Your Attention is More Important Than Your Time

May I have your attention please!

In a world abundant of information and distractions, time is no longer your most precious resource, your attention is.

How we manage our time and attention is something I have put a lot of thought into. As students, we have a finite amount of time for our school work. As a resident, there will be many clinical responsibilities fighting for my attention. There will always be more tasks to do than there is time, so how we manage our attention becomes increasingly important.

Back in December, I made a choice to live a more minimalist life, to cut back on the clutter and distractions, and focus on what matters. More recently, I’ve read a few books that really solidified the point that your attention-management is more important than time-management.

Tim Ferris states in his book The 4-Hour Week“Time without attention is worthless, so value attention over time.” He goes on to state that “Attention is necessary for not only productivity but appreciation.”

“in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”Herbert Simon, Nobel Prize in Economics 1978

There are many things in life that are renewable such as money. Resources like time are scarcer though because once you use it, you can never get it back. But there’s something even more limited than time. It’s your attention. Attention is a subset of time, therefore it’s more limited. How you spend your attention is more important than how you spend your time. (source)

If we measure the quantity of our time in minutes, hours and days, undoubtedly the quality of our time is measured in attention.

Without attention, it is hard to focus on the priorities we know we should do. It determines what will appear in our consciousness, how we will process it and what decisions are to be made. Attention gives value to our time – it is a multiplier of each minute we spend. Many students spend hours and hours “studying” but achieve minimal results. Instead, if you approached your studies with full concentration, a hour of focused studying will be worth much more.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

So now nearing the end of my four years of medical school, I resolve to have more focus in the career ahead of me. With exams coming up, I hope I can have full attention and concentration in acquiring this knowledge, so that come July, I can do what’s best for my patients. It is my aim to live each day deliberately and not be unwise to misspend a minute.

Further Readings

3 Responses to Your Attention is More Important Than Your Time

  1. MedTopList says:

    “Many students spend hours and hours “studying” but achieve minimal results. Instead, if you approached your studies with full concentration, a hour of focused studying will be worth much more.”

    True. Before I study, I always have with me objectives or points on what to study so that I can focus on one important topic at a certain time – then I can do checklists to determine what points have I not yet read.

    The important thing is to know what do you want to learn about a certain topic, say… About diabetes, I brainstorm and ask myself, what is DM?, why does it happen? How can I diagnose DM?, etc…before opening Harissons IM.

    With that, my studying becomes more focused rather than just doing a reading spree with no goals on what you are trying to achieve.

    *i have just finished my 2nd year in medicine and now waiting for my results. I have been reading your blog for more than a year now and I must say that it is very good for other medical students to get resources about medicine.

    Congratulations by the way. After 4 years of med school, what is next? Post-grad internship or direct to residency? I am studying in a different country by the way.

    • medaholic says:

      Hi MedTopList, thanks for your reply. I’m currently studying for my licensing exams, so focusing on objectives and having a learning plan is crucial before each study session. In July, I will be starting my Internal Medicine residency program. Best of luck in your remaining years of medical school!

  2. rose says:

    I agree with you that there are many things in life that are renewable such as money. Resources like time are scarcer though because once you use it, you can never get it back. But there’s something even more limited than time. It’s your attention.

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