Commentary, Innovation

Your Most Valuable Resource

08.02.12 | Comment?

Continuous Partial Attention is like trying to be a one man band. Marc Dobson does a good job on the one man band front.

Yesterday I saw a tweet from @CoachLeal stating “Your greatest resource is your time. – Brian Tracy” and I replied back “Actually, it’s your attention. Time is a poor proxy for attention.”

Since this is a longer than 140 character at a time concept, I decided to write a blog entry to delve into the topic a with more depth.

Time is inexorable and time is limited. That unto itself means that time is a valuable resource. That means that managing one’s time is critical to get the most out of the time we do have. Now, what does “the most” mean? That’s a head scratcher. How do you calculate a return on asset for your time investment?

It’s situational at best. If one is on vacation, one might measure the effectiveness of the time investment on the percentage of pleasurable moments experienced. If one is in a business meeting, one might measure the ROT (return on time) with the quality and impact of a decision resulting from the activity.

While time is limited and time is valuable and some ROT can be measured situationally, I find that the most scarce (and thus valuable) resource we possess is our attention.

In any given moment, one is likely to have multiple demands made upon one’s attention. As I sit here and write this, I’ve had email demands, text message demands, phone demands, in-person demands, and random internal demands evaluating if I should be responding to any of these stimuli balanced against the mental list of internal demands for attention, balanced against the time at hand. My experience is as the world becomes more connected and real-time, this demand to provide attention to multiple, competing inputs is increasing and that causes fatigue making it more likely for people to simply drop out to remove themselves from the constant bombardment one experiences.

A natural coping mechanism has emerged that I like to call continuous, partial attention. That’s where you are attention bandwidth slicing switching primary attention between the many things demanding one’s attention. For example, it’s not uncommon for me to be carrying on a conversation with my Spouse, “watching TV,” and handling an online task concurrently. Which raises the question, are any of these things being done well?

Several recent studies have indicated (Google them, I’m pressed for attention!) that multi-tasking – which is an external expression of continuous partial attention (CPA) – is not as effective or high quality as focused work on a single task. Since CPA is as much internal as external, I’m not sure that this holds true, but there is at least some commonality. That leads me to the “so what” portion of this post.

A change I’ve attempted (and mostly failed at thus far) is to simply select what I’m going to pay attention to in any particular moment and ignore the rest of the noise. What I’ve discovered (anecdotally since it’s hard to do this as a study on one’s self) is that I feel less stressed, that the quality of interaction or output of activity is higher quality, and that overall the quality of life improves when I have been successful at single, serial focus vs. CPA.

So what do you think? Is attention the most valuable resource? Any suggestions/successes/failures you have experienced? Share them if you like.

Comments are closed.