The Attention Credit Card

I’m six months into the “real-world” and I’m just at the beginning of my perpetual “last semester”. The last semester has no pre-determined endpoint, and if I’m not careful, it can lead to a deadly “default setting” in life, as David Foster Wallace puts it. Wallace is right, the day-in and day-out grind, which involves primarily “boredom, routine, and petty frustration” comprises a large chunk of adult American life.

I believe escaping from a mind numbing default setting involves arranging for a multitude of inputs in one’s routine experience, from exercise, to socialization, and being a participant of the local community. However, amidst all of the inputs, I’ve found one primarily anecdotal experience to be true: most humans have about four hours of concentration each day. Let’s call this four hour capacity the attention credit card.

My day starts soon after the sunrise, often around 7:30AM, with an immediate check of my emails, the New York Stock Exchange, and headline news, all from my bed. No intense concentration required. Next, already into my routine, I walk over to the gym in my building for a quick 10-15 minute run most mornings, followed by push ups and a short ab workout. By 8:00AM, I hope, my endorphins are just starting to turn on, as I plan for my first hour of concentration. From 8:00AM – 9:00AM I’m working on my side projects. Whether I’m working on reducing dependencies in a database schema, debugging a Javascript error, or researching stock picks, I typically burn my most energetic hour of attention towards the most creative and risky projects that I can undertake.

Next I bike 15 minutes into SoMa to visit the office where I work. I spend my first minutes there eating breakfast, catching up with office mates (socialization), and then I’m back into the zone. I’ve got another two hours of attention credit to burn thanks to a tasty breakfast and a good night’s sleep. Tackling work-problems head-on, whether it be an analysis of paid advertising campaigns and developing new creatives in response, or a small change to a webpage, my attention credit whittles away down to just one hour remaining after lunchtime.

By mid-afternoon, with lunch calories kicking-in, my last hour of concentration is my best shot at completing my tasks of the day on time and with attention to detail. Beyond 5:00PM, my attention credit is maxed out, and my brain is beginning to search for more energy.

I mention the attention credit card because as of recent months, I’ve found myself coming up with interesting ideas for research and writing, but left with little willpower to execute on them and type away at the keyboard. For example, today I am writing this piece around 9:00PM PST, at the end of long day in my default setting, which drained my best concentration before dinner time into the infamous “busy trap“. I am writing less because when I pretend that my attention credit card is limitless, I lack the will power to write anything at all.

It’s up to me to remind myself that time spent during early mornings and weekends on writing is well worth the effort as well. I have to choose to write, and more specifically choose to concentrate on writing well. Here’s to more reflection and writing over the next six months.

About The Author

John Marbach

Bitnami / Concorde.io.

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11 2015