How To Audit Your Attention
Gary Vaynerchuk is big on attention.
He often speaks about attention from the business standpoint. How businesses are built around the attention of consumers.
And he’s absolutely right.
But this post isn’t about the business side of attention. I’m going to change it up for this post and talk about why being self aware of how you spend your attention can have a huge impact on your life.
Perhaps one of the biggest impacts of anything.
Attention: Our Most Important Asset
Right now, you’re most important asset is your attention. But we don’t often realize it. We don’t realize how much control we have over it.
Some might say that businesses and marketers are hijacking attention. The smartphone is an example and all the apps available on a smartphone.
And maybe you believe that marketers hijack attention. Facebook, for example, has been very successful at getting people to pay attention while using the app.
But it’s always been something. Before the smartphone it was the Internet on personal computers. I remember back in the early 2000s that my friends and I would get home from school only to browse the Internet and chat on AIM for hours on a dialup connection.
Before that it was TV. If you’ve ever seen an episode of That’s ’70s Show you know that many scenes saw the gang sitting on a couch watching TV for hours. And that was back when there were only three channels to watch.
Our attention has always been hijacked, but only because we allow it to be. We have the control to determine the best ways to spend our attention. We have the power to make changes if we recognize that changes need to be made.
For example, maybe you realize that you’ve been angry lately. The news, specifically politics, is making you angry. Well guess what…you’re allowing politics to consume a portion of your attention. Probably a large portion.
If you decide that is okay. Then there is no issue. There is no right or wrong. But if you decide that your mood is affecting your life negatively then you’re certainly capable of changing.
Here are a few tips for auditing your attention…
#1. Track Regular Activity
This takes a little effort. Intentional effort.
Take account of your day. For an entire week. Seven days of tracking how you spend every minute. Or maybe break it down into 15 or 30 minute segments.
In every minute your attention is on something.
TV, smartphone, conversation, driving, making a meal, meetings, etc.
Think of what the iPhone is doing now by telling you how you spend your screen time.
You’re taking a screen time assessment of your entire life. Everything you give your attention to.
It’s work, but without doing this you won’t gain the information you need to be self aware of your attention.
#2. Identify Issues
In this sense it’s an issue in your life.
Maybe a relation has suffered recently. Maybe your work quality has been dropping. Maybe your mood has been more negative than normal.
Just something you identify that’s an issue. Something you want to change, but aren’t sure why it’s an issue or how you can change.
Knowing the issues is a big step toward self awareness.
You’re not blaming anything yet. You’re just identifying the issue. The next step is looking for the cause.
#3. Identify Triggers
A trigger in this case would be something you’re giving your attention to that is likely causing the issues in your life.
A common one today is phubbing. Looking at your phone when you’re in the middle of an interaction with someone. You’ve probably experienced it and done it yourself. It can hurt relationships and make the other person feel like you don’t appreciate them.
Our brains are wired to want dopamine and phones are designed to give us hits of dopamine. If we’re not getting it from people or work or whatever, we get it from our phones. It’s a very reliable source.
Again, it’s not right or wrong. It’s just something to be aware of if there are issues.
#4. What You Want
Think about what you want. What you want from relationships, work, life, etc. The more you understand what you want the more control you can take of your triggers and attention.
If you want to do better at work it’s easier to decide that looking at specific websites or social media aren’t as important. They’re not important if you should be spending your attention on something else that gets you to your what.
That might be one of the biggest struggles people have. Their what. They don’t know what they want so they just float through life spending their attention on whatever is easiest and can’t figure out why they’re not happy or getting anywhere.
It’s as easy as that.
About two years ago I stopped looking at the news. It was a realization that I was spending attention on news. I was triggered to do it by boredom and curiosity. I didn’t have time for specific work items. It was making me angry. I recognized that work was something I wanted.
After considering all those things the change was easy. Delete news apps on my phone. Stop visiting news sites on my computer. Turn off the news on TV.
Was it a quick change? Pretty quick. I slipped up, but the understanding of what made it easier to change.
If you think your life is fine there is no need to change your attention. But just understand that you have control. Smartphones are only hijacking your attention because you’re allowing them to. It’s always been that way. Don’t give away your power to change to anything or anyone.