Master your attention, master your energy & time.

Manage your attention, not energy or time. Why attention is currency and what it means for our future. Attention is today’s currency, more valuable than and scarcer than gold.

Do you ever say a word over and over until it tastes different, feels new, or sounds slightly weird?

Over and over I repeated the phrase ‘pay attention’ in my head, turning it over and over breaking it apart until it’s fundamental meaning became clear.

Breaking them apart….

Pay. verb, to transfer compensation for value

Attention. noun, the act of directing the mind and senses to a stimulus

I flashed to grade school teachers firmly echoing ‘Pay attention!’. It always sounded like the two words were one. But when broken apart, I realized three fundamental truths:

  1. Attention is currency
  2. The world around us demands payment.
  3. We are all attention engineers.

If I remember my economics correctly, currency or money has six characteristics: durability, portability, acceptability, limited supply, divisibility and uniformity. Over the course of history humans have used everything from rocks, seashells, metal coins, and paper as currency. Historically, paper and coin ranked highest on all six points. However, our world has changed, money is no longer physical, consider Bitcoin and online banking. Moreover, we increasingly spend more money on intangible goods such as experiences and services whose utility is more about a feeling than a tangible asset.

Our attention possesses six characteristics making it the best proxy for value exchange and managing our time and energy.

  1. Attention is durable: while it may only last 5 seconds to 90 min, it does not disappear, it merely transfers focus.
  2. Attention is portable: Because it is a function of our senses, it is always with us, as innate as your consciousness. However if you are not careful it can be stolen.
  3. Attention is acceptable: We not only accept it, we clamor for people’s attention in any form. From the classroom to the boardroom we work to capture peoples focus and hold it. We are all attention engineers.
  4. Attention is in limited supply: Most importantly, attention is scarce, especially today when the demands on our attention outweigh our capacity. Attention is made scarce by the increasing number of things competing for it: phone, email, kids, boss, clients, parents, bill board on the side of the highway, that annoying pop up ad that keeps coming up, the commercial, the salesman, the employee hovering in your doorway. If it were easy to gain and hold someone’s attention we wouldn’t demand it so incessantly or get such a rush from it.
  5. Attention is divisible: it can be broken into segments, usually measured in units of time.
  6. Attention is uniform: is attention created equal? When measured in terms of time yes it is equal. My 30 seconds lasts as long as your 30 seconds, which is as long as Warren Buffet’s or Beyoncé’s. Similar to currency, a dollar is a dollar in everyone’s hands, however, the buying power of that dollar depends upon the market and the consumer’s choice. Similarly, the buying power of our attention varies dramatically according to our environment and choices.

Attention is the currency dominating the new economy. The value of your attention is directly and positively related to the amount of attention you have from others. This is the economics behind influencers; one tweet, one share, one mention from them is worth more because they are the wealthiest in the currency of attention. The more attention I have from others, the higher value of my attention. My 24 hours, my 30 seconds, my 60 mins become increasingly more valuable as the demand for them increases and the options of how to spend it create larger opportunity costs.

FOMO anyone?

If I PAY my attention to someone or something, I expect something in return, and I am fundamentally valuing it higher than any other alternative. I am spending my limited energy and time in the form for my attention. It is impossible for me to pay attention to two things at one time, just as I can’t pay for two things with the same dollar at the same time.

If attention is our currency, then I guarantee most problems will be solved by answering the following questions

  1. Where are you paying too much? Too little?
  2. Where can you reallocate to get more for what you pay?
  3. Are you paying yourself?
  4. Whose attention do you want?
  5. Whose attention should you refuse?
  6. Whose are you accepting?

Lastly, I hope you will take these lessons on managing your attention to heart.

  1. Be grateful when someone gives you theirs, reward it with value.
  2. Guard your attention first, when done properly your energy, time and money is better managed.
  3. When you do pay attention, make sure it is worth it.

Tactics to manage your attention

  1. Turn off all notifications. Reduce the noise and cut off the opportunity for your attention to be stolen.
  2. Schedule the priorities. Like a budget allocate your attention deliberately.
  3. Pay for premium ad-free services. It’s like a home security system, keeping the thiefs out.
  4. Choose opt-in entertainment. Such as podcasts or Netflix where you control the content coming in not a producer.