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The more I study productivity and effectiveness, the more I have become convinced that it has led me to the secret of life. I believe that control, and specifically, control over your own attention, is the secret to peak productivity and to living a life of choice.

I call this “attention management,” and this belief has led me to the study of attention research, which is a hot field in psychology and neuroscience right now. And I’ve discovered that many people use many different words to describe the ability and the practice of controlling your attention. Following are just a few…

“Situational Awareness”

Military and first responders credit “situational awareness” with their ability to assess a set of circumstances and be thoughtfully proactive, rather than just jumping into the chaos and reacting to the first thing they see or hear.  This keeps them safe and allows them to best handle the situation.  This behavior is also quite useful in everyday circumstances that are not life-threatening.

Being in “Flow”

Business professionals and creatives often seek this condition.  It is described as the state of complete absorption in what one is currently doing, and is associated with peak performance and optimal learning.  It was first proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in his landmark book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

“In the Zone”

This is often described as relating to athletes: a presence of mind that allows brain and body to work in perfect sync; where movements are perfectly executed by muscle memory and training, rather than by conscious thought.


One is said to be “practicing meditation” when engaged in actively trying to empty the mind of all conscious thought.  Practicing meditation and eventually learning to achieve that state for longer and longer periods of time has recently been shown to have numerous benefits for mental and physical health, disposition, memory, brain function, and pain reduction, to name a few.

You may still think of meditation as “new age” or outside the mainstream, but it’s just another synonym for “controlling your attention” and the other terms described here, which all have very practical and beneficial purposes.


This is the term getting the most attention lately, and is actually even being referred to as a “science,” as in “the science of mindfulness,” although it is probably just a new tangent for attention research.

Mindfulness is the complete and undistracted focus on the experience one is having in the present moment; where past and future do not exist.

This may seem more relevant for your personal life in terms of the benefits it can bring to your relationships.  However, in 1968, famed management consultant Peter Drucker called mindfulness essentially the ability to successfully manage yourself, before you can successfully manage circumstances, situations, and other people — illustrating an essential use in business as well.

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All of these words have similar meanings, but I hope that seeing them described differently and as applied to different situations will help to further clarify “controlling your attention” and illustrate the many benefits it can bring, not only to your productivity, but to virtually every aspect of your life.

There is more content about attention management throughout this site and the concept is also the basis for my book, Personal Productivity Secrets.