The Attention Economy

Are you paying attention? Yes, you are. It’s a bit of a trick question really, as the answer is always yes. Everything we do requires attention. There is no way to NOT spend attention (sleep and meditation excluded). Some activities require lots of attention. Some require very little. A long day at work certainly is more attention expensive than a day on the beach. But everything we do draws on our reserve of attention. A better question is, perhaps, “What are you paying attention to?” Although, even that is not complete. It needs to be qualified with something. How about,“What are you paying attention for?” We pay attention to and for. Whatever we are paying attention to may not be giving us what we want to pay for. But it ought to.


Let’s think of attention like a bank account or a wallet of cash. You start the day with the account at its fullest. (I won’t say full, because a poor night's sleep or illness can reduce your starting “budget” before you’ve even started your day.) As we go about our daily routine, we spend our attention on whatever it is we are engaged in doing. At a certain point, we’ve spent our reserve of attention and we start to feel fatigued, unfocused and/or disinterested. You are now attention broke.

Spending our attention is neither good nor bad, it’s simply the cost of doing business. What can make a serious impact on our quality of life is scrutinizing our spending habits and bringing intention to what we are paying attention for. Just like a financial advisor would recommend to someone who was struggling to make ends meet, we need to take stock of our resources. What sources of “income” do we have? Are we getting a good value on our purchase? Are we spending more than we have to? Are we paying for something we don’t need? What are you receiving in return for your attention? Again, no good or bad outcomes here. But it does make your consider whether you are paying attention for something that is truly valuable, or if it’s simply an impulse purchase.


Getting a good night's sleep is about the best thing you can do for your body and that includes replenishing your attention account. Spend a little attention while you’re awake to maximize the benefit of getting a good sleep.

  • Limit use of caffeine and other stimulants.

  • Exercise regularly (we recommend yoga from!)

  • Limit screen time before bed / use a blue light blocker.

  • Practice yoga nidra.


Meditation can also help top up your tank when you are feeling like you are running low. The following audio meditation albums are ideal.


“What are we paying attention for?” Qualifying the value of your activities can help you decide what activities you want to “invest” your attention in. Especially if you find you are often fatigued and unfocused before you’ve accomplished everything you would like to. A highly stimulating activity is generally a “cheap” buy. It’s easy to pay attention to! Think mobile games, silly youtube videos, pop magazines etc… It doesn’t require much attention but is engaging and distracting. What is the return on this investment? Well, you temporarily felt engaged and distracted. Alternatively, a tedious but important task (think taxes or brushing your teeth) is the opposite. It is not stimulating, but provides tangible value. Try listing the activities you are likely to engage in on a day to day basis and give them a value using this index.

Making An Attention Budget

Making an attention budget is a fantastic way to help you get a sense of where your attention is best spent. Using the index from above, we can easily determine what activities are the best investments for us.

  • High Value / High Stimulation - You want to do these things and they are valuable. Great!

  • High Value / Low Stimulation - Important stuff, but difficult to get motivated. Focus here.

  • Low Value / High Stimulation - Oh so tempting, but easy to over do!

  • Low Value / Low Stimulation - Nope. Just nope.


By breaking down our activities into these categories, we can get a better sense of what we would prefer to spend our limited attention on. You may be spending your budget on LV/HS activities when you would prefer to invest that attention on something more important to you. But just like money, when it’s spent, it’s spent!

Spending Wisely

So now that we have an idea of what we would like to spend our attention on, it is worth examining some techniques to help us during those activities.


Multitasking might seem like an ideal solution to maximize the bang for our attention buck; however, multitasking spends our attention at a much faster rate, as we are sustaining multiple streams of attention simultaneously. This is why heavy multitasking feel particularly draining. You may have put in the same number of clock hours of work… but if you are juggling 3 tasks simultaneously, you spend much more attention during the same period of time. We also know that the quality of our attention is not the same when we are multitasking… Multitask only when you absolutely have to.

Time Limits

Putting a time limit on an activity is an excellent way to manage attention. If you know a project is going to take up a lot of time and attention, it can be difficult to start knowing you have a long slog ahead. Setting a timer and committing to working on it just for half an hour makes the buy in for our attention much more reasonable and manageable. Check out the Pomodoro Technique as a launching point for using time limits to improve your workflow.

Similarly, if we are going to indulge in a LV/HS activity, setting a timer will ensure we don’t end up binging half a season of something on Netflix when we meant to just take a brief break.

Quiet Time

When you have the opportunity, turn off your mobile devices/notifications! Our devices are meticulously designed to capture as much of our attention as they can. (Means more advertising can be sold, and more personal data collected). If you are already focused on something and you hear a text notification, your attention is immediately split and a portion of your attention is now wrapped up in remembering you have a text to respond to. Repeat this scenario over and over and you end up with a low level attention split almost continuously.

Ask an Expert

Gathering information about a complicated topic can be very time and attention consuming. Before you sink hours of time into research, ask someone knowledgeable first! They may have already invested the time and attention and can share the information with you.

Make a List

Whether you’re going grocery shopping, heading to a busy part of town or just going online, a list can help you stay focused on the important tasks and prevent you from getting distracted.

Living Within Your Means

No matter how well you spend your attention, there is only so much to spend. If you have tried implementing the techniques above and you are still attention broke, there may be simply too much on your plate to sustain. Live within your means! Consistently overspending attention is a sure road to burnout and major dissatisfaction. If you have any tips or techniques you’d like to share with the community, leave them in the comments below. Thank you for paying attention!