Making the most of your MTA (Money, Time & Attention)


Every day we’re issued an “MTA” ticket – a ticket that allows us to earn and spend three precious commodities: money, time and attention.

Everything we have – and everything we have to give to others – boils down to one or more of those ultimate resources.

How can we get (and also, provide others with) the best possible ride for our MTA ticket?

MTA - NYC subway station


Last year I looked at the “good problem to have” of having too much to do, time allocation being a recurring theme of this blog (e.g.. this post here… and this one here among others).  Now as I cycle back over last year’s posts, in this post (#15 out of 27) I’d like to take a stab at things from a slightly wider and more structured perspective.

The inspiration for this post comes from Thales Teixeira, Assistant Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, who was quoted in a recent New Yorker article as follows:

“There are three major fungible resources that we as individuals have. The first is money, the second is time, and the third is attention. Attention is the least explored.”

– Thales Teixeira

I’d add that, in addition to being the least explored, attention is the most real of those three resources.  Money and time are abstractions used to explain aspects of human reality. Attention is arguably, all by itself, human reality.

But never mind the philosophy. Let’s keep things practical and look at how each of those resources work for us:

Earn Money.

Like math, money is not a real thing but nevertheless is incredibly well understood, documented and learnable. In fact, when a superior understanding of money and mathematics are put together, the resulting combination can move mountains. Yes, actual mountains.

To be effective in most endeavors, we as individuals must have a basic facility with money. The following simple diagram provides a good starting point, whether you’re looking to earn for yourself or contribute to others:

Earn Money

It’s a simple diagram, but how well do you manage it?  Here are just a few of the questions you can ask yourself:

  • How can you improve the quality of your income, both actively and passively?
  • How can you maximize the quality of your purchasing power, both fixed and variable?
  • How can you best develop, invest and/or diversify your assets?
  • How can you best manage, reduce and/or leverage your debt?

Making money is easy… if that’s all you want to do.

In fact, I recommend that every person spend a chunk of their life focused primarily on making money. Those who know me may think this a strange statement coming from a guy whose message is often about being mindful, being grounded in reality and having sense of higher purpose, but, um, yeah… just go ahead and do it. Make money.

Feel what it’s like to be the off-the-boat immigrant with nothing but the shirt on your back.  See what’s it’s like to be the hyper-caffeinated Wall Street investment banker. Listen to the impatient voice of your inner entrepreneur. Walk in the shoes of Ecclesiastes or Siddhartha, who in their seeking of Ultimate Truth spent some years accumulating riches, appreciating the goodness of material existence and also facing squarely into its limitations.

As you devote yourself to concentrated efforts of financial gain, just be sure of three things:  Keep it legal, keep it ethical, and save up enough money to pay for all the therapist bills that will come later.

Pro-tip: Of all the ways to generate wealth, one of the surest strategies is to leverage time, especially other’s people’s time. Which brings us to the next resource:

Make Time.

There are innumerable ways of looking at and conceptualizing time.  Since this is a topic that I touch on a lot, for the purposes of this post I’m just going to focus on two simple aspects of time:  Quality and Duration.

My definition of “Quality” here will be based on whatever you choose to value. Good quality time means you’re getting what you value.  Poor quality time means you’re not getting it, or even worse, getting the opposite of what you value.  “Making time for yourself” implies an effort to experience quality time.

As for “Duration,” I’m referring to the standard units of time that we typically anticipate or reflect upon, e.g. minutes, mornings, evenings, days, nights, weekends, weeks, months, quarters, and so on. On the short end there are micro-moments, which may only last a fraction of a second. On the long end there is a lifetime, which is an accumulated impression of innumerable micro-moments, as well as a good number of days, decades, and life stages.

Here’s the graph:

Make Time

My current theory of Quality Time:  For any given person within a population, the quality of time that they experience has greater variability on the shorter and longer time frames. Some people are masters of making even the smallest moments (“micro-moments”) matter, whereas other fail miserably at those little moments.  The same is true over the long haul, the span of a lifetime — there is a great deal of variation in how effectively people anticipate and reflect on the “bigger picture” of their lives.  However, where people tend to average out in their experience of time is in that middle range of multiple years or decades.

The implication of this theory is that we have more to gain by getting better at how we think about the shorter and longer time spans, how we control our focus, how we detach from the things that don’t matter, how we apply ourselves to the things that do matter, etc. The other implication is not to sweat the mid-sized spans too much as they’ll tend to average out based on whatever milieu we happen to be in.  Also – and paradoxically – the less we worry about those mid-sized spans, the better they will tend to be.

I’ll have to come back to this idea at some point.  My time is currently being crunched by self-imposed deadline of getting this blog post done today.

Which brings us to the most real and yet most fleeting resource of them all…

Pay Attention.

If life is wave, then our material experience (aka, inputs/outputs of money) is the tip of that wave… and we surf that wave with varying degrees of success at different times. However the force driving that wave – the animal spirit driving all of our micro-moments and fleeting fortunes – is our attention.

This is how our attention is configured:

Pay Attention

Thales Teixeira and others are spending a tremendous amount of money, time and attention trying to figure out how to capture our attention in order to get us to spend our time and money on advertiser’s products.   They are working on elaborate theories to modify the environment that fills our ambient awareness, in order to direct our conscious focus and unconscious anchors.

In his HBS working paper, “The Rising Cost of Consumer Attention: Why You Should
Care, and What You Can Do about It,”  Teixeira advises marketers to modify their advertising approach based on the level of focus vs. distraction in a given audience.

He calls it the Attention‐contingent Advertising Strategy (ACAS) and provides the following diagram in his paper:

Teixeira-Attention‐contingent Advertising Strategy-ACAS

Seeing this makes me want to reverse-engineer it to provide us “consumers” a strategy for becoming something more than just “consumers,” i.e. to become individuals capable of enjoying meaningful experiences and becoming better “producers,” aka, life contributors.

What I’d like to do is turn Teixeira’s ACAS into a BCAS (Being Carefully Attentive Strategy), factoring in my earlier diagram and outlining strategies for its three areas of concern:  Where we put our conscious focus, what we allow into our ambient awareness (e.g. the environment and people we surround ourselves with), and how we direct our unconscious mind.

As an example, having now explored the Money-Time-Attention triad and having looked at a few simple sub-structures of those concepts, I’m going to park these musing into my unconscious mind so it can go to work on it at its own pace.  My conscious mind is closing all the open browser tabs I’ve got around these topics, making a mental note to re-read this post at some later date, and is moving on to my next task.

In other words, “to be continued.”

Advertisements

About danspira

My blog is at: http://danspira.com. My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on January 20, 2015, in Advertising, Analytics, Business, Career, Inspiration, Learning, Life, Positivity, Productivity, Psychology, Relationships, Talent and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply -- for humans only, no spambots

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: