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Attention Is a Limited Resource

I rarely remember it, but I’d be a better writer if I did:

What we think about matters. Because attention is a limited resource.



Sometimes I remember it’s important to exert energy to reserve my attention and find inspiration to write. And sometimes I completely ignore it.

This is not another post on time management.  It’s about attention management. I believe there’s a difference.

I met my youngest brother in Salem to celebrate the imminent arrival of his third child (a girl, yes!) this past week. He just turned 34 which means I’m apparently now 42. We talked some politics and church dynamics and drank scotch. I wore my new Legend of Zelda t-shirt and felt very Portland hipster.

I didn’t remember until later, looking through old blog posts, that last year about this time, we’d discussed the effort required to preserve some boundaries and margin amidst life’s busyness and demands. I was lamenting over sushi and sake how it can all become too much. And now I’ve known for about a year now, the motivation to reserve my attention for what matters is truly all that matters. We agreed that doing what we should simply because we should leads to apathy and ultimately failure. Eventually, everything becomes a chore. But if we could know the result, all we’d get out of it–and what others would as well–we might have a huge advantage in maintaining that resolve for reserve.


Consistent baby steps are important for when passion wanes. And pushing for improvement can be a great motivator. But I’m consistently caught in the trap of believing I have to “keep up” with the news and current issues and discussion fodder on social media, not necessarily to have an opinion or comment, but to know about where people’s attention is. And that’s when the familiar lie creeps in:

What I have, what I’ve lived, who I am and what I write doesn’t matter one bit. 

I’m sure you know that thought. Most people do. We might tell ourselves we don’t have time or brain space to exert ourselves for writing. But we’re really listening to the old “not-good-enough” lie.

Sure, we all do what we really want to, and choosing not to default to Internet-forever should be a simple matter. Of course we’re aware that attention is limited and once it’s paid out to noisy feeds and information whiplash, it’s gone.

Or do we?


See what I’ve been thinking after another year freelance editing and trying to write is that even if I keep a tight grip on maintaining my focus, limited bandwidth isn’t the problem. Not really. I believe I, and many other talented, privileged people who’d like to contribute something meaningful and substantive to the world through their words, are taxing their attention and overloading their brains because they fear that age-old lie: You’re not enough.

Can you remember how many posts, status updates, pictures, memes, articles, youtube videos and other bits of cultural dirt you’ve engaged with in the last week?

How much attention did you give away?

Do procrastination or fear have anything to do with it?

I get distracted and end up paying attention to all the wrong things. There’s only so much. How will I learn?

Every week, I work with writers to help them write. And what do you suppose they all need most?

Thankfully, there’s something we can do. And all it takes is a little decision.


Imagine what could change in your life by this one decision.

What if all it took was deciding to preserve your attention for what truly matters?

What is worth paying your attention to?

You know.

What you pay attention to is what will define you, determines who you will become.

can choose. I can look at my opportunity through God’s eyes. Do everything for him, see the world and time and my life as he does: precious.

I can choose to respond. All I need is the desire, the want to. That’s enough. With Him, we’re always enough. All we need to do is believe it.

If you knew what was coming for you, wouldn’t you do this?

What will you decide? What will you become?

Will you reserve your attention for what truly matters this week?

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” – William Penn

For the Higher Purpose,


2 Responses to “Attention Is a Limited Resource”

  1. terripicone07 says:

    I agree that what we pay attention to defines us, and it’s a scary thought, too. Even scarier is what we pay attention to also determines who we will become. I think this is true because we are always growing, always changing no matter our age. But the positive to this is that if we pay attention to that which is important to us, we can be the person we’d like to become and the person we’d want to be remembered as.

  2. suzee branch says:

    really, mick, did you have to put those luscious flower pictures throughout this greatly useful and needed post? they completely distracted this montana girl who won’t see color for many more weeks! i have to confess (christianese) that i am convicted (more christianese). i committed the sin of lack of attention, yes full blown distraction and it’s ALL your fault. ha ha ha h hahhha ha hah.
    drooling over vegetation now,
    and with love
    and forgiveness :-)
    suzee B

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