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Hi everyone !

I have hard times to focus on a task in my daily life, be it reading a book, programming, etc…

I would like to improve, so I wonder if you faced the same problems and how you are dealing with it. Could you share your techniques, books, anything that helped you ?

Thanks in advance and enjoy your sunday :)

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    Look for why you don’t want to focus.

    For me, I deal with it in the following way:

    • having a full life outside of tech
    • working out regularly and eating/sleeping well
    • accepting that some seasons of life are not marked by productivity
    • seeking out work that is challenging and pushes my limits. I don’t do well being bored.
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      Look for why you don’t want to focus.

      Fight the cause, not the consequences. I really like this :)

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        This is not easy but it is the only real solution.

        Don’t be afraid to consider your environment, your work/home life, biochemical makeup, and anything else that figures into your overall well-being.

        Good luck. If I can be of more assistance please let me know.

        Edit: see if the book Deep Work sounds like something you’d be interested in. He talks a lot about a focused life and how to get there.

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          I will have a look at this book this week ! Hope everything goes fine for you, and thank you for the help :)

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      Have pen and paper nearby. If you find yourself distracted, write down a note to continue this later, and return to the actual task. The fear of forgetting to do something was distracting to me.

      A smartphone might or might not work as a substitute. Paper is less distracting for me.

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        I will try to note passing thoughts, thanks for the idea !

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          Here is a request for you: Add a note into your calender/todo list/whatever three months from now. Revisit these comments. Write a blog post what you tried and what worked. Submit it here.

          This has two effects: We will feel extra acknowledged since you took our advise. You are more committed to actually try these things.

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            That’s a really good idea, see you the 16th of december then ;)

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        select a time you can focus in your typical mental rhythm,

        • book n hours on your calendar so coworkers don’t schedule over you

        • shut down slack

        • silence phone

        • shut down email.

        • shut down programs and tabs that don’t relate.

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          Tactical advice if you have some degree of Internet / information addiction (like most people, including myself):

          Maintain a “to read” list of blog posts and articles (on a wiki or something like Pinboard). Rather than refreshing lobste.rs or HN, force yourself to read from that instead. Read the stuff you said you wanted to read. (This can include books too, but I have a separate list for that.)

          To me, putting something on a “to read” list is a way of explicitly prioritizing your attention and address the problem of aimless web surfing. Also I think it pushes you toward longer articles, rather than fluffy ones that you can get through as soon as you click.

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            I do the same thing! Pinboard’s “read later” bookmark button is really perfect for this, especially since it also enables you to close most of your tabs instead of keeping dozens open for later reading.

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              Thanks for the advice, I will try that !

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              One of my favorite exercises is to force myself - used sparingly. Not all the time - if you force yourself to do what you hate daily, there might be a bigger problem.

              But, say you want to read a book, but you can’t. You read the first sentence - your eyes lose focus, your mind wanders, and you think, “Damn, where’s my deep work/focus/how do I get in the zone, do I have ADHD” - let those thoughts wash over you. You’ve thought those thoughts before, it’s boring. Give yourself 30 seconds to worry about whether you have a totally malfunctioning “focus apparatus” and you’ll never be able to be passionate about something ever again.

              Then, re-read the same sentence. Your mind might wander again. Taxes, job search, leetcode? That’s OK. Re-read the sentence - maybe by this time you might be sick of your mind wandering, so you actually read the damn sentence. And maybe it’s interesting? You can read the second sentence. Repeat.

              I find that after maybe 10-15 minutes of quashing the meta-worry and redoing the first steps (read the first page/chapter if I’m reading, write a function if I’m coding, etc.) , I can immerse myself for a good 30 min to an hour, maybe 2-3 hours if it’s a good day.

              The next time I want to pick it back up, I know that I need to “just do it (TM)”, and there’s no magic technique. I know that last time, I was able to immerse myself with a bit of effort, and I repeat the same thing. I’m afraid of the unpleasantness of my mind losing focus, my eyes wandering, and intrusive thoughts - however, I defeated it yesterday, so I’m more likely to defeat it today. Exposure therapy?

