Attention Fatigue


Controlling your attention, and the things that ask for it, are argubly one of the hardest things to stem the tide against. However, even if you can’t control this attention, what do you do when you have the sudden streaks of being able to focus?

Recently I’ve been running into an issue where a bunched up schedule suddenly relents, and while there are a number of things to do ranging in importance, I just kind of spend the time trying to prioritize what to do next.

A regular Monday on my current schedule.
A regular Monday on my current schedule.

The Attention Barometer

I like to think of my attention a bit like a barometer. When performing similar activities, maintaining the same level of pressure allows for me to perform the same activity repeatedly, without issue. However, once a gap is introduced, or a new activity type, instead of going back to the baseline of mental effort required to do the new task a dip below baseline happens.

A regular Monday on my current schedule.

While switching into a new, pre-defined activity (maybe going from a regular meeting, to a 1 on 1 meeting) quickly makes up the deficit that exists to re-establish the baseline, and then build some more. It’s times where there are no other pre-defined activities already set forth that actually exacerbate this dip.

What’s worse, is that when this dip happens I feel bad for not immediately knowing which thing to tackle next as I feel like I need to maximize use of this undefined time since it’s a scarce resource. So this has lead me to try and figure out better strategies to use this space without having to spend time reprioritizing my todo backlog for maximal output.

Strategies So Far

  1. Do nothing, and respect that maybe this feeling is fine.
  2. Groom my todo backlog every morning and execute on them in priority order (drink the GTD punch.)
  3. Use this as time to read through professional publications like for material for next manager meeting.

None of these strategies so far have made me feel “good” about this time as it feels like a good manager would always have something to do in this time, but honestly, it’s nice to just have a breather to connect with people in person in the office to see how they are doing. This might also be a sign that I need to defrag my calendar again to better align meeting contexts where possible.

Mostly, I just wanted to acknowledge this problem that I have sometimes and put it out there if others feel the same way. I’d be curious to know how you’ve learned to feel different about these times, and maybe make the best use of it. Also, what does “best use” mean in this context for you?

Feel free to send me a message about it @brianmichel.

tags #work #prioritization #focus