“May we have your attention, please?”

Hi there!

Earlier this week we brought you a small post on how to make your workplace atmosphere more collaborative. In line with that, today we wanted to talk about the importance of attention management and of starting to cultivate a quality of presence.

Nowadays we’re all amateur attention economists. We want to find time-effective ways to spare the attention we owe to those around us, and still have the awareness we need to ensure that we ourselves are getting the amount and type of attention we need and deserve to lead fulfilling and satisfactory lives.

Yet, as we enact this in our everyday routines, we often forget to ask ourselves what attention really is, how it should be used, how it can be transformed to fit different purposes and why mastering that can be beneficial.

Let’s take it from the top! The Latin root of the word attention literally meant “to stretch towards” – a good reminder that like at any other time, today attention continues to be a finite resource. There’s a limit to how much we can stretch towards something. Today it appears that dealing with attention is similar to dealing with a tradable asset, like oil or gold. In recent years specialists have started to talk about the world reaching “peak attention”, (by analogy to peak oil production), meaning a moment when there’s no more attention left to spend.

Considering this, it’s important to remember that a finite capacity for attention implies a serious decision on how to allocate it, and taking such a decision requires a good understanding of the fact that there are limits that will not and cannot change. Paying attention to too many things at once won’t mean we become better at being attentive. Perhaps it will only mean we’re turning one of our most important capacities into a mundane commodity.

Rather than allowing us to summon value out of thin air, making attention mundane can eventually lead us to chronically undervalue our time and our presence.

More than ever, it’s important to be reminded that attention comes in many forms. Thus our work or our studies, our friends, our families, our neighbours, our weekly shopping lists or our favourite hobbies should not need to compete for the same form of attention.

With relationships spread across the digital and off-line worlds, it now becomes vital to learn and decide on how to allocate different forms of attention, so that we don’t see our social lives regimented by things that are external to who we really are. In fact, learning how to allocate attention could be the key to avoid social saturation, and ultimately that is the best way to safeguard our perceptions of ourselves.