When students ask me which majors to pursue, my advice is usually: Err on the side of doing the hard things early. There is a steep decline in attention span for difficult study that comes with age, as well as some decrease in raw mental processing power, so it is wise to concentrate your most demanding studies in the early years. You could conceivably learn computer science or advanced statistical techniques in your thirties, but it’s unlikely. A major in, say, computer science opens up many future options and shuts off very few.
Herbert Simon wrote that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention” and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it. Since what is scarce is always what is valued, the ability to focus attention will be an increasingly difficult skill to maintain, and will also be what is valued by the market. It will not be a fun process for anyone, but attention span management will be crucial to your overall career strategy. Whenever you find yourself manically checking scores, or browsing social media photos, or engaging in five electronic conversations at once, remember that these activities are probably taxing your attention span, and harming your long-term ability to focus.
Attention span management in today’s world probably means: having your attention span decline slower than everyone else. Everyone is becoming somewhat manic and unfocused. We can debate why this is true, but a reasonable hypothesis is that one’s ability to focus is more easily harmed than helped, and so, over time, even those trying to protect their attention span will see it degrade as technology makes everything faster. Remember that scattered, distracted behavior will rarely get you paid; it is the ability to focus when others can’t that has value…
Want to read more? Check out my new book, Personal Organization for Degenerates!