The Art of Conversations: Attention Units & the Conversation Circle



Consider the following two situations:

Situation 1

Your friend calls you on a Tuesday and says, “Hey, let’s go for this movie on Saturday.”
Your reply, “I also wanted to watch that film. Sure let’s do that. I’ll be there on Saturday.”

Situation 2

Your friend calls you on a Tuesday and says, “Hey, I am going for shopping this Saturday. Come with me please, I need some help, plus it’ll be fun.”
Let’s say you don’t want to go for your friend’s shopping extravaganza, or you don’t want to go with this particular person, but don’t want to say No either. So what do you do?
You tell your friend, “Hey that sounds interesting, the thing is, work may come up on Saturday. Let me confirm it to you in a few days.”


On a typical day, it is pretty much established that we all have 24 hours. The question is are these 24 hours the same for all or is there any other governing factor? Put another way, in a day, is there any other resource, apart from time, that defines what we do in life?

Well, it seems there is.

Resource 1

Time Units: These are the 24 hours or 1440 minutes which we all have in a day. This is fixed for all.

Resource 2

Attention Units: These are the different areas towards which you put your attention during those 1440 minutes on any given day. With this second resource in the picture, things become really interesting.

It appears that the way one uses these attention units in a day is what defines their progress in life.

Attention Units

So what are these Attention Units? Attention Units in a day typically originate from the following four situations:
1. Things to do for today
2. Things you have been procrastinating
3. Life situations
4. Conversations

Let’s look at them separately.

1. Things to do for today: On any given day, if you have certain things which you need to do. These things in your to-do list will naturally take up your attention, because you need to do them. It is a static list of things. You take up items one by one, put attention units on them, and just finish them.
This is the best usage of attention units which will make you move forward (provided you are doing the ‘right’ things!).

2. Things you have been procrastinating: These are the things which were on your to-do list some days, weeks, or months ago, but you didn’t do them at that time. Usually these are the things which you thought were either important or hard and in most cases, after all these days, are still considered to be important or hard. The things you have been procrastinating will keep grabbing your attention units unless you take time out and do them. Further, the more important a procrastinated item is, the more of your precious attention units it is going to consume, thus affecting your today’s to-do list, and hence your productivity.
My advice: To keep your attention units fresh and healthy, list out your procrastinated to-do things, make a schedule, and finish them one-by-one as soon as possible.

3. Life situations: Everything that happens in life which is beyond your control, things like your child catching fever, family member getting sick, washing machine stopping working, or other life emergencies which arise out of situations which don’t fall in the above two categories, also consume Attention Units. Such situations can be qualified as, what Stephen Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, calls things which are ‘Important and Urgent’. They need special Attention and Time units for that particular moment of the day when they arise, and need to be addressed on a priority basis.

4. Conversations: Take a look at the two situations mentioned in the beginning.

In the first case, your friend wanted you to go for a movie and you said ‘Yes’ instantaneously. Conversation closed. To put it in different words, Conversation Circle closed. No further attention units will be used till Saturday. Optimal usage of attention units achieved.

In the second case, although you didn’t really want to go for shopping, you didn’t say ‘No’ either and delayed the decision making to some other point in time in the future. The conversation is still open, or drawing the similar analogy as above, the Conversation Circle is open. Until the time you don’t give a definitive response (‘No’ or ‘Yes’) to your friend, the Conversation Circle will remain open, and you will keep spending attention units of the coming days, maybe even the nights because of this open Conversation Circle.

The more open such Conversation Circles you have at any given point in time – something you wanted to say to your boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband, to your boss, your father, your mother, or your friend, which you haven’t told them yet, the more of your precious attention units these open conversation circles are going to take, thereby not only reducing your productivity but also making you think unnecessarily about them, hence making you more unhappy, maybe even more miserable. (Takes you away from the whole idea of ‘present-moment living’.)

Furthermore, for certain serious conversations or situations which affect you deeply, the attention units of the night time are also disturbed, leading to insomnia, stress, and in extreme situations hypertension or even depression.


In the fixed amount of Time Units during a day, an ideal mix of Attention Units would be one which is spent on work, family, physical health, spiritual health, and perhaps a hobby. Barring a few exceptional life situations, a normal day for a social human being has a constant flow of attention units in terms of things to do and conversations circles to close.
Finish up all old procrastinated to-do things and open conversations to avoid wastage of precious attention units which can then be put on more important things like family, health and hobby.

This flow of attention units, much like the flow of a river, should keep moving rather than getting stagnated, which will keep them clean and healthy and will not let any impurities to stick with it.

A freely flowing conscious, much like a rolling stone, gathers no moss after all.