Weeknotes 15, on Attention Residue and Errand Paralysis

February 02, 20204 min read

Much of this week has been taken up with really horrible chores. We plan to move house in a few weeks so much of our free time has been spent doing things we’d rather not: jet-washing patios, tidying up long-ignored cupboards, taking stuff to the tip… that sort of thing.

This whole process is helped by the fact that I am now a tidy and productive person, and I’ve rather enjoyed the sense of accomplishment, but it has come at the expense of having anything interesting to say about my week.

As I was sitting down to write this I came across a BBC article about attention residue and the way in which our brains deal with the seemingly endless hum of incomplete life-admin:

“If you have attention residue, you are basically operating with part of your cognitive resources being busy, and that can have a wide range of impacts – you might not be as efficient in your work, you might not be as good a listener, you may get overwhelmed more easily, you might make errors, or struggle with decisions and your ability to process information.”

I’ve struggled with this more since I became self-employed. I have to remember to send invoices, file my accounts, pay bills, pay myself, renew my insurance, book-in work and do my expenses. It’s all quick and easy to do but it’s frequent and requires my input.

The thought of these tasks are omnipresent and overwhelming to the point where it’s impossible to attack any tasks because you have these other ones.

Errand Paralysis

Every time I have looked out of my kitchen window for the last three weeks I have been confronted by two green tarpaulin sacks that originally contained some chipboard shelves, some offcuts of wood and a hanging basket that had been cluttering up the yard all winter.

I have been putting off the task of disposing of them as it would require me to empty the boot of my car (a task in and of itself), lug these heavy sacks to the car, negotiate the tip and try not to get told off.

So now they contain some chipboard shelves, some offcuts of wood, a hanging basket and three weeks of rain water and the idea of putting them in my car is even less appealing.

It turns out there is a term for this: Errand Paralysis, a resistance to doing mundane and inefficient tasks.

The same is true of the pillows I ordered before Christmas, of which I was sent the wrong product, but I cannot face standing in the Post Office with two enormous pillows. Or renewing my long-expired passport. Or invoicing my clients. Or cancelling my unused XBox Live subscription.

A handful of Australian universities have championed the quarterly GYLIO (Get Your Life In Order) Week to allow students to prioritise the things that are important in their lives:

“Given the many stimuli of life today, with students who are juggling the many opportunities colleges offer across all the areas from sport and culture to volunteering and leadership, having a week to ‘take a breath’ and get things done is essential.” — Dr Sally Dalton-Brown, dean of Queen’s College

This weekend, by coincidence, has been a GYLIO weekend. As I mentioned last week, I have found Todoist incredibly powerful: the act of ticking-off a task, and working towards a daily goal (5 tasks), is satisfying and helps to keep me focused.


I enjoyed the Collecting Cars podcast with David Edmonston, founder of Pistonheads. Collecting Cars (presented by Chris Harris) isn’t the place I’d normally go for software-development war stories, but the story of Pistonheads is an interesting one: the tale of how a bored engineer tinkering in FrontPage built the motoring forum.

A very different time.

On a tragically middle-aged home-related note: last year I bought this Addis folding laundry basket and it changed my life.