              If you wait too long between repetitions, you might re-gain that fear of the initial unpleasant inertia. E.g. if you show up to the gym once every two months, you might always be overcoming that same fear, by building it up in your head, by waiting so long. You might be afraid of the thing you want to work on. If you go to the gym daily, at some point it becomes a habit and you don’t need to waste time on that fear.

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                Thanks for your answer ! I do this for about a month when I climb ! At first it was tiring, but now it is a pleasure :)

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                1. Learn meditation. Meditation is basically, at least in the beginning, focus exercises. Try doing a 5-minute breathing meditation, where you focus all your attention on your breathing.

                2. I read a book called The Artist’s Way, which really helped me with its advice about “the morning pages”. Basically, in the morning (or any other time of day), sit down and write 3 pages of whatever is on your mind. This helps get whatever distracting thoughts are going around in your mind down and paper and out of your head.

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                  Hey ! The first point reminds me some exercice routine from Wim Hoff. I tried a bit but I didn’t commit to it. I will try again.

                  I keep your second point mind too, thanks for your time :)

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                  I believe that there is no silver bullet here, everyone handles this differently.

                  For me having a free from text file with the things to do, marked as done as I do them, does the job.

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                    Unfortunately there’s to hack or easy way out. Simply remove distractions - no laptop or phone in the same room you read in, for example.

                    It will be very hard at first, until it isn’t.

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                      Crank yourself into bed a little earlier than usual.

                      Some reports of L-Theanine + coffee helping (hey, it may be a placebo, but the placebo effect is real and wouldn’t we all be better off we could just find some more effective placebos? ;-) (I’m only half joking)

                      Todo list in emacs .org mode

                      TDD. Somewhere is a brutally honest admission by one of the Test Driven Development advocates, JB Rainsberger….

                      He got totally lost on a contract and couldn’t focus and was coding himself into a deeper and deeper pile of shit…

                      Whatever you may say about the other Pro’s and Con’s of TDD, throwing everything away and restarting under strict TDD discipline was what dug him out of that particular pile of shit.

                      Get up, go for a short walk outside (you, know, that Big Scary Place with Bright Lights) and get some real sun. Seriously that’s around about the best suggestion.

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                        Thanks for your answer ! I admit I sleep late for some months, I will take more attention on having an healthier schedule !

                        I just like be outside, so the sun quotas are good ;)

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                          Just remembered another trick I use…..

                          Sometimes the problem is your body is hating being so still for so long…. and maybe needs a bit of attention. eg. Move and snack.

                          So we have a communal tin of snacks a couple of paces away from your desk. You can keep thinking about what you’re doing, move and snack.

                          Being communal you don’t eat all of it and get fat and being a couple paces away prevents unconscious gorging.

                          If it is very spicy it is a nice wake up kick for the brain. eg. Wasabi peas or these things https://www.oriental.com.au/product/savour-spicy-broad-beans-100g/

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                        Make an effort to think about the long-term consequences of your choices. If you read the book now, what does it give you? If you don’t, what happens? The other thing that is trying to grab your attention – what does that do for you? How would it hurt if you don’t do it?

                        Lack of attention can often be just “prioritising short-term consequences over long-term ones.” So important to make that explicit, the trade-off.

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                          Thank you very much for your answer, I find it wise and I will keep your words in mind in the following weeks !

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                          I am surprised no one’s mentioned adderall. If you were to walk into a doctor’s office with this list of symptoms, they would likely prescribe it.

                          There’s nothing wrong with medication, especially when the symptoms are causing problems in your day to day life.

