Attention capacity

Exhaust your capacity to focus instead of unwisely wasting hours attempting to focus.


Listening requires willpower, but flow states don't.

Attention is a habit that is exercised in a variety of ways. Selective attention is when a person focuses on a single activity amidst many activities. Sustained attention is when a person focuses on an activity for a long period of time, an ability under attack by the attention economy. Alternating is used when switching back and forth between activities. And lastly, divided attention is attending a meeting and replying to emails.

All are types of attention but expend very different types of cognitive energy.

Each type of attention has a cognitive limit. Therefore, effective time management is a matter of understanding your own capacity for the type of work and allotting the appropriate amount of time to the task.


Writing a paper involves much more than just typing on the keyboard.

It also means reading, understanding, reflecting, getting ideas, making connections, distinguishing terms, finding the right words, structuring, organizing, editing, correcting and rewriting.

All these are not just different tasks, but tasks requiring a different kind of attention.

It is not only impossible to focus on more than one thing at a time, but also to have a different kind of attention on more than one thing at a time.

— Ahrens, Sönke, How to Take Smart Notes


Discover your capacity to pay attention.

Notice how long you work at any given task before your mind wanders. Note that duration and use it when planning your day. Arrange your day to take advantage of the different types of attention and be careful not to stack too many similar tasks sequentially. Stagger the different types of attention as a way to cool down and recover.

Use your own known capacity to set realistic goals and as a baseline that you’ll improve over time.

Until next time,

Josh Duffney

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