Hard work isn’t enough: It’s time to pay attention

Keeping up – or catching up – with the tools, concepts and skills of the digital age takes a lot of hard work.

Or is it simply a matter of attention?

The work ethic that powered the Industrial Revolution is giving way to an attention ethic in the Information Age, according to a recent piece by Mike Elgin.

In a world in which entire industries bet their businesses on gaining access to our attention, which value leads to better personal success: hard work or the ability to control attention?

Elgin suggests that a person who works six hours a day with total focus on the tasks at hand has an “enormous advantage” over a 12-hour-per-day workaholic who keeps up with every email, Facebook and Twitter (and never misses an opportunity to discuss last night’s episode of Lost).

It’s true. Having moved from a busy newsroom to a home office (most days) or small startup office (some days), I have seen first-hand the change in my productivity – and my attention. I used to spend several 9- or 10-hour days a week at the newspaper and wonder at the end of the day what I had to show for it. A lot of meetings and email but not nearly enough projects launched or ideas hatched.

You can remove those distactions (as I have) but you’re still not out of the woods yet. Twitter, Digg, Facebook, StumbleUpon and all the other digital tarpits are now more of a pull than before (when a boss or colleague could walk up behind me).

But the bottom line is that news organizations are not alone in this shift from a work ethic to an attention ethic. All companies, all industries, all connected people are fighting the same battle.

“It’s time we upgraded our work ethic for the age we’re living in, not our grandparents’ age,” Elgin wrote. “Hard work is still a virtue, but now takes a distant second place to the new determinant of success or failure in the age of Internet distractions: Control of attention.”

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