attention

Here’s the deal: we live in a strange, rapidly changing, hyper connected world which is making some of us intensely miserable in ways we don’t fully understand. 

Our ability to control our own attention is diminishing at an alarming rate.

Technical monoliths are making us feel exposed in ways people never used to have to worry about.

And our opportunities, while still limited, seem limitless in the face of everybody else’s success.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. We are sensationally adaptable creatures.

Brilliant people all over the world are constantly discovering fascinating things, many of which can inform our way forward through this jumbled mess.

Whenever it gets too much, remember that all you can ever be held accountable for is everything you do.

If the world outside is so overwhelming in scale and implication, how tiny our own short lives must be.

And if the prospect of being responsible for your every living breath is so overwhelming, how small and insignificant the rest of the world must be.

The world, and your roll in it, is neither too large or too small.

It just is.

Realise this and you might just do away with half the troubles our new world brings with it.

In 2014 a professor at the University of Melbourne published a study in which the computer sessions of 1249 students were analysed over a total of 3372 sessions.

Facebook was present in 44% of all sessions and accounted for the second most common task, totalling 9.2% of all task instances. Only being beaten by university work itself.

What’s interesting is that about 99% of the sessions involved instances of media multitasking.

For the purpose of the experiment they defined focussed behaviour as instances of 20 or more minutes with two or less different activities.

They discovered that students tended to multitask regardless of whether or not they used Facebook.

What was stunning is that when they compare the focussed behaviour between Facebook users and non-Facebook. Around a third of the non-Facebook users spent most of their time in focussed behaviour, compared to only one in nine Facebook users.

Further, Facebook was responsible for initiating multitasking behaviour at the cost of student’s focus.

While these results shouldn’t surprise anyone, they are a reminder that if Facebook is your vice of choice, maybe there are times where you want to restrict your access.

If you’re studying, maybe consider installing a website blocker to stop Facebook initiating distraction.

If it feels too good to be true, it’s too good to be real.

There’s always a catch and the grass is cut from the same roots.

But that’s okay.

It might not be as good as the person who’s trying to sell it to you says it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good.

Sometimes the things people tell you are life changing are just good enough to change the course of a day.

And a day changed for the better is not insignificant.

Not every deal which is too good to be real is a bad deal.

Just ensure you know what you’re giving away.

Here’s a few things I’m pretty convinced are true;

  1. There is a constant war being fought for the attention of our digital selves which is having dramatic adverse effects on people’s happiness, especially amongst digital natives who have never known a world without digital media;

  2. Activities practiced regularly which reward participants for consistent time investment over many years are essential to a meaningful life;

  3. The instant dopaminergic gratifications available through social media and the 24-hour news cycle are training us against investing time into activities which generate meaning over time;

  4. Therefore, it is necessary to reframe the benefits of investing time and energy into skills and activities which create meaning and value over time for those who don’t understand this intuitively.

I returned to my office three times today because of things I’d forgotten to do or take with me.

Not because I hadn’t considered the things, but because each time I left, I was thinking about what I needed to do after I’d left the office, and each time one of the things slipped my mind.

We each only have so much executive bandwidth with which to function.

I held myself up because I didn’t allow myself the focus to finish one task fully before trying to leap into the next.

Look closely and you’ll see people do this all the time.

Rushing from task to task without clear direction – often leaving chaos (and mess) in their tracks.

I try to catch myself when my mind races past the present, but it can be hard in a life so overflowing with distraction.

Be careful not to live too far into the future, lest you undermine your present.

No matter who you are, there is something you do better than at least 80% of people.

It might only be eating burritos or killing cockroaches, but there will be something.

Whether or not that thing is useful to other people tends to determine how much you earn, who looks up to you and the types of people who will surround themselves with you.

Professional burrito eaters aren’t as high in demand as accountants, but they exist (and they’re incredibly strange).

If you plan far enough ahead and work smart, you get to choose what your thing is.

To forge a career, all you need is 1000 people or more who are willing to pay for you to do your thing. Which, with the internet, is easier than it has ever been.

Choose something you love, and persist in mastering it.

You’ll thank yourself later.

Seth Godin makes a hugely insightful point in his riff on Theodore Levitt’s famous quarter-inch drill bit quote.

People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill bit. They want a quarter-inch hole.

Theodore Levitt, Harvard Marketing Professor

Godin argues that it’s not even the hole that people want.

It’s not the shelf they plan on installing on the brackets they’re going to drill into the hole.

What people want are the feelings they’re able to access now that they have the drill bit; the feeling of pride when they install the shelf by themselves, the gratification of pleasing their spouse, or the safety and security they might experience when then can put all their things on the shelf, and keep their space tidy and organised.

This is important for marketers to understand, but equally important for us to understand as consumers.

When we spend (be it our money or our time), what are the feelings we’re trading for?

Are we being capitalised upon?

Are we making decisions which will serve us over time?

That next Big Mac might feel incredible at the time, but it won’t an hour later. And if that feeling you purchased diminished so quickly, what will it’s value be in twenty years when your health catches up with you?

People are plagued by the fact that we always want, but don’t always know what we want.

Learning to want less, and more specifically is the trick.

Nobody wants a quarter-inch drill bit – but we all want to feel safe, healthy, respected and loved.

Receiving an unexpected call from a good friend is a delight; especially if they’re not calling because the need something.

Many of us have resorted to sending messages when we intend to have little conversations, because it’s quicker, easier and usually more convenient.

We shoot people messages to check-in, to organise, and to notify, because it’s a quick time save – if the person isn’t available in the moment you’re trying to contact them, it doesn’t matter.

By replacing dynamic conversation with text based alternative, we’re missing opportunites for connection.

For a week, try calling someone first every time you get the the urge to start a conversation which could be had over the phone by sending a message.

If they respond, great! After doing this repeatedly, see if you notice any difference in how connected you feel to your circles.

When people don’t respond, that’s okay too! Just send them the message you intended to send from the beginning.

I’m willing to bet that the extra 10 seconds invested listening to dial tones will reward you with immensley richer conversation.

I’ve been trying to spend less time aimlessly bouncing between social media apps while using my phone.

The problem I’ve had in the past is that every time I’ve tried to detox, I’ve relied on discipline to keep me from sliding back to subconscious scrolling.

There is one trick which I’ve implemented that has had a huge lasting impact;

Delete everything non-essential from your phone’s homepage.

And I mean everything.

Keep your calendar, important emergency contacts, and maps if you use it a lot.

The rest should remain buried beneath the search function of your phone.

By forcing yourself to use the search function on your phone to type in the name of the app you’re trying to open, you’re far more likely to be making conscious decisions about what you’re doing on your phone.

This seems counter intuitive at first. Why would you strip away functionality from your phone’s perfectly good user interface?

Aren’t I wasting time searching every time I need to use an app?

And it’s true. It takes an extra five seconds or so to open Instagram, every single time. But they aren’t wasted.

These five seconds act as a barrier which protects your attention.

Five seconds is enough time to consider what your purpose for opening an app is; is there a specific reason I’m doing this, or am I burning time while avoiding another task?

It’s a buffer, a tool to help you make active choices about how you spend your time.

If this sounds like too much hasstle, try installing a screentime tracker like Flipd.

I was resistant too. But after coming face to face with the time I spent across these apps each day, five seconds stopped sounding so bad.

Our attention is even more valuable than our time, and we trade it every day.

We live in an attention economy.

Businesses bid for it constantly. On billboards, backs of busses, and through buzzes in your pocket.

How frugal we are with our attention influences every aspect of our lives.

Where can you see your attention seeping through the gaps of things which don’t matter?

Good time management means nothing without good attention management.

Fail to focus your attention, and all that time you saved is waste.

Now’s the time to stocktake and trim the fat.