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Conduct an Attention Audit and Take Back Your Time

Conduct an Attention Audit and Take Back Your Time

In today’s culture, we move from one activity to the next without much thought, leading us to spend our attention on things that don’t really matter to us. If you want to make a different choice, conduct an attention audit.

Written by:Tara A. Collison, Ph.D.

In life, your experience is what you “agree to attend to.” So says the father of psychology, William James. However, in today’s on-the-go culture, we move from one activity to the next without much thought. If we’re not careful, this behavior can lead us to spend our valuable attention on things that don’t really matter to us. Most of the time, we don’t even realize it’s happening until we’ve expended our supply of attention. If you want to make a different choice, the first step is awareness. While tracking every minute of your day isn’t possible, conducting an “attention audit” is. Just like you may track your spending, tracking your attention can give you a clearer sense of where you aim your focus on a daily basis. 

How to Conduct an Attention Audit

Step 1: Take time to understand what is important to you, and track in alignment with that. I recommend you start by selecting key categories. Make sure they’re granular enough to give you insight but not so granular that you can’t see a pattern emerge.

Step 2: Track your time. You can do this for a few days, a week, or as long as a month. While you are tracking, document as much as you can with as much specificity as possible. There are a few ways to approach this: 

  • Manually track: Log what you’re doing every 30 minutes for several days with a pen and notebook or in the notes section of your phone. The key is to do it regularly for a short time and look for patterns. 

  • Tracking applications: Tools and applications like Toogl can help you automate the tracking process.

  • Track computer/phone time: If you spend any time on your computer, or if you feel like your digital life is hijacking your attention, use Rescue Time. It will track and produce reports to help you understand where your time is going.

Step 3: Once you have your data, start to analyze for patterns and see what themes emerge. Are there any surprises? Look at where you’re spending more time than you imagined you would. Where are you spending too little time?

Armed with this new awareness, you can put serious thought into where you may want to shift things around. There are no right or wrong answers, only an opportunity to change your experience based on what you attend to. If you’re having trouble, check out our blog to learn more about finding your way forward when change is elusive. 

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