About the author: David Quan, one of thirty recipients worldwide of a Cambridge Trust Scholarship, was one of our state’s top performing students, earning a near-perfect ATAR and International Baccalaureate (IB) score. An Order of Australia Association Student Citizenship Awards recipient, David has tutored, coached and mentored hundreds of Primary and Secondary students over the last half-decade, especially through his active volunteering and leadership roles for school, basketball, music, public speaking, social enterprise and community service.

Advanced Education SA
is pleased to partner with David before he commences his undergraduate studies at the world-renowned University of Cambridge. We hope that his fresh insights and perspective may offer all our students further inspiration to access excellence and advance their education. For private and group tuition enquiries, please visit our website at https://advancededucation.com.au/

Dear Time Management,

I don’t remember exactly when we first met. But I do remember how and why we met. You were introduced to me by my Primary School teachers, who insisted that I may have taken on too many co-curricular activities. You were just the right friend to guide me, they thought.

So, we met! On that first encounter – your charisma stood out. You were all about that vision, that ambition and that lifestyle. As an aspiring young boy seeking to achieve, to learn and to grow, I admired you for your ideals, your values and your standards.

You promised so much, and I trusted you with all my heart. After all, you were so popular! My role models – from all around the globe, throughout history – all seemed to have had a friendship with you. When I look back to that first moment and reflect upon our friendship, I can’t help but feel an enormous sense of gratitude. Despite all your friends, we’d communicated almost every day. I always looked forward to learning more about and from you.

However, my friend, for the past couple years, I’ve had to truthfully evaluate our friendship. I questioned all that you stood for; all that you promised. Believe me: for a long time, I thought it was all my fault. I definitely deserved some blame. But it wasn’t just me. It was you as well! This has led me to this painful yet necessary conclusion: let’s officially end our friendship now.

Why End this Friendship? You Vs. Your Cousin

1️⃣  You always promised me that planning my schedule in advance was the key to productivity. You made me determine exactly how much time I needed for a task and to stick to that plan. But do you remember that one time in Year 10 when I almost cried when I couldn’t finish that science report in time? More often than not, I became frustrated. Frustrated that I couldn’t finish that narrative, conversation or reading in the time that had been allocated. It made me feel guilty, like it was all my fault. It was anything but productive.

Meanwhile, your cousin Attention Management – who I met in late 2017 – is more understanding. She insists that it’s not the time that matters; the key to productivity nirvana is actually to prioritise the people and tasks that truly matter. She’s empathetic. She listens to my needs, goals and values. And she motivates me not using a rigid predetermined schedule, but rather through my intrinsic motivations. She asks personal questions like: “Why did you begin in the first place?”, “What are your visions?” or “Why is this important to you?” These serve to remind me of my values and purpose. Whereas you were unbending, she’s flexible – as long as I live in the moment by committing wholeheartedly to my task at hand.

2️⃣  You also forced me to eliminate distractions altogether; you made me analyse all the times that I ‘wasted’. Your intentions were reasonable, but they were truly difficult to live by. I could never fully enjoy my downtime when you were always around to remind me of that unfinished task. For example, it was impossible to simply enjoy some NBA highlights without subconsciously feeling unproductive. Don’t get me wrong. I loved spending time with you, but sometimes I just needed some time to myself. By your standards, and from your endless reminders, I was almost always a disappointment to myself.

Whereas you treated me like a robot, Attention Management appreciates my human needs. Sometimes, I just needed to be alone and unproductive. She’s OK with me laughing at some memes on a Friday afternoon, or getting lost watching the newest TikTok dances. In fact, she encourages it and believes that it can actually be healthy. She simply proposes that I learn to focus on what consumes my attention. Just be deliberate, she tells me. If I am on a break – or if I am working – she insists that I commit my full attention. That way, I get to work purposefully and can rest without guilt. Work hard, play hard! She understands that self-esteem is so crucial for productivity.

3️⃣  Of course, you were obsessed with output and productivity. But you failed to take into account the value of creativity and spontaneity. When I tried to write that creative piece for Art in Year 9, I realized that the inspiration had to come to me. I just couldn’t force it. Sometimes, I had to lower my attentional filters to let ‘random’ thoughts in. When you made me create that schedule in advance, I found it difficult to know how best to allocate the most appropriate time. Did I need an hour or two hours to complete that drawing? And if it was one and half hours, when would be the best time in the day for inspiration and creativity? Worse, that all became secondary when you so rigidly and unforivingly made me stick to that plan. I felt immensely pressured to come up with that idea. But I struggled. When I felt rushed and confined to that particular time period, creativity just wouldn’t come!

Your cousin Attention Management offers me an alternative though. She sits down with me to learn my preferences and then discusses possible strategies. She references authors like Dan Pink, whose research shows how our circadian rhythm can be useful to determine when we should work. As a morning person, I’ve learnt from her that I am actually most creative in the evenings – when I am most likely to do nonlinear thinking. So, I now save my routine and analytical tasks for the mornings, when I am most ‘myself’, and enable my creativity side to surface at a later time, when it is actually ready! Attention Management also recommends being more thoughtful – or strategic – about the timing of distractions. For example, why not save all the mindless social media scrolling for when I couldn’t be getting other things done, like waiting for public transport? You might argue that we end up spending the same amount of time on tasks, which is true! But the crucial difference is this: she focuses more on the order of tasks. Unlike you, she values adjustments and flexibility based on my personal habits, style and preferences.

Parting Words

In saying this, old friend, I write this letter as an acknowledgement that over the years, you’ve guided and motivated me. You’d introduced me to a new world of thinking, one that opens up all the widest possibilities. Because of you, I aimed higher. I took on more than what many – including myself – may have initially believed was possible. I did it with the absolute confidence that our friendship would empower me through any challenges. I wouldn’t be where I am today without you – and you have also helped many of my students. So, please accept my heartfelt thank you.

But you’re also deeply flawed. I only wish that you could’ve been more sympathetic, flexible and reasonable – like your cousin, Attention Management. Empathetic, thoughtful and caring, she has given me a new perspective on the real secret to success and productivity. Meanwhile, despite your ideals, you’d actually made life significantly more difficult and – ironically – unproductive. For my own sanity – for which, I hope you can appreciate – let’s end this friendship now.

There’s a possibility that as a naïve 19-year-old, I’m just unable to fully comprehend you. If that’s the case, then please do forgive me.

Perhaps one day – together with Attention Management – we can all sit together to talk through our biases and misconceptions. We can then mend our indifference, and actually appreciate each other’s real worth. We may even share more similarities than differences, or learn how we can best complement one another. That way, we can collaborate to serve and help people from around the world!

After all, isn’t that what motivates us?

But until then, old friend: goodbye, stay safe and take care!

David Quan