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December 19, 2018
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January 16, 2019

Attention Spans

Photo by Ivan Obolensky

Suppose you were asked to handle 300 emails a day as part of a job. If there are twelve work-hours available, then you would have to spend 2.4 minutes on average to answer each email, if this was all that the job required— a rather unlikely scenario in today’s workplace where more is required at less cost.

Now, let’s throw in the following: according to the Pareto principle, 80% of a country’s wealth is held by 20% of the population. If this ratio is applied to the emails one receives, then only 20%—or roughly sixty emails of the 300—received are actually important.

Is this a valid percentage? From my experience, the ratio works across a broad spectrum of human activity. Given these numbers, how does one find those critical sixty?

One solution is to scan everything that comes in and spend as little time on the trivial as possible. Fail to handle what is important, and one could be rapidly unemployed.

Although this is but a simple example, it is still applicable. Similar pressures exist across the entire spectrum of work, social interaction, and general living in the connected world of today. Scanning traffic of all kinds has become a necessity. We must separate the wheat from the chaff while doing more with less.

How does this affect us? Are attention spans getting shorter? In spite of what you may have read, there is no scientific or medical evidence I have found that proves our attention spans have decreased. Really, that is the truth.

So… take a deep breath, you’re not getting stupider. Scan all you want, but be aware that it is not necessary to scan all that you receive. Can’t help it? It may be the threat factor of overlooking something vital rather than your attention span that requires that you scan everything.

My advice: learn to shift gears.

Don’t deny yourself the pleasure of actual reading. Remember how much you used to love it?


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