We live in an economy that monetizes our attention. Businesses will capture as much of our focus as possible. The economic value of many things lies in the ability to retain consumer focus. It hasn’t always been this way – for a long time, our attention wasn’t so hard to grab. Today, every digital channel and street corner is saturated with content to grab your focus. Make no mistake – your attention is the prize every company is chasing.
The Attention Economy
The Attention Economy is what we call the current economic climate in which companies desire to capture more of a customer’s focus. For decades now businesses have understood the value of advertising and brand building. This is nothing new. Today, though, capturing a customer’s attention, and keeping that attention, is more difficult than ever before. On the internet, we are bombarded with content and advertisements at every turn. Anyone can be a creator, and at times it seems as though everyone wants us to pay attention. An entire economy has developed around the ability to grab your attention and hold it as long as possible.
How Does The Brain Focus
It is human nature to struggle to turn off our minds and devote our attention to important things. Consider how the brain is wired: The frontal lobe of the brain controls our focus. More specifically, according to research from McGill University, attention is controlled by “a complex of neurons in the lateral prefrontal cortex of the brain, an area involved in many aspects of executive behavioral control, including selective attention, strategic behavioral planning, short-term information retention and action selection.” These neurons act as a filter for the noise around us. That is, your brain is trying to filter through all of the advertisements and content that is screaming for your attention.
There are a lot of advantages to gaining information at the high volume we can today. But when our attention is constantly demanded, we get Decision Fatigue and burnout. Our brains become tired of filtering, sorting, and structuring data. It literally takes real energy and eventually, we run out of steam. Our brain starts throwing out more and more while focusing on less and less. Eventually, we burn out and make mistakes, poor decisions, or simply numb out on Netflix or the news. We give in to the demands of everyone around us. They win, and you lose that ability to be effective. You scroll social media, binge Netflix, and go down the YouTub rabbit hole. None of those are valuable to you, personally, but are very valuable to those who want to sell you things.
How do we operate in an Attention Economy?
The answer: structure your personal environment with boundaries to protect your focus and attention. This is significant for those who work remotely and those who work from home. It will become increasingly important that you have specific environments and processes in place to help complete work tasks. When you optimize the environment in which you work, then the work itself becomes more effective and takes less energy to accomplish. Reducing distractions allows you to put all of your mind and energy towards your work instead of towards trying to focus.
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Establish Work Boundaries
Develop a quiet space
According to a recent survey, 65% of creative people need quiet to do their best work. It’s critical that you develop quiet spaces in your work rhythm to accomplish focused tasks. Find a room or spot within a room that is dedicated to working. This should be free from outside sounds, preferably has a door, and has sound masking capabilities. Quiet doesn’t simply mean auditory noise. Your workspace should be visually quiet as well, free from distractions that demand attention like TV or anything that bothers you. Are you distracted by a cluttered room? Don’t work near one. Are you drawn towards cleaning a dirty kitchen? Be sure it’s not in view while you work. You don’t always need to isolate in your work, but the goal is to intentionally control your focus. It’s good to interact with others and experience new environments, but do this on your terms instead of having your attention stollen.
Define what keeps you focused
Set aside time to understand your work rhythm. Whether that means working in silence or maybe playing music in the background. If you play music, you may be more productive with a specific genre. There was once a study in which researches played heavy metal music loudly while mice tried to move through a maze. None of the mice completed the maze. Instead, they ended up killing each other. Heavy metal music might not be the right option as music has the ability to change your mood. Try energetic beats to conquer that afternoon slump or some smooth jazz for focused evening work. Here are a few albums we think make the perfect soundtrack for work.
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Understand Your Current Rhythm
Developing a great work rhythm starts with understanding your current process (or lack of process). For two or three typical days, use a notebook or app to track your time and tasks. Get some data on how and what you’re doing. With this data in hand, take stock of your work rhythms and give yourself honest feedback. Even better, walk through your schedule with a trusted colleague or your assistant. Have them help you block out your day.
It’s important to take breaks throughout your workday. Get coffee, get a snack, eat lunch. Set a timer on your phone and once the alarm goes off- get back to work. Focus is like a muscle in that you can train it to become stronger but it will get fatigued. It is speculated that many high powered CEO’s make horrible decisions in their personal life because their work drains all of their decision making energy. Taking a break at work prevents decision fatigue, increases energy, and restores motivation.
Work in Sprints
It’s important to be fully present so you can accomplish tasks effectively. To do this, create dedicated sprints of time to complete tasks. Some are more productive in the morning while others may enjoy the afternoon or evening. When you figure out which part of the day is easier for your focus, add dedicated “Work Block” times to your calendar for uninterrupted sessions. Establish and list out what specific tasks you need to complete during that block. It is best to keep these times consistent throughout the week, for example, if you work best in the mornings, block off time from 8:30 am – 10:30 am to complete a specific task. A common mistake is to sit down for a block of work and spend too much time thinking about what you should work on instead of actually doing work. With your sprints and tasks planned, you can reserve energy and time for getting valuable things accomplished.
Success Requires Balance
Developing boundaries is an essential part of operating in this new Attention Economy. Work boundaries are not the only key to your success, though. Going too far down the road of optimization will bring nothing but misery. The goal isn’t to hack your schedule and find yourself with a full agenda, but rather to open up your schedule to elicit more time for important and meaningful work. Anyone can squeeze more work in if they try – you’ll end up with our original problem of fatigue and frustration. The real magic is being more efficient and effective with the right work so you can boost your confidence while taking much-needed breaks.