A working carrying capacity

Hit and Miss #92

Last December, I had a challenging week. I had six days to complete four finals for school. Surprisingly, I emerged from this period having worked an average of only six hours a day.

Recent conversations at work have me reflecting on that week. It contains an important lesson for me about when and why I’m productive.

From this experience and other anecdata, I know that I can manage about six hours a day of focused work. (Those hours include a few minutes break each hour.) Outside these six hours, I can still work, but not at my best—this is when, ideally, I turn to administrative tasks.

My team is rethinking our workflow. I’ll spare you the details (for now), but the gist is that we’re swapping a heavy(ish) organizational approach for a lighter one. There are two aspects of this that I’d like to touch on.


My team is quite stretched right now. One reason behind this new workflow is so we always know our next best step.

When I think of my six hour capacity, I wonder how long I can sustain it. I know, for example, that on the weekends I don’t manage much focused work. I’m somewhat torn over this: I’d like to ship side projects, but do nothing/do little weekends are also important.

How sustainable is focus? Do we have a limited capacity to carry on with it? Or is it like a muscle, something that strengthens with training? (Cal Newport would likely defend the latter.) Given the limited availability of focused time at work (a problem of its own), my team seeks a sustainable amount of focused work.


With our new flow, I also hope to consider the degree of focus required for a given task. Handling an administrative task is much lighter than considering how to measure the efficacy of a delivery team. I’d seek focused time for the latter, deprioritizing the former.

You may know that I track my time carefully. Unfortunately, the data don’t directly capture my degree of focus. On a good day, one focused hour can equal several unfocused ones. I’m considering tracking my focus for working entries.

Today and yesterday have been quiet. Though I was out and about, I had no strict plans. It’s a refreshing change from the regimented work week. With too many of these weekends I grow uneasy, thinking I could do more. But for now, I’m indulging myself.

Before I go: here’s a random link from the archives, on finding the names of the people portrayed in a set of faded daguerreotypes. (Literally “from the archives”—get it?)

All the best for the week ahead!