Three currencies unite all of us. Money, Attention and Time (MAT) are the MAT on which your daily struggles play out. The control you have over your life depends largely on how you deploy these limited resources.
Out of the three, money often grabs the spotlight. However, even the most successful with money will fail to have a successful life if the other two currencies are not carefully controlled.
Money is basically a repository of value. You can trade different things for money. You can work for money. You can sell objects or services for money. You can then use the money to purchase goods and services that you desire. This system is incredibly important to our day-to-day living. Without money you would have to directly exchange goods or services for other goods or services. However, the two parties would have to each have something that the other desires. If you have bread and you want clothing, you need to find someone who both has clothing and needs bread. This may be difficult or even impossible. Money solves this problem very neatly. It allows you to exchange your bread for money and buy the clothing from whomever has it regardless of their desire for bread.
All modern cultures and societies are built around the monetary system. It constantly shapes our decisions and affects many of our actions. You choose your career, your place of dwelling and often even your partners in life under the influence of money. It is therefore obvious to most people that money must be controlled. This knowledge does not actually translate into high levels of financial aptitude for many individuals, but at least most people are aware of the importance of such knowledge.
By contrast, attention and time often take a back seat. You may be totally aware of how much money you earn and even how much you spend (this is challenging, but possible), but what you pay attention to, and how you spend your time are less likely to be tracked. This is due to a very common problem. We tend to thing short term. In the near future, you do not feel a need to worry about what you are focusing your attention on. You also do not feel an overwhelming sense that time is rapidly advancing on you. The truth is quite different. Ultimately, attention and time are your most valuable and non-replenishable resources. Our life spans are obviously limited and what we choose to focus on, ultimately determines our level of success.
Just as some people choose to budget their money and spend it “wisely,” the same can be applied, and is perhaps even more essential, to our attention and our time. To take control of your attention and how you spend your time your will need to first gain a better understanding of how you spend these currencies in the first place.
You will need to create two logs. I would recommend working on one-at-a-time, starting with attention and then focusing on how you spend your time. To track your attention, you will need to set an alarm (timer on your phone is great) to go off every fifteen minutes over a three-hour period. This should be done initially during down time, and after you have mastered the technique you can try this at work as well. Make a grid on a paper (or a spreadsheet if you love them) with 12 rows in 2 columns. When the alarm goes off, jot down what it is that you are paying attention to in the first row in the left column, and how that compares with what you are actually trying to do in the right column. For example, if you pulled out your phone to check on your social media, and find that you are actually reading some random blog on universal currencies (really!), you should write down reading blog in the left column and, attempting to check social media in the right.
Doing this technique two or three times (try it once a week for two or three weeks, it’s kind of fun), will give you a really good idea of how you spend your attention. If you see that you are often not giving your attention to what you planned on, take heart, you are like most people. However, you can actually do something about it. Strangely enough, one of the best ways to gain mastery over your attention is give it up for periods of time. By consciously choosing to give yourself sufficient mental breaks where no attention or concentration is required, you restore your focus and ability to fully attend to what it is you are doing. For more information on how to improve your attention skills I would recommend reading the book Focus by Daniel Goleman (Amazon Link).
Once you have mastered attention, do a time audit. The simple way to do this is do a quick reconstruction of your last week on a calendar (physical or digital will do). This gives you an insight into how you actually spend your time. You may be surprised by the shear number of hours you spend watching television, surfing the web or just vegging out on the couch. If this is the result, think of it as an opportunity to actually begin to do all of the things you keep saying you will do if you just had more time. You actually do have more time! If you find that you are truly busy (working 70+ hours etc.), you may need to adjust your behavior during the busy times to make that part of your life more efficient. Check out my guide on working more effectively on the sidebar.
To summarize, think of your time and attention as the two most valuable currencies in the world. They are truly limited, valuable and irreplaceable. Use them as best as you can and you will have a far more successful life.
Let me know if you have tried one of these techniques. I love to hear from you.