It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve traveled more than a day trip. During this time I’ve managed to keep a few days clear of outside meetings so I’ve been able to work from my home office. I live in a rural area down a long gravel driveway in a house that sits in the woods. It’s a very quiet, private place. Below is a picture out my office window.
During these few weeks and especially when I’m working at my house, I’m mostly cut off from the chaos that normally surrounds me. The difference in environment got me thinking about how it affects my attention. Thinking about attention got me thinking about focus and work and quality of results.
At some point it dawned on me…attention is a scarce resource. Each of us only has so much of it. Worse, we are normally surrounded by people trying to steal it. They demand we listen to them, look at their advertisements, absorb their messages. All without any conscious agreement on our part to give up our scarce resource for their needs at the expense of ours.
Being out in the world is being surrounded by the clutter of neverending attention grabbers…resource sinks. Our gadgets ping us continuously, advertisements reaching out everywhere, blaring televisions hanging off ceilings or mounted on walls, hoards of people surrounding us all loudly talking away. Have you noticed even when pumping gas you can’t get away from the little screen on top of the pump shouting at you to buy something?
Our valuable and finite attention is being stolen from us everywhere.
At my house it’s a different story. I can focus on writing this missive without interruption. I figure it takes me half the time as when I am somewhere others can interrupt. My head is my own since if there is sound it’s something I picked to support my activity. And often there is silence. Silence that allows my mind to wander unscripted and meditate on those things requiring deep thought, uninterrupted thought, focused thought. I am free to focus my attention where I want without it being dragged hither and yon without my agreement.
Some of you are no doubt thinking you’re in control of your attention, directing it where you wish and focusing it on things you pick. And yet, how many times an hour do you check your phone for email or texts? How often do you drop whatever you’re doing to instantly respond to something of minor importance? How often do you find your eyes wandering to that television playing just over the right shoulder of your lunch guest?
When this happens, how often do you find that you completely missed the last question or comment and have no idea how to respond? But you did see the beer commercial.