Where is Your Attention?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I spend my time and what I give my attention to. It’s no secret that advertisements, news headlines, social media, and our phones take up quite a bit (if not all) of our attention these days. I recently read an article by Nick Maggiulli that I think is worth sharing for our post this week. In his article, “Do I Have Your Attention Now?” he does a great job of breaking down how we spend our minutes each week, and provides a timely reminder that your attention allocation can be just as important (if not more important) than your asset allocation. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Every week you have roughly 10,000 minutes to live your life. If those 10,000 minutes represent 100% of your week, then each minute is 1 basis point (i.e. 0.01% of your week). Therefore, if you sleep 6-8 hours a night, that’s 25%-33% of your week gone to rest. If you meditate for 15 minutes a day (~100 minutes a week), that’s 1% of your week for mental health. If you work out for 30 minutes a day, that’s another 2% of your week, and so forth.
I came up with this framework a few years ago when discussing why time is your most important asset. But looking back now, I wish I had come to a more specific realization—it’s not just your time that matters, but your attention. As the great Stoic philosopher Seneca once said:
Life is long if you know how to use it.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I have started to analyze where my attention is going on a daily basis. And no matter how I look at it, my attention has been hijacked. Whether it’s reading sensationalized articles in my newsfeed, going on dates in NYC, or responding to people on social media, I spend way too much time on things that are mostly entertainment.
Of course, this time isn’t always wasted. Some of those articles inspire blog posts, some of those dates become partners, and some of those people on social media become friends. However, the amount of time that I spend on each category is far more than what I would like to be spending.
The funny part about this is that I’m quite disciplined. After all I’ve managed to write a blog post every single week for 280 weeks in a row, yet I can’t stop myself from going down YouTube rabbit holes or from checking my social media accounts a few times every hour.
While there is nothing wrong with this, it makes me feel like I’ve wasted so much time. After all, how much time have I spent passively consuming social media? How much time have I spent trying to make friendships work? Trying to make relationships work? How much time have I spent chasing other peoples’ attention instead of respecting my own?
It reminds me of the opening lines to the Metallica song Frantic:
If I could have my wasted days back
Would I use them to get back on track?
But I’m not wasting time anymore. Because I’ve started to notice how some other people guard their attention and it’s had a profound impact on me.
For example, Marc Andreessen has been known to block thousands of people on Twitter so that he doesn’t have to see opposing ideas in his newsfeed. He won’t even let his attention stray from his core beliefs for a fraction of a second.
And in his real life he is even more strict. As this New Yorker profile detailed:
When he feels disrespected, Marc can cut you out of his life like a cancer.
Though Andreessen’s actions are extreme, I understand why. He realizes that attention is the last frontier, the last thing we have to ourselves. So, he does everything he can to protect it.
I saw a similar transformation happen with Josh Brown in 2020. He stopped saying “Yes” to every opportunity that came his way and started doubling-down on the things that mattered to him.
While I’m not Marc Andreessen nor Josh Brown, their message is clear—protect your attention at all costs. Because if you don’t, someone else will happily take it from you. That someone else could be a corporation, a social media influencer, or someone in your personal life. Whoever it is, watch who and what you give your attention to.
Because every day your attention is getting more valuable. Every day companies are getting better at monetizing it and every day you are getting a little bit older (meaning you have less total attention to spend than the day before).
In fact, there is a war going on for your attention. It’s a war that has been waged for decades and it’s only getting worse. For example, it’s been estimated that the average person encounters over 5,000 advertisements per day, up from just a few hundred per day in the 1970s.
While I’m skeptical of the accuracy of these figures, the trend is spot on. Today there are more people fighting for your attention then ever before. This is why you have to be mindful of it if you want to make progress in your life.
If you don’t believe me, consider what the authors of The One Thing argued about what makes successful people successful. Their answer came down to a single factor—focus. It’s all about how you spend your time.
You might not think this has anything to do with investing, but it has everything to do with investing. How you invest your time is far more important than how you invest your portfolio. In other words, asset allocation matters, but attention allocation matters far more.
So how will you invest yours? Will your attention be scattered in every direction? Or will you have laser-like focus on your goals? The choice is yours. Because if you don’t make it, someone else will make it for you.
Do you I have your attention now?