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.