for faster and higher-quality results, and, ultimately, how unleash the full magnitude of their wisdom and experience in pursuit of the organization’s goals. Valuing attention management helps to protect a company and its employees against an unhealthy, frantic, and distracted corporate culture.


Finally, workflow management is foundational to peak productivity, because internal distractions—mentally running down a to-do list all day and struggling to remember everything that needs to be done—are as damaging as external distractions from technology and other people. Many people attempt workflow management by leaving themselves sticky notes, flagging emails, writing and reviewing multiple paper lists, and making calendar appointments with themselves. Professionals manage to get their job done; but without a workflow management system, it’s harder than necessary, and exacts a higher toll on individuals and the organization.


Because of the complexity of knowledge work today, we need a workflow management system—rooted in attention management—that allows us to be intentional, proactive, and thoughtful. Rather than writing lists to help us remember, a good workflow management methodology allows people to capture commitments, communications, and information in a way that frees them from the burden of remembering, because their system will serve up what they need, when they need it. In the meantime, they can use their cognitive capacity for more important things like brainstorming, problem solving, and innovation. A workflow management process:

  • Allows workers to experience less stress and chaos, and to regain control of their work and their time.
  • Makes it easier to quantify workloads, which assists in human resource allocation. This, in turn, provides insight into turnover problems. It also helps in developing more objective employee reviews and merit rewards, as well as more accurate job descriptions, which lead to better hiring results.
  • Enables leaders to better document institutional knowledge and company history and create more accurate timelines for projects because the workload is visible and cataloged. They can also better track employee progress, which will result in sustaining employee motivation.

Sustainable success for your team means enabling them to feel that they are in control of their work, that they regularly make meaningful progress, and that they have an appropriate work-life balance. This is possible if outdated productivity concepts like time management training are struck from the plans and replaced with more modern ideas of workflow systems based in attention management.

About the Author

Maura Nevel Thomas is an award-winning international speaker and trainer on individual and corporate productivity and work-life balance, and the most widely-cited authority on attention management. Her clients include the likes of the U.S. Army, Old Navy, and Dell. She is the creator of the proprietary Empowered Productivity System, a workflow management process embraced by individuals and teams at thousands of successful companies in virtually every industry. She is a TEDx Speaker, founder of Regain Your Time, author of three books, and was named a Top Leadership Speaker for 2018 in Inc. Magazine. Maura is frequently cited as an expert in major business outlets including Forbes, Fast Company, and Huffington Post, and she’s also a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review, with articles there viewed over a million times. Follow her on Twitter @mnthomas.

1 Comment
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I do like the concept of attention management. It is all about focus and priorities.
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