fail safe

A long time ago, I had most of my attention. I could spend it on work, on friends and family, on a sunset after a perfect day at a beautiful beach, on what I want to do, on myself. When it came time to produce an application, work with a client or take a class I could rest assured I had enough attention in the bank to cover it.

Back in those pre-Internet days, I had control over my attention spending without even thinking about it. Yes, I’d watch a few shows (Miami Vice was great), but I could count who and what had dibs on my attention account easily.

Then the Internet happened.

It started oh so slowly – oh look, someone has sent me an email, cool! Then the World Wide Web and one page of What’s New on Netscape’s Home Page. I remember thinking in a very nice hotel in Sydney wouldn’t it be great if they had a “Web Site” and wouldn’t it be even better if people could post their opinions about hotels they had stayed in on the World Wide Web. Then things started to move faster.

And faster.

And still faster.

And now I whirl around, connecting via email, skype, twitter, blogging, social networks, IM, forums to more people than I can possibly remember. [one minute while I check email-done,where was I?] Getting more news about things I can possibly read – and more news about things I really care about than I can possibly read. [another email - sorry.]

And when I actually have time to work, what is most of what I do now? I go find information on the net – ten, a hundred, ten thousand fire hoses of information all at my beck and call, all taking their little debit of my attention. So much so, I have to use a search engine to search my bookmarks for sites I have already found because I can’t remember them all, or find the one site I remember bookmarking amongst all the other bookmarked sites. More of my attention lost.

I could go on writing a paragraph on each of the ways my attention is being debited now, but just the nouns will do: email, voicemail, podcasts. Spam. 500 channel TV, 50,000 channel Internet TV, 50 million channel youtube and youtube wannabe TV. Spam. Utterly unimportant important updates, upgrades, notifications, security fixes, patches. Spam.

My attention is being split, nibbled, multitasked, frittered away, seduced and outright stolen from me every day, all day long. Most of my time and most of my energy goes into making ten thousand decisions a day about what and who is going to get or not get my attention. The results?

“Making choices led to reduced self-control (i.e., less physical stamina, task persistence in the face of failure, more procrastination, and less quality and quantity of arithmetic calculations)” Thats from a study by Dr. Kathleen Vohs at the University of Minnesota.

Sound like anyone you know?

Want to know why “Web 2.0″ apps are cool? Fewer decisions hurt your head less.

At this point in my posts I like to write a few bullet point suggestions as to how to solve the problem I just talked about. No can do today. I don’t know what the solution is – only I had better put it at the top of my to do, agenda and Getting Things Done process.

I do know this – constantly deciding over and over and over what now is going to get my attention is draining my productivity as surely as thousand little cuts would drain my blood. And it’s just as serious.

And it’s not just me. Every single person I know offline and on, every blogger, every podcaster, every programmer, every manager, every executive is bleeding out there productivity through a thousand cuts of their attention. We laugh about it, joke about it, try a million productivity hacks and techniques and we are still bleeding out.

Back in the last century, there was this great black and white movie called Fail Safe. A six buck part in a roomsize computer burns out and a Strategic Air Command wing of bombers nuke Moscow. (Me bad, we’d say now). The U.S. President sees only one way to avert all out nuclear war – nuke New York to balance the scales. All because a little computer part burned out and sent a command out for those planes to fly past their fail safe point – their point of no return.

We are so far past our fail safe point of attention it’s not even close to funny.

Bob Walsh sells MasterList Professional, a Windows task management application and writes, codes, podcasts and blogs about different aspects of the digital lifestyle at ToDoOrElse, MyMicroISV and Clear Blogging. His second book, Clear Blogging, is now available at Amazon and elsewhere.

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