The most valuable thing you have is your attention

I can’t be alone in having more time in the day than I have brainpower to do things. Even as productive as I am, there are vast swathes of time (like the last two hours!) when I could have been reading or writing or blogging or, I don’t know, pursuing the hobby that I don’t have. But I don’t. And that’s okay, because I don’t think it’s possible to use every moment productively.

In my opinion, the most valuable resource that you have, as a human being, is your attention. There was an article recently about how tech billionaires will over time adopt a standard wardrobe because they don’t want to waste time on deciding what to wear. The article was more terrible Silicon Valley hagiography, but I agree with the central point. It’s important to not waste your attention.

For instance, when I start a revision it always takes me several days to get out ‘create new work’ mode and into ‘revise this book mode.’ Once I’m firmly seated in ‘revise this book’ mode I end up thinking about it all the time: solutions will even come to me as I fall asleep or walk around my block. But until I get into revision mode, I find the task of revising to be almost impossible: the problems in the manuscript simply seem to be too insoluble. And as a result I often find myself dwelling in the land of ‘create new work’ because there’s something about creating new work that, to me, just feels inherently full of promise.

This latest time I had to devote considerable mental effort to putting myself on track, but then I immediately found my attention wavering. The problem was that I’ve recently been re-reading some old ‘How To Write’ books. And one of the ones I picked up was Donald Maass’ How To Write A Breakout Novel. But even though it was quite interesting, I forced myself to put it down, because in the course of reading it I was continually coming up with novel ideas, and that’s not where I needed my head to be at right now–I needed to be focused on this revision.