For years, it has become more and more difficult for me to concentrate when I am trying to study. I try repeatedly to block everything out and just concentrate on reading a book/article/webcast, follow along with the examples, and get through the material. Each attempt fails miserably with my frustration that I got absolutely nothing done. I’ve attempted to integrate methodologies like Getting Things Done to my routine. However, all of this means nothing if I can’t even concentrate on the task GTD lays before me. I didn’t always have this problem. I stayed very focused and on task as a child. While I could easily get distracted from a task, I also had the ability to block everything out and focus like a laser on anything I wanted to. Things have changed. I’ve gotten older. My career has taken a different path. I’m in a different place. My personal life has changed drastically. I’m constantly worried about and distracted by politics. I need to make a change.
I’ve tried everything to correct my problem. People have given me recommendations. However there are so many issues at hand. When I’m studying, I need internet access to look up an occasional tidbit. However, internet is a huge distraction. If I open a browser, you can bet 30 minutes from the time I open it I’ll have about 10 browser sessions open with multiple tabs reading about topics I have no business reading about during my study time. I need my phone as I’m in constant contact with people I rely upon and who rely upon me. Silence is killer and the mere idea of realizing I’ve been in the same spot for an hour sends me into severe displeasure and I feel like I’m wasting the day. However, if I’m amongst people I know, I tend to want to talk to them. It’s all a disaster. I realized I needed to solve these problems so I attacked them one by one.
- I need internet access, but I don’t want the distraction of browsing.
- I need to stay in touch with people without having constant non-critical conversations interrupt me.
- I need to be around activity to prevent me from being stir crazy but I can’t sit around chatting with people I know all day.
- Go somewhere without free internet access. Use my phone to access the internet. The slower connection and smaller screen keep my browsing targeted at solutions when I need them.
- Turns out the iPhone is perfect for this. Since the iPhone is single-application-centric, it prevents me from getting interrupted by email and twitter. So I keep my phone with me, but I just keep my non-critical communication tools closed. Better still, I have moved all of my task-oriented applications like “Remember the Milk”, “Shopper”, “Evernote” and “Bing” on my main page of my cell phone. When I look at the phone, all the red “todo” circles showing up on the page remind me every time I open the phone that I’m on task.
- I go to Starbucks to study. Sounds crazy, I know, but it works for me. I have the non-specific white noise of people I don’t know chatting in the background without the temptation to join in a conversation. I’m not going stir crazy as I’m out of the house. Working on my laptop rather than my multi-screen monitor helps me stay focused on the software studying task at hand. Starbucks/AT&T charge for internet access through my laptop so I’m not distracted easily.
So far all of my proposals have worked. I find it very natural to stay focused. If I have to “think” about staying focused, that thought in and of itself will distract me. This method currently keeps me on task without having to think about what task it is I’m performing. Too much monitor real-estate leads me to distractions and a quickly responding system leaves me to run down multiple rabbit trails. I tend to think the large number of us who claim “ADD” or “ADHD” are not inflicted with anything other than reinforcing poor habits and living years of distracted lifestyles. That said, I think it should be possible to relearn to properly focus through some hard work.
Let me know what your life hack is. How do you stay on task?