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Friday, February 10, 2012

Concentration Secrets

Increasingly, I've used begun to listen to music while doing nothing else. I concentrate on the music itself rather than using it as background. When I meditate, and dismiss other thoughts that come up. When I am teaching, I am doing that. Nothing outside the classroom discussion exists for me. When I'm talking to a friend, that person gets my full attention.

When I write, I shut out other distractions. It could be in a crowded, noisy café, but that's what I do.

The secret of concentration is very simple. Don't multitask. Just devote yourself to whatever it is you are doing. It's true that I recite Shakespeare in the shower, so that while I am showering I am not only showering. Most things, though, are worth doing for themselves, without any other activity interceding.

If you think you can only concentrate for 10 minutes, then start there. Work on your project for exactly 10 minutes and gradually work up from there. You really only need to be able to concentrate for 25-30 minutes in order to make good progress on a larger project. You can write for 25 minutes, take a break, then do it again. Once you are used to concentrating it becomes habitual. You can turn your email off for those 25 minutes, because nothing is that urgent that can't wait such a short time.

I can concentrate for three hours on a project. That's about my limit, but I rarely have to work 3 hours a day on my research and writing. It's nice to know I could work three hours straight and think of nothing else, but I almost never have to use that excess capacity because I can accomplish a tremendous amount in 2 1/4 hours.

***

Often, I will tell myself that I have no concentration on a particular day before I even try to work. A huge mistake. It is much better to work anyway and then have the *concentration habit* quick in once you begin. The worst that can happen is a mediocre writing session that keeps in touch with your project. On days I don't feel like exercising I might go to the gym anyway. I tell myself: "I will go to the gym in my gym clothes even though I am not going to exercise at all. " Then, once I am there, I figure out I might as well work out.

5 comments:

Professor Zero said...

OK, I'm using these techniques to put up blinds right now - something I've been putting off forever because my equipment hasn't been working right / my tools aren't quite right, etc., so it's harder than it has to be but not impossible, just onerous.

I have decided to (a) tell myself it won't take all night, yet (b) tell myself to take my time. Part (b) is revealing about Getting Things Done in general - although I can pull things out on short deadlines when I have to and find time limitations useful sometimes, I've always hated to rush. It's just my nature - I like calm.

I realized from this how all the talk about motivation, putting alarms on, etc. messed me up: *despite* always having known you can get a lot done in half an hour, the minute it seemed to come into fashion to also *rush* during that half hour, have a word count you were rushing toward for that half hour, I shut down (before the time managers came in, I always had realistic goals for time, that I always met).

So that's my modification to all of this: maybe one shouldn't ask oneself to concentrate for a long time, but part of making it possible for me, at least, to concentrate at all is not to ask myself to rush.

Professor Zero said...

Now another blind is up. Badly. In fact I thought it was going worse and it may have done. However with this one, I understand how they work. So that is progress.

Conclusion: keeping at it does work.

When this comment is posted, I'll see what time it is, which will show how long it takes to put up a blind.

Jonathan said...

Not rushing is important for certain tasks. The best concentration, even when timed, is still unrushed.

Professor Zero said...

Another damned blind. If I'd started earlier on this project, I would have come sooner to agree with my original perception, that this is a job I ought to hire out. However, I would only have come to that conclusion had I also timed the task.

That is, not:
- I can do this and the cost of hiring it out if inflated, so I will work on it until it is right (out of proportion to importance of task)

but:
- I will work on this in good faith for X number of hours, after which I will allow myself to hire it out if I am not satisfied.

That would be the point of timing things, although I tend to resist the concept of timing academic tasks because I am in rebellion against the "faster! faster!" cant I've always heard.

Tanya Golash-Boza said...

I love this idea that concentration is also a skill that you can learn. Of course it is. Buddhist monks weren't born knowing how to meditate for hours. They learned, little by little.