Thoughts on focus and concentration
I'm just going to share some thoughts on multitasking and concentrating.
Throughout college, my attention span has been completely destroyed. I wasn't able to focus more than 15 minutes, meaning I can't do a single task straight for more than 15 minutes. 900 seconds. 1/4 hour. So what would happen is, I'd look at a textbook and when a difficult part of the chapter comes, I begin to hypnotize myself. "Okay, I've studied (easy part) for 15 minutes. I'm gonna take a look at facebook. Once I comeback with *refreshed mind* from facebook or distrcation, I'll be able to tackle it easily."
So I spend more time on Facebook than I did on studying and come back. I realize nothing has changed. The difficult part magically doesn't become easier to understand. So I go on facebook again, or this time text my friend, waiting for the magic moment to come.
I'm honestly surpirsed that I was able to get through college with a pretty decent GPA with this amount of will power and concentration. I wonder how much more I could have done if I knew the right ways to study. And now I realize, the biggest misconception that I had was this: I can't focus because I'm studying Physics, which I don't enjoy as much. Once I graduate and start doing something that I'm so *passionate* about I'll be able to spend a few hours without being distracted.
I started working, and nothing really changed. Yeah a new environment could have helped me for a few weeks, but then I come back to my original state. Also, with constant noise from open office environment, my ability to focus became worse and worse. I kept on multitasking. Instead of using facebook and texting (which I nonetheless did in the office), I started using IM (instant messaging) heavily and started talking to my friends at work. And worst of all, I kept on checking email every 2 minutes thinking that I'm doing something productive when in effect, you are procrastinating by completing small tasks that give you satisfaction.
It got to the point where when I got out of the office, my head hurt so much due to over-exerting my capabilities, on useless stuff and multitasking. This was when I thought some action needs to be taken, so I started reading different books. I stumbled upon "deep work" by Cal Newport (yeah I really like his books), in which he argued that your ability to focus is like mental muscle. You need to train to grow your muscles. Just like that, you need to train your mental muscles to be able to focus on your task and improve productivity.
A few key points are as follows:
- Don't check email as if you are a rat pushing a button that release dopamine. Emails should be your last priority (This is job specific, but in general)
- You need to overcome boredom. So when a hard part comes when you are working on something, understand that as a part of the process and deal with it. Don't try seek instant gratification (Facebook, Email, anything else that's not that task)
- Carefully plan out your day hour by hour. And when you say you are going to do X during 10-11, only do that, nothing else. (This has been pretty challenging to follow...)
- Count how many "deep blocks" - 30-60 min time block when you solely focus on one task - you've completed throughout the day. (Honestly, at this point, it's tough to get one block out of the day)
I've been putting what I've read to practice, and this isn't easy. It's is so shocking how difficult it is to change my behavior, and how necessary it is. This doesn't apply only to work and study. Even when I DJ which is the hobby that I really enjoy, I find myself multitasking. When there's a boring part where I have to stand still for a minute, I check my phone. I mean really? It's gotten to this point?
What's really troubling is that most people don't even realize that this is wrong. They think it's part of their life. People who get this are progressing through and making changes, aka they get shit done. Other people will only fall behind, keep on procrastinating and not realize what's wrong with their lives... What a sad irony...
P.S, fortunately, while I was writing this post for 20 minutes, I was able to focus on this, except the time I took a photo of my notepad and sent it as an attachment. It's interesting how if I'm really focused, I tend to almost ignore what I'm listening to, and this is a very good feeling.