Attention is Your Currency — Spend it Wisely

It’s the one thing we’ve got.


Eve Arnold

3 years ago | 5 min read

Our attention. It’s the most valuable thing we’ve got.

Where we focus our thoughts and consequently, our time is massively important. It makes us who we are.

Every day we have somewhere between 16–18 hours of attention to give to the world. The rest we give unwillingly (or willingly) to our beds.

16–18 hours every day for an undisclosed amount of days, we never know when our time is up.

On that note, it’s perhaps important that we focus our attention on the things that bring us joy and spend a very little amount of time on the things that do not.

After all, as Audrey Hepburn said:

The most important thing is to enjoy your life, to be happy, it’s all that matters.

So it seems our only goal is to spend our time on the things that make us happy.

Why Attention is Important

The world is built to capture your attention. Bright colours, loud noises, bold text, increasing absurdity, anything to get your focus to shift.

It’s why TikTok videos are short and snappy — we generally tend to have a small attention span for video and so a platform that specialises in short videos was born.

It’s why McDonalds advertise, it’s why YouTube makes so much money, it’s the reason I’m writing this. It’s why Gary Vee makes videos.

All to get your attention — to win your attention, even just for a minute.

In the world we live in today, attention is the biggest money maker.

Anyone that can capture your attention for a period of time is winning, look at social media influencers. However, anyone that can capture your attention for a sustained period of time is really winning, look at Gary Vee’s fan base.

Attention means leverage.

Creating an audience means you’ve got a group of people who are engaged in the content. The engaged bit is important because if anyone is likely to buy anything, from anyone, it’s someone who is engaged or more powerfully, invested in the creator.

Attention is what everyone wants and everyone gives every single day.

Attention is the currency of the 21st century.

The world profits when you give you attention readily for sustained periods of time. Why do you think Netflix suggests more shows, why BBC iPlayer releases whole series, why YouTube gives you videos you might like.

It’s all a ploy to get you to stay there longer because if you stay, they make more money.

The world quite literally profits from you giving your attention so freely. But whilst every is vying for our attention, our job is to put our attention to the best use possible. It’s arguable your sole job to figure out what brings you joy and focus your attention there, for as long as you can.

The Happy Bucket

Every minute we spend on something we don’t enjoy or don’t like is a minute taken away from something we could be enjoying. It’s as if we start every day with a sand bucket of time. Every grain is a minute. At the start of the day we hold in our hands 960 grains of sand.

As we go through our day we are constantly pouring our sand into the two buckets right in front of us:

  • Bucket A — Labelled ‘the things that make us’
  • Bucket B — Labelled ‘the things that make us unhappy’

In an oversimplification of how we spend time, we pour our sand into each of these buckets throughout our day.

A cup of coffee means a few grains fall into the happy bucket. An hour spent reading a good book, 60 grains into the happy bucket. A good conversation, a tasty meal, a thought provoking documentary, grain by grain spills into the happy bucket.

Conversely, things often spill into the unhappy bucket. A conference call that has no purpose or enjoyment, 30 minutes into the unhappy bucket. A bad meal, a cold coffee (one that’s gone cold, not iced), an awkward conversation, some unfair feedback. They could all mean that your grains are falling into the unhappy bucket.

The simple objective is to have as much sand as possible in the happy bucket as possible. And to be aware that whatever doesn’t go in the happiness bucket ends up in the unhappiness bucket.

According to a Gallup poll in 2017, 15% of the workplace is engaged at work. 15%. Which means it is fairly likely that you don’t like your job.

Let’s take a conservative estimate and say that you like your job 15% of the time. Which then means 192 minutes go into the happy bucket, meanwhile, 408 minutes are getting poured into the unhappy bucket.

408 minutes of unhappy grains is the equivalent of 42.5% of your waking hours going straight into the unhappy bucket. That’s a lot of sand.

We Waste Our Grains

When we look at the way we spend our grains of sand (and it is quite an interesting exercise) we quickly realise how freely we drop grains of sand here, there, everywhere without a second thought.

  • 5 minutes spent scrolling social media.
  • 10 minutes flicking through some emails but replying to zero.
  • 25 minutes worrying about something that might not happen.

We spend a lot of time in between doing things. A good example of this is intending to sit down and write an article but ending up scrolling through someone’s Instagram that you barely know because they’ve just bought a new Range Rover. That is what we often call procrastination and that goes firmly in the unhappy bucket.

When you start looking at your time as if (and it is) a finite resource it becomes quite obvious where you have leaks that are spilling into the unhappy bucket.

We end up putting grain after grain into the unhappy bucket and concluding that tomorrow we must spend more time on putting grains in the happy bucket. And the cycle continues.

The Case for Being in the Happy Bucket

Look, without preaching too much, we really do have one life. There’s no confusion in that. Sometimes we forget how mortal we really are, we feel invincible, like life can’t touch us. But then that one thing happens that brings us back down to Earth, it always comes as a shock and it always gives us a profound sense of perspective, as if we couldn’t see before.

A lot of the time we get lost in the details of life. Paying the bills, turning up on time, making sure we deliver on the things we say would. But then, when something bad happens we find ourselves thinking:

“Why did I ever worry about that?”

Now ideally we shouldn’t need anything bad to happen to make us think in that way. That’s exactly the words Nick Butter used in his intro on the Rich Roll podcast.

He’s just got back from running a marathon in every country in the world. The reason he decided to take on this mammoth of a challenge was because of a friendship he built with a chap called Kevin. Kevin had just been given a terminal diagnosis for his prostate cancer and his story made Nick rethink where he was going in his life and what he was doing.

Kevin inspired Nick to put more grains in the happy bucket.

The Bottom Line

You don’t need a catastrophic life event to happen to allow you to start putting as many grains as possible in the happy bucket. You have one life (meaning singular) and it’s up to you how you spend it.

It would make most sense to pour as many grains as physically possible into your happy bucket.

Originally published on medium.


Created by

Eve Arnold







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