Our attentional space is limited

up:: Attentional space

Our brain can hold little information at the same time

Our brain can only hold four to seven “chunks” of information at the same time. It can only hold them for twenty to thirty seconds.

To many things in the attentional space lead to overwhelm

Watching a series while checking a recipe while chopping the capsicum while making sure the onions don’t burn - and that under time pressure: This leads to overwhelm.

Habitual tasks take up little attentional space

This makes it possible to multitask on habitual tasks while not compromising their quality. I can chew bubblegum and walk and listen to a podcast at the same time. Multitasking is totally good on habitual tasks. A practical application:

Every Sunday I like to lump my personal, relatively rote “maintenance tasks” together—tasks that help me maintain who I am, like preparing meals, trimming my nails, and cleaning the house—and do them all in an allotted period of time while listening to podcasts or an audiobook.

When the tasks use different senses it works together even better: doing the dishes is a motor sense while listening to a podcast taps into the auditory sense.

Complex tasks take up the majority of our attentional space

Complex tasks are also often the most productive and rewarding tasks. Watching Netflix is easier on our attentional space than grabbing dinner with a friend. It is less rewarding though.

[Y]our most necessary and purposeful tasks can’t be done out of habit. This is exactly what makes these tasks so productive.

Our attentional space is limited