Are You Getting a Return on Attention (ROA)?

Atomic Essay #2 from the August Ship 30 for 30 cohort.

Nick Simard


Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels

A colleague of mine at Zapier wrote an internal blog post about building a second brain, and at the very end he used this term that I hadn’t heard before:

Return on Attention

Most people are familiar with ROI (Return on Investment), and the concept is pretty straightforward. When you invest money/time into something, is there a sufficient return on that investment? This could be more money earned, time saved, business/personal success, new opportunities, etc.

So, What About Return on Attention, Then?

Using the example above, we could assume that it refers to investing your attention (reading, watching, listening) and receiving an adequate return. Do (should) we expect the same kind of returns on that investment as we do with money/time?

I think it depends.

Should we carve out time for leisure/entertainment without ROA?

There are myriad distractions out there, from which you may not receive any sort of tangible return on the attention you provide:

  • social media (most of the time)
  • streaming platforms like Netflix or Hulu
  • “news” apps or websites

Gary V. would likely say to cut out all that stuff and just do the work. Don’t even read. Just create, create, create. There’s merit to his approach (clearly, look at his massive success), but is this sustainable for most people?

I’m not sure that it is.

Just Be Aware of ROA and Check In With Yourself

I think there’s room for asking yourself, when veering into distraction-land, whether the ROA is sufficient — but also whether it matters at that moment.

Maybe you need a break, and reading someone’s 280-word Atomic Essay on ROA provides just enough return on that attention.



Nick Simard

Remote-working, techy dad of 3 who’s got ADHD. In 2023 I’m improving myself physically, mentally, and emotionally via self-discovery, curiosity, and creativity.