By Peter Shallard Commit Action CEO | The Shrink for Entrepreneurs

Ambitious people are hell-bent on time management. 

Being on the quest for self improvement – particularly as an aspiring entrepreneur – is to be obsessed with optimizing the minutes of your day. 

Do you have the time optimization obsession? 

Morning rituals.

Color-coded calendars. 

Elaborate daily planner/journals. 

The latest beautifully designed to-do-list app. 

Books about triaging your to-dos into your day plan. 

Every single one of these strategies is held up by some guru. Each guru is always claiming their particular ritual as the “ultimate” hack. 

All these hacks are built on the same key assumption: 

That adding scrutiny and intention to how you spend your time each day is the key to being more successful. 

What if it’s not true? 

The funny thing about ultra successful entrepreneurs who’ve already made it big… is that seldom do any of this stuff. 

I’ve frankly been shocked by how many extraordinarily successful people utterly ignore ALL these rituals of time management. In my years working as Shrink for Entrepreneurs – operating as the behind-the-curtain confidante and advisor to a luminary roster of elite founders – my best clients never did any of these things. 

The contrast between my clients and other people is so severe that after over a decade of experience I see a correlation between obsessing over time management and floundering entrepreneur failure. In other words, these tactics and so called “hacks” appear to be games played by perpetual underachievers.

When I meet an entrepreneur with an elaborate series of time management rituals, my first question is always:

 “… and how’s that working out for you?” 

It’s a trick question because I already know the answer. 

The whole reason we’re even talking is precisely because they’re unhappy with the results that their thinking and behavior is producing. 

The real question you should be asking yourself: 

What are the elite few doing – while they’re succeeding unimaginably – INSTEAD of playing time management games? 

The answer is simple: 

They are managing their attention. 

Serially successful entrepreneurs become that way by setting up highly structured (even blinkered!) mental thought-scapes in which they work. To call it a precise “work environment” doesn’t do the concept justice. 

Ultra successful entrepreneurs have a paradoxically low opinion of their own mind, in terms of their unconscious tendencies and abilities to self regulate and focus. 

They don’t trust themselves. 

They don’t trust themselves to perform incredible feats of focus and effectiveness by default. 

This lack of trust is a good thing.

To combat it, they go to great lengths to paint themselves into tightly constrained mental “corners” from which they have no choice but to perform. 

By directing and narrowing their attention to only the most significant priorities, then ruthlessly managing that attention to keep it there, these people are able to significantly outperform the average joe in both quantity and quality of work. 

Instead of managing their time, they manage where their attention is able to go. 

It doesn’t matter if you are brokering investment deals, scaling a startup, writing the next bestseller or leading a team.

Managing your attention and focus, instead of worrying about time itself, is the best thing you can do to improve your productivity. 

Instead of a highly structured day in which many to-dos are triaged into the calendar and checked off, these entrepreneurs develop the maniacal focus that produces millions (and occasionally billions) in value. 

An ironic form of distrust – of oneself – is the key to managing your attention. 

Understanding that it’s absolutely inevitable that you’ll unconsciously switch trains of thought, get distracted, juggle dozens of competing ideas and generally self sabotage… is the first step. 

The mistake most people make is believing they have to fight these internal tendencies. The real answer is to never even show up at the battleground. 

Selectively limit your inputs

This is the first and most essential step to successfully honing and developing super powers of attention and focus. Highly effective entrepreneurs plan and invest their energy to create closed mental “gardens” in their life and work environments.

You can’t control your unconscious knee-jerk reactions to stimulus, but you can control the stimuli you expose yourself to.

Social media and News are the obvious two “stimuli” to avoid or manage. 

You can go deeper though: There’s a long history of high performers seeking out the company of other luminary thinkers – going on retreats etc – specifically to create an optimized mental environment. 

In your own life, how much does input – even casual and conversational – from the people in your closest circles effect your productivity? 

What are you reading and how is that influencing where your attention flows? Ditto for what you’re watching on TV. 

We live in a more stimulated age than ever existed in human history. Our brains are fizzing and popping 24/7 with rich information input. Our cup runneth over. 

It’s a mistake to pretend to yourself that this overwhelming firehose of mental stimulus isn’t real. It’s real and it’s here. If you’re serious about achieving big things, you need to put walls around your mental garden and think very carefully about what you’re letting in. 

Extraordinary prioritization is everything

The biggest challenge the average entrepreneur faces – in their day-to-day effort to manage their attention – is fundamental confusion about what actually matters. 

If you’re ready to construct your walled mental garden and severely limit the inputs your brain has to juggle… the next question is inevitable: 

What should I allow IN?

Highly successful entrepreneurs spend a tremendous amount of time and energy thinking about priorities. While others fiddle with schedules and color-coding categories of to-dos, high achievers ask themselves what matters more than everything else. 

You can’t have maniacal focus without maniacal prioritization. 

Thinking this way is uncomfortable for most people. Which is precisely why the vast majority are so bad at it. 

Maniacal prioritization requires you to abandon a tremendous number of areas of focus. Not just hobbies and interests, but aspects of your business and projects that don’t serve as much as other’s too. 

The 80/20 principle. The One Thing. These are all the fervent attempts of gurus and pundits who’ve seen the light – the magic of ruthless prioritization – and are trying to spread the good news. 

You have to genuinely pause and think, if you want to get this right.

The final piece of the puzzle is the value placed on solitude, rest and deep thought. Bill Gates famously takes an annual reading and thinking vacation, alone. 

Elite business performers the world over take time out to evaluate themselves, their performance, their priorities and the work/life environments they construct around themselves. 

Frantically operating in a state of perpetual busyness… is the opposite of good attention management. In this sense, managing your attention (instead of time) is a sort of applied mindfulness. 

It’s about taking the time to remove the noise, think clearly and decide what really matters. You can start on that right now by pausing and giving yourself time to think. 

Sales pitch: It works better when you have someone in your corner helping you do this. Our Executive Effectiveness Aides are specialists at facilitating precisely what we’re talking about here.