Spaced repetition systems can be used to program attention

Spaced repetition memory systems make memory a choice, but the computerized component’s value lies specifically in dynamically scheduling and selecting questions to be reviewed. In some sense, the efficacy of a Spaced repetition memory system comes from its power to program your attention (Programmable attention). Think: “{cron} for your mind.”

Manually making decisions about which cards to review would be far too taxing on a per-card basis. The transaction cost is too high. When that work is mostly outsourced, you can make a coarser decision—to devote your attention to SRS practice for 10 minutes—and then let your attention be directed by the machine within that block.

Within a traditional flashcard-style system, you can use this observation to go far beyond memorization: see Spaced repetition memory systems can be used to prompt application, synthesis, and creation and Spaced repetition may be a helpful tool to develop or change habits. Spaced repetition prompt design is about designing tasks for your future self.

But the core concept—automatically arranging and presenting tasks according to some expanding schedule—can be instantiated in many interfaces and domains. I call this notion Spaced everything.

Some examples:



Matuschak, A. (2019, December). Taking knowledge work seriously. Presented at the Stripe Convergence, San Francisco.


Evergreen note maintenance approximates spaced repetition

Triage strategies for maintaining inboxes (e.g. Inbox Zero) are often too brittle, vs. using spaced-repetition to “approximate” inbox grooming.

I use this concept to engage with my implementation of A reading inbox to capture possibly-useful references