Though I normally dislike business jargon, there’s one term that I actually love: “bandwidth”.
In the New York Review of Books (9/26/13, p. 47), Cass Sunstein writes: “The central idea of bandwidth is that people have the capacity to focus on, and to promote and implement, only a subset of the universe of good ideas.”
As a result, smart people often don’t do things that make sense to do, not because they don’t agree that these things are sensible, but because they lack the bandwidth to investigate them.
Your bandwidth is a function of 4 different factors:
1. Time: There are 24 hours in a day and not one minute more, and if you sleep 8 hours a day, that leaves only 16 hours…hardly the infinite amount of time all of us could really use.
2. Attention: The human mind has a limited attention span. Only so many things at a time can hold our attention, and the attention we seem willing to give to any one of them is limited.
3. Energy: Your physical and mental energy are finite. And they diminish with age, as does patience.
4. Priority: Yes, there are a lot of good ideas out there. But not all can be first.
Based on these criteria, here are a few “bandwidth bandits” that can rapidly diminish your already limited supply of productive time and further reduce the amount of tasks you can handle:
1) When you waste time, as most people do, you erode your bandwidth. This is why I am such a fanatic about time management.
2) The more tired you are, the less energy you have, and the lower your bandwidth. This is why getting a good night’s sleep before each new work day is such a priority with me, so much so that I refuse to participate in activities requiring me to stay up past midnight on a weekday (I am at my desk 8 am at the latest and most days earlier).
3) Lack of priorities means you are consuming your limited supply of bandwidth on the wrong tasks.
4) As Brian Tracy preaches, successful people have goals. Without specific goals on which to focus your attention, it weakens and this reduces your bandwidth.
In my experience, a lot of the people I deal with simply do not understand the concept of bandwidth, or at least the limitations of my (and their) personal bandwidth.
For instance, subscriber BK tells me I am an ignoramus for not knowing or using certain marketing techniques on my website.
What BK does not understand is that I am fully aware of these techniques. I agree they are valuable. Contrary to her opinion, BK does not really know anything about web marketing that I don’t know, though she mistakenly and smugly believes she does.
But, because of my limited bandwidth, I have not implemented BK’s marketing suggestions: I have too many other things to think of and do that are more important.
I am deluged with people asking why I have not produced a particular product, or used a marketing tactic, or read an important book, or attended a valuable marketing or publishing conference, or tried a healthful dietary supplement, or watched a certain video or TV show or movie, or started doing pilates.
My answer is always the same: “I have 5,000 things to do,” I tell them, “but I only have time and energy today to do 3,500.” So some things that are worthwhile are going to fall by the wayside.
As a businessperson, you need to realize that your customers and clients have limited bandwidth as do you.
A freelance copywriter called me in a panic. Turns out she got what she thought was a great lead from LD, a potential client. They had a good initial conversation. But after that, she heard nothing despite repeat follow-ups.
“Did I do something wrong?” she implored me. “Was my price too high? Do I have bad breath?”
Again, the answer is bandwidth. When LD called her, the copywriting project was no doubt a hot priority.
But priorities shift in the blink of an eye. When she followed up with LD days later, the project was most likely not his top priority any longer and so he lacked the bandwidth to engage with her. This happens in vendor/prospect relationships all the time.
Counter-intuitive though it may sound at first, according to an article by David Brooks in the New York Times (7/7/11), poor people have even less bandwidth than the middle class!
Says Brooks: “Poorer people have to think hard about a million things that affluent people don’t. They have to make complicated trade-offs when buying a carton of milk: If I buy milk, I can’t afford orange juice. They have to decide which utility not to pay.”
Bob Bly is the author of “World’s Best Copywriting Secrets” and has written copy for more than 100 companies including IBM, Boardroom, Medical Economics and AT&T. He is the author of more than 75 books and a columnist for Target Marketing, Early To Rise and The Writer. McGraw-Hill calls him “America’s top copywriter”.