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Thought Leadership 05 February 2019

We’re so data-rich, but are we also attention-poor?

Did you know that, of all the data that’s ever been created in the world, 90 percent of it was created in the last few years? Or that we conduct around five billion online searches every day? Or that, in one single internet minute, we collectively send 18 million texts, 187 million emails, and swipe left or right on more than a million Tinder profiles. That’s a lot of information our brains are engaged in processing over the course of a day. And the fact is that this is a bit of a mixed bag for humans to deal with.

Sure, it’s great that you can be in contact with your kids when they’re walking home from school, even as you head into a big-deal board meeting. And when your friend sends you a picture of her new born baby, mere minutes old and already a part of our digital world, it’s a beautiful moment that lightens up your pedestrian workday. Technology has given us the gift of leaving behind the divide between the ‘work’ us and the ‘home’ us and helping us all live one blended life.

The battle for our attention

But at the heart of a blended life is also a struggle. When we can be in touch with anyone we know (and millions of people we don’t) through our phones, our laptops, and our smart watches; when we can google the answer to any question we think of immediately; when we struggle to find time just to think our quiet thoughts when there’s so much going on in this chaotic, disrupted world, we must acknowledge that our attention has become something of a battleground.

Author and emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman recently said,

A wealth of information means poverty of attention.

That’s a sentiment which truly strikes a chord. We are so rich in terms of data consumed; we take endless photos, we’re in multiple busy chat groups, we listen to music and podcasts as we work. But while we revel in these riches, have we also become less able to focus on what’s most important to our own lives? Perhaps.

Be led by your goals

So what do we do about that? Well, we have to get intentional about where we spend our time and what we lavish our precious attention upon. Think about the biggest goal you’re working towards at work right now. Then think about how much time you spend on various activities: researching, mind-mapping, texting your friends, idly scrolling your social feeds through your lunch break. Which of these activities are supporting you reaching your goal, which are neutral, and which are actively detracting from your progress? That should help you to think about where you want to place your attention, in this world where we are bombarded by the equivalent of 174 newspapers’ worth of information each and every day.

If you decide to move towards a life goal, you can’t waste time every day making the same small decisions, over and over. Do I text her back? Should I just quickly check Instagram? Should I phone my manager or talk face to face? Constantly making these small choices, or worse, sleepwalking into them, is not going to lead you to where you want to me. By deciding to align what you do, and how you do it, to your overarching life goal, you’ll be able to cut out the noise from your life and focus on what’s really doing you good.

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