A quick administrative note: I started a brand-spanking new job this month and I’m having a blast. I’ll be doing front-end mobile development and design with these lovely folks, who are seriously some of the most brilliant people I’ve ever interacted with. I’m still kind of shocked they brought me on, and I’m working my tail off to keep up.
Lifehacker types love to talk about time management because it’s important, and I’m not going to argue about that. But I’m learning that I’ve got another limitation that’s possibly even greater – limited attention.
I’m not talking about ADHD, which I quite possibly also have. [Fun fact: I was diagnosed with ADHD as a kid, but my mom didn't want me to be medicated for it. I still never have been, though I fantasize about how much more I could get done if I were.]
What I mean is, I have on average seven or eight hours every day that I can focus and produce good, usable markup or creative work. This is broken into smaller chunks, obviously, and I take a lot of breaks. [And seven hours is an average - I usually work a bit more on the weekdays, and significantly less on the weekends, or sometimes not at all.]
I can push myself and buckle down for longer periods, of course. But after a certain point, or if I do it repeatedly for a lot of days in a row, I notice two things:
1) The quality of my work decreases. I start making stupid mistakes that I wouldn’t have made two years ago. Sometimes I look over a previous day’s work when I’ve done this and I have to scrap most of it, or I just put my head on my desk and go, “What the hell was I thinking?”
2) It is much, much harder for me to focus on one thing at a time. I get antsy and start taking unnecessary breaks to do nothing at all, or I somehow think it’s a good idea to watch The West Wing while I write, and end up transcribing Sam Seaborn’s lines by accident. Before long I’ve abandoned work completely and spent close to an hour looking at dogs to adopt on Petfinder.
What’s more, if I do push myself to go beyond this limit for more than a few days at a time, I find it harder to work the following few days. I imagine it’s similar to pushing yourself really hard to complete a race without eating more calories – you end up depleted and sleep a bunch the next few days.
For me, then, I’m finding that attention is a limited resource. I am constantly working to get better at it. I started doing Pomodoro a couple years ago, and when I began, it was difficult for me to focus on only one thing for five minutes at a time. Obviously I’m much better now, but it’s still a process.
This is part of the reason why quitting Etsy, in retrospect, was such an important thing to do. And given my new job, I’m thinking a lot about the ways I want to spend my off time. I’m still taking on freelance work, but at a significantly reduced volume – I’m making it pretty clear to clients that, no, I probably can’t get it done before next weekend [because if I try I'm going to end up in bed for the week following].
So, yeah, I’m becoming a quitter. But the thing about it is that it’s allowing me to become better at the stuff I’m not quitting. Which I’m actually kind of psyched about.
Later this week I’m going to post about my routines. Because like lists and charts, I love things that can be quantified. And also, because my routines directly affect my attention and my ability to do decent work.