A lot of writing in the 'self-improvement' genre focuses on getting more done in less time. As our lives get busier we need tools and 'hacks' to maintain the busyness and keep up the pace. In my experience these can work in the short term but ultimately lead to burn out in the longer term. Thankfully this is starting to be reflected by many in the world of quantified self and there is increasing focus on doing less, higher quality, work. In this post we will look at one facet of this - the concept of attention residue - and look at why we need to structure our days to take account of this key component.
This term 'attention residue' essentially means that when we switch tasks it isn't as straightforward as closing one tab and opening another, like we would in an internet browser. Our minds aren't built like that and we are effectively still processing the first thing when we move onto the second. This obviously means that we aren't as engaged and we don't have the cognitive firepower at our disposal that we did when we had just started task 1. Then consider how many tasks we flit between throughout our days and it is no wonder that we finish the day feeling like a crashing computer with every application and browser tab open and running.
We need to program space in our days and between our tasks to allow this residue time to clear. Otherwise we aren't doing ourselves justice with our performances. Thankfully there are some simple approaches that we can use to generate this space and refocus after the residue has dissipated:
1. Don't block your diary with back to back appointments. This is a technique that I had researched and tried for myself. The theory was that if I had 'meeting' days where I fitted all my appointments in then it would give me clear days to do the doing. This worked to an extent yet the intensity of flitting between meetings for an entire day quickly started to show and I felt my performance levels dropping as my mind gradually clouded through the day. I am now trying to think another level upstream - what are the meetings I actually need to attend - can we reduce those in order to find more space between them?
2. Schedule 25 or 50min meetings. If the above doesn't work then at least change the timescale for how you schedule meetings to allow a few minutes of residue clearing between each. If you can get a meeting done in 60mins you can get it done in 50. Use the constraints as a forcing function to generate more focused and productive meetings and then enjoy the space you've earnt between them.
3. Meditate. It is likely that reading this is one of the first times you have ever given much thought to this topic. Ultimately this is due to a lack of self awareness that we all experience when we are busy. When we lose this we don't notice how muddled our thinking has become or when we are flagging. Mindfulness meditation is the simplest and most convenient practice to help regain this awareness. Try Headspace for 10mins a day and you will quickly start to notice when the residue is forming which then gives you the power to find space to let it clear.
4. Space means space. If we are talking about finding space between meetings and appointments then we are talking about actual proper space. not checking emails, not snapchatting, not anything! Simply sit and breathe for a few minutes or go for a quiet walk. This is time for your subconscious not your conscious mind. It may feel like nothing is happening, the magic is actually going on behind the scenes away from your conscious awareness. It is also worth noting that if you struggle to sit and not really think or do anything for a couple of minutes then it is a red flag. You need to do it more often!
5. Reduce your inputs. If everything that pops into our conscious awareness creates an attentional residue then it stands to reason that we should probably try to reduce the amount of things that pop in. The biggest area for wins here is all the notifications we receive throughout a typical day. Whilst it might seem scary you should turn off every notification apart from phone calls. That way if it is an emergency you can be contacted and the rest of the time you won't be distracted.
Whilst none of these tips are going to change your world overnight you should practice and play with them to see what difference they can create for you. We live so much of our lives in a daze of conflicting demands for our attention. If we can cut through that it gives us opportunity to actually get something meaningful done.
As summer holidays approach I'm sure many of you are gearing up for a well earnt break. Whilst any holiday is undoubtedly an opportunity to loosen up, or simply forget, the diet and exercise regime it doesn't mean that you have to abandon all of your wellbeing goals entirely. Any break should be relaxing and invigorating and not leave you needing another holiday when you return. Thankfully you can have your cake and eat it. In this post I'll lay out some simple tools and tricks that you can use to keep your wellbeing on the rails whilst also enjoying some off rails activities.
