The concept of signal-to-noise ratio is common in science and engineering. It is also used colloquially to refer to the ratio of useful information to undesired information. There are two simple ways to address an unfavorable (low) signal-to-noise ratio: increase the signal or lower the noise.
We live in a noisy world. Even sitting in what most would consider a quiet room, I can hear the ticking of my grandfather’s clock, the soft whirring of the dishwasher finishing its cycle, and the faint buzz of my laptop’s cooling fan. Complete quiet is a rare luxury for most of us. We are surrounded by radio (in stores, workplaces), television (in waiting rooms, restaurants), and print signs (billboards, warning signs) vying for our attention.
As if all this cacophony wasn’t enough, we also carry noise with us. Headphones are common as we listen to music, podcasts, or game sounds. We carry screens on which to communicate, play games, read, and surf the web. We are distracted, both from without and within; it is an affliction of our society while also being self-inflicted.
This brings to mind a condition the ancients referred to as accidie (or acedia). It is a state of despondency, depression, or listlessness; a distaste for life without any specific reason. When my signal-to-noise ratio gets too low, I find myself feeling this way, which is a good indication that I am not being a good steward of my attention.
Most of us can only muster a few hours each day of good, solid, wholehearted attention each day. Much of what we do each day doesn’t require deep attention, but some things do. With a limited amount of attention to give, it’s good to reflect on what we devote our attention to?
Since attention is every bit as valuable as the “yield of our flocks and fields,” we should dedicate a portion of it to God every day, and usually in the morning. In reading on the habits of authors, most dedicate time in the mornings to write, so I’ve started doing that myself. We should give some of that “prime time” to God in prayer as well. In recent years, this is being touted as an essential concept in business, but its applicability is much broader than your next work project.
Prayer offered in early morning is decisive for the day. The wasted time we are ashamed of, the temptations we succumb to, the weakness and discouragement in our work, the disorder and lack of discipline in our thinking and in our dealing with other people—all these very frequently have their cause in our neglect of morning prayer. The ordering and scheduling of our time will be more secure when it comes from prayer.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together p. 76