How to (not) Focus


I have trouble focusing a lot.

Writing a blog post often takes longer than it should because the allure of multiple tabs on Chrome pulls me away from writing.

I read a book for fun yesterday, only because my internet went out for 4 hours.

I have trouble convincing myself to do anything I have labeled as busy work. Sometimes I try to play music and try to enter “mindless copying” mode as I do my work, but that’s unsustainable for more than 5 minutes, unless it’s the night before an assignment is due.

There are some exceptions though. Sometimes I can focus on a post for an entire hour and churn out a good 400-500 words. If I’m really lucky, two hours.

Sometimes I find a book that’s actually interesting.

Sometimes I reach a late-night stage of euphoria where I can do mindless work and be completely content.

More often though, I find this sense of focus when doing math, or anything that gives instant feedback, whether it be online homework (I’m looking at you UTHW), or simply working through textbook problems and checking my answers in the back. The satisfaction of getting previous problems right gives me enough motivation to keep going, and occasionally, I’ll get a nice fuzzy feeling inside from solving a problem correctly.

However, I’m also prone to fits of throwing my pen down and near screaming “NO ONE CARES” in the middle of problem sets, most notably in chemistry. I don’t have a problem with dealing with the tedious calculations of 1 question. I do have a problem with doing 20 questions that are identical except the numbers are switched. It’s a delicate balance to find that optimum level of stimulation.

I don’t find subjects sufficiently interesting enough unless they’re hard, and frankly, I expected some of my self proclaimed “college level” classes to be more challenging. When my English teacher states that our tests are “testing rote memorization, the lowest level of learning”, I don’t feel particularly motivated to study. When I can get through an entire chemistry test by formula plugging PV=nRT and remembering assorted facts, I don’t really feel like I’ve learned much. I like the feeling of barely knowing enough information to solve a problem. I get a sense of malaise when I can get through an entire set of problems effortlessly– I spent all my time doing something I already knew how to do.

An aside on multitasking

Whose idea was it that we could (and should) learn 7 subjects at the same time? Are we supposed to focus on all of them equally? And how have I become used to this?

There are schools where students only take 3 subjects every semester and take different classes every semester. That’s still a total of 6 classes every year, but students would have less to worry about at any given moment, and they could cover the content more in depth. Then again, if you ended up in a class you really disliked, you’re kind of screwed.

However, most of us don’t go to that school and aren’t getting out of the 7 (or 6) class schedule until college. So how do you deal with it?

  • Monotask when possible. Even if there’s multiple things to work on, pretend like there’s only one and temporarily forget the others.
  • Do things in the order in which you find most productive. The generic advice is to do things in order of urgency. I disagree. It doesn’t matter what order you do things as long as you eventually get everything done. (How many of you go to sleep if your homework is incomplete?) If saving the fun work for last will motivate you to get through all the grunt work, do that. I don’t have that self-discipline. I do whatever assignment I find most interesting first and rush through the rest of the assignments as my productivity wanes throughout the night.
  • Find ways to minimize distractions. Turn off the computer screen if you just want to listen to music. Install StayFocusd for Chrome and block all the time-consuming sites for an hour with Nuclear mode. Do your writing on Word or OneNote instead of Google Docs so you can’t just Ctrl+T your way to a distraction. Work in fullscreen (F11) so you can’t see all your tabs and Ctrl+tab your way to a distraction.

These are random strategies that I’ve picked up throughout the years. Any that I’ve missed?


2 thoughts on “How to (not) Focus

  1. Pingback: I Guess My Blog is a Toddler Now | Educated Opinions

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