If you are stressed and burnt out before your holiday then it is likely your immune system will be suppressed. When you get on holiday and start relaxing it can come bouncing back and start fighting some of the latent bugs that have been sitting around with you. All this translates to an unwanted cold for the start of your holiday. Try to prevent this by starting to incorporate some relaxation activities in the week or 2 before you go away (see next section for some ideas). You can also supplement with a decent vitamin and antioxidant support, such as MSC Immune Support, in the week or so prior to departure to strengthen your immune system as much as possible. This will also help you fend off the viruses from snotty children you end up sat next to on the plane.
The primary aim of a holiday for most people is to relax, however this isn't always as straightforward as just sitting by the pool and waiting for the magic to happen. Relaxation is an active process and requires some effort to fully achieve it. Most people complain that there isn't the time for such things in day to day life so a holiday, where you have plenty of time, is an ideal opportunity to put some effort into proper relaxation. Before you go try downloading some relaxation aids of choice. My go to options are Headspace, for mindfulness meditation and then Box Breathing and Apnea Trainer for breathing techniques. You can also search for podcast options that you could use on the plane for example. Tara Brach is a good place to start for meditation style audio. Try to spend a few minutes each day, especially at the start of the trip, to practice these and help you unwind. The shorter your trip the more you should practice.
If you are travelling abroad it can always be a gamble as to what quality of food is available. The last thing you need is to be trying to track down a remote hotel, on unfamiliar roads, in a hire car, with your blood sugar crashing and no shops in sight. Packing some simple nutritional insurance against such a situation can be a lifesaver and there are some great, easy to transport, snacks that are suitable. If you try to stick to a more ketogenic, low carb approach, like me then I'd recommend the Pip and Nut squeeze sachets. Just be warned that these are moreish and you could quite easily delete the lot before you've even left Britain. A less appealing, but equally useful, option is the Coconoil capsules. You won't be tempted to smash these down but they can help you get into ketosis, or keep you there, and keep hunger and energy crashes at bay. If you are less fussed about a fat dominant approach then stash some protein bars in your cases and you will be able to set out without worrying where your next meal is coming from. It is also worth packing a few activated charcoal tablets which will save you from stomach based strife should you encounter a dodgy local delicacy or imbibe too much of the local brew.
Improving your mobility whilst on holiday is hardly going to be a priority but is perhaps something you should consider. The travel involved in going anywhere means that you are likely to be sat in compromised positions for long periods of time. This all translates to tight hips and a severely achey back when you land, not a recipe for holiday bliss. Chucking a simple lacrosse ball in your bag means that you can trigger point away any tight spots and impingements on day 1 and then crack on with the rest of your holiday pain free.
Sleep is one of the foundation pieces that affects pretty much every other part of your life, particularly your mood. Going away and sleeping in a strange bed and often in a hot room can have a massive impact on sleep quality and subsequently put you in a worse mood for enjoying the following day. One of the simplest insurance policies you can take is a roll of electric tape which you can use to cover the standby lights of any electronics, smoke alarms etc in your room and prevent these interrupting your sleep. I also recommend the app Pzizz to help you get to sleep. Not only does it drown out any unfamiliar noises but the specific music used (binaural beats) helps stimulate the brainwaves associated with sleep so gets you into a deeper sleep quicker.
This final point is perhaps the most neglected of all. You need to remember who you are going on holiday for. It isn't for your Instagram followers, it is for you. Prioritise accordingly! If you are behind a phone you aren't present in your situation which means you are missing the experience. Put the phone on airplane mode and make a deal with yourself that you can only use it for taking pictures. Avoid social media for the duration of your stay and you will reap the benefits. If this sounds petrifying then it is a massive red flag, cancel your holiday plans and book into some sort of silent meditation retreat instead.
Whilst this quick guide isn't meant to be a comprehensive travel resource it has hopefully given you some food for thought to help you get the most out of your trip. However you will still need to wear sunscreen and pack an adaptor.
The Breed Project Blog
Thoughts, reflections and ideas on health, wellbeing and performance.