Batching and the Dangers of Attention Residue

Aman Manazir

Last Friday I packed away all my possessions and drove to Wisconsin, beginning the fall semester of University. Because I’m living in an apartment this year instead of a dorm, my family and I decided to order furniture and have it delivered to the apartment instead of bringing it ourselves.

Due to the nature of online shopping, the delivery dates for all of my items were spread out over the past week. Every day, a couple things would arrive, and I’d spend an hour or so unboxing everything and putting stuff together.

The arrival of packages was not restricted to a certain time of day either. There would be 2-3 times every day where I’d get a delivery notification on my phone and drop everything I was doing to open and set up whatever had arrived.

Because of this, I noticed that my attention and the amount of stuff I got done was significantly affected. Every time I would get deep into my work, I’d get a shipment notification and get lost in the arranging and setting up process.


This occurrence reminded me of the productivity technique called batching and why it is used by so many people to reduce the cut in focus that I experienced this week.

Batching refers to grouping similar tasks together, so you reduce the cost in time and attention of switching between many diverse work items.

The concept of batching is simple, but there are several different methods to implement it and many reasons why it’s so effective.

Attention Residue

Whenever you switch work items, your attention doesn’t immediately follow like you might expect. There exists an attention residue, a small part of your subconscious actively thinking about and sticking to whatever you were previously doing.

This phenomenon is most evident when looking at standardized testing. Often, teachers instruct you to skip a question and come back to it if you can’t figure it out. If you do this, chances are the solution will inexplicably pop into your head when you return.

This occurs because a portion of your attention, your subconscious mind, is solving the problem in the background without you even realizing it.

This effect is more prevalent when switching between unfinished tasks; because attention is the currency of productivity, not time, attention residue can have a massive effect on your output.

Batching protects against this by grouping similar tasks together, thus reducing the attention deficit caused by switching and helping you get significantly more work done.

Use Cases for Batching

Batching is most useful when applied to getting tasks done or creating something. The situation becomes a little more complicated when dealing with memory or learning new information, because of the benefits of spaced repetition in this area.

I would advise batching pretty much everything you have to complete or produce. For example, if you have to clean the house, it’s so much more effective to devote an entire afternoon to doing so rather than splitting it all up into smaller sections and dispersing it throughout the week.

Batching is great for producing new content. I’m planning on implementing a system where I spend an entire day recording 4-6 videos so I don’t waste time setting up everything and getting in the recording mindset.

Exercise caution when using batching for learning new information. Don’t blame me if you tell yourself you’re “batching” an entire semester’s worth of content the night before the final and it doesn’t work out.

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