Thanks to Andy Broomfield for drawing my attention to this. Sums it up perfectly. Thanks to Jason Fried for wordifying this common experience.
Written by Jason Fried.
I recently realized that if I’m too busy to take something on, I shouldn’t say “I don’t have the time”. In fact, I often do have the time. It’s not that hard to squeeze in some extra time for someone.
What I don’t have — and what I can’t squeeze in — is more attention. Attention is a far more limited resource than time. So what I should say is “I don’t have the attention”. I may have 8 hours a day for work, but I probably have 4 hours a day for attention.
My mind fills up with a few key projects and that’s it. I’m absorbed by those. That’s where my attention is. Had I made 20 minutes here and there for him, I’m be physically present in that moment, but mentally I’d be elsewhere. And that’s not fair to either of us.
Time and attention aren’t the same thing. They aren’t even related.
The attention shift is too hard to do
I’m relating this idea to my own life, interests and activities. I’m thinking of how some things are easy to slide attention between and others are an enormous struggle.
The easy ones cluster together into closely related circles of attention. If my mind is working on one it can easily slide over to a related one. If they are close enough, I’m pulling on one to support and enrich the other all the time, without thinking about it.
The hard-to-do attention shifts come when there is no symbiosis. Then I need to exit the “attention mind set” I am working in and completely restart my attention. It takes time and mental energy. It also takes time and mental energy afterwards to get back to where I was.
Changing attention is a bit like changing clothes. It’s one thing to be invited out for an hour or so if you’re “all dressed up with no-where to go” – but quite another if you are in the middle of some home decorating with paint in your hair. There may be time for a well deserved break in pleasant surroundings but not if you’ll need to “scrub up” before you join everyone.
It’s the transition time that’s the biggest challenge, not the time you’ll spend on the actual break.
It’s the same thing with shifting attention. It’s not necessarily that I don’t have the time to do whatever-it- is. I just don’t have the time and energy to make the mental shift out of what I am doing and move over into that other “attention realm”.
This is a concept I want to help share. It makes such good sense. Thanks to Jason Fried for pointing out the difference between time and attention.
PS – “Attention economy” via Andrew Orford