Thoughts on attention

Sunlit creeper

I felt like a season-appropriate picture, so here's a picture I took almost exactly two years ago while wandering around Stanford. I love the Green Earth Sciences building, particularly for photography. There are so many cool things to capture, particularly the plants that grow around the outside of it.

I'm starting to feel my brain regenerate from vacation. I can tell because I ended up doing a couple new versions of the OpenAFS packages today after finishing another book, and I'm starting to have the pondering "how do I want to tweak my life" sorts of thoughts that I have most productively after some unwinding time during vacation.

One of the things I keep struggling with is that I have a ton of things I want to do and not all of them are going to get done. I focus so strongly on completing things that this is rough. I don't know how to let things go that won't ever happen, so I'm always struggling with ever-growing to-do lists. (All this is background material; this won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me.) That leads to stress, but it also leads to decision paralysis. There are too many things on my to-do list, and the first time I look it over, they all need to get done and I immediately start feeling guilty about more things than I can do immediately.

This is, I think, one of the major flaws in the Getting Things Done system. David Allen really doesn't like priority systems or daily A/B/C lists because he feels like things change too much during the day, but working from my full next-action list frequently feels overwhelming and guilt-inducing. For the week before I went on vacation, I started trying to use GTD in a hybrid with the Cycle System from Time Management for System Administrators: taking some time every morning to pull things out of my large to-do list, prioritize a bit for the day using a simple A/B/C notation, and feel like I have a doable chunk for that day. I'm going to do this even more seriously when I get back, since it lets me finish a list during the day and helps me convince myself that I'm usefully using each day. It lets me focus my attention on the productive parts rather than the guilt-inducing parts.

The other half of this, though, is to reduce the number of things I'm committing to do, since I'm committing to do too much. There are hard and easy parts of this, and I'm still struggling with the hard parts. But one of the easy parts is that I expose myself to distractions all the time, and a lot of those are unnecessary. I've basically not watched TV during this vacation and I've not missed it. I'm pondering seriously reducing the TV I watch when I get home and consciously giving up committments to watch certain shows. I also spend a lot of time reading news sites and staying aware of current events, and I'm not sure that's a useful use of my time. By and large, I'm never going to do anything about that data and it just makes me mad, so why am I exposing myself to it? I should be generally aware of world events, but I don't need to be reading detailed comments (particularly from the sort of people who tend to comment).

And the largest key is to just do something. Make a conscious choice to do something specific, whether off my to-do list or to get up and take a walk or go read, but make a conscious choice. A lot of that time-wasting, attention-wasting activity like poking around on the web comes from not making a conscious decision and falling into default behavior. That's almost always unsatisfying; I could almost always be doing something I'd enjoy more, even if that means doing something purely recreational. Having the energy to always make those choices conscious is, I think, the main thing I need to be working on.

Posted: 2010-05-04 23:23 — Why no comments?

Last spun 2013-07-01 from thread modified 2013-01-04