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                            Thanks for your answer. I am not in a situation where a complement is required, and try my best to avoid medication, especially for troubles that I am confident I can fix on my own ;)

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                              I went 25 years without medication and I probably should not have been confident I could fix it on my own. Mine was quite bad frankly. Still I did learn a number of things on how to manage my symptoms that were still useful after I decided to give it a try. Perhaps if you do have ADHD and you aren’t interested in medication it might be worthwhile to check out occupational therapy. They will have tips like those you’ve requested in this chat, but more tailored for your specific needs and nature. I’m getting some and I’m also medicating.

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                                I keep your advice in mind if I feel the need for a medical help, I will do it. Thanks for your time, and have a nice day :)

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                            One technique I find helpful is to set a timer for 25 minutes and say to myself, “Okay, I’ll give 100% effort, focus, and attention until the timer goes off” (and then actually give my full attention for the entire time). Then I spend 5 minutes doing ‘distracted things’, trying not to think about the work. Repeat.

                            I also think that The Mind Illuminated (a book about meditation) is mainly a handbook for improving directed attention (you have to practise a lot, though).

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                              One technique I find helpful is to set a timer for 25 minutes and say to myself, “Okay, I’ll give 100% effort, focus, and attention until the timer goes off” (and then actually give my full attention for the entire time). Then I spend 5 minutes doing ‘distracted things’, trying not to think about the work. Repeat.

                              I’ve started doing something like this recently. So far so good.

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                              I use a tool called Focus to block out websites likes front pages of lobster, HN, Twitter to not be accessible during ‘focus’ time. Only on breaks can I view news and let myself be distracted. Having a system in place that allows this to happen is great.

                              I also don’t listen to music but listen to fire sounds when trying to focus. On mac I use Noizio and on iOS I use Dark Noise.

                              https://wiki.nikitavoloboev.xyz/focusing

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                                Thanks for your advice ! I do too listen to white noises or ASMR when I want to focus on something, but not when the tasks require deep intellecual process.

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                                Structure, self care, and sanity.

                                Structure means having well documented expectations for the day, hour, etc. Document everything reasonably able to do so. Use checklists where possible. Use a calendar to make this happen.Use timers to keep track of the passage of time.

                                Self Care means staying on top of food, water, sleep, exercise etc. Structure helps with this. If you’re beginning your day with a deficit, you’re unlikely to perform your best.

                                Sanity means take some recreational time, meditate, and manage mental wellness. If you’re unable to relax at all or focus during your down time it may be a good idea to speak to a therapist. They can help you get to root causes and help you untie the knot. If you can’t disengage from work you also can’t engage with it.

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                                  I have a pretty healthy life and I enjoy a lot of relaxing moments, but structure is what I miss the most ! Thanks a lot for your write up :)

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                                    For me it’s always “pick 2” lol.

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                                  Though it was not the reason for which I started the Mindfulness meditation technique, it has proven for me to be the best tool for managing focus attention.

                                  In a nutshell, it helps noticing, observing the mental mechanisms that are recurring. Namely all those that get into the way when trying to be focussed.

                                  More generally it is about how to be fully present in the present moment, and not to be a slave of the cascade of thoughts that are used to sparkling one another. Not to identify with thougts, not to fight against thougts, just to observe them, acknowledge them, and let them ago.

                                  There are Apps for daily training. Start lightly with 5 minutes a day. It is easier when there is a guiding a voice reminding you that you are inside a meditation exercise.

                                  As an extreme simplification, I’d say Meditation is the exercise of training Focus/Attention, and we do it on the most simple thing we have at hand: our breathing.

                                  For me the results have been totally convincing.

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                                    I’m far from perfect, but there are some things that make me better. Although it seems somewhat orthogonal, I’ve found goal setting helps with focus a lot. If you can tie a task into progress towards an overall vision for your life, it’s far easier to stay focused.

                                    How you do it is going to be very personality-dependent, but here’s what I do:

                                    • Articulate and write down the ideal characteristics I want to develop over my lifetime
                                    • Work out (very broadly) what I can practically do over the next year that moves towards that vision. I also consider what my life will be like if I don’t make any progress
                                    • Have a list of repeating daily tasks that help move me towards my yearly goals. This is the same list every day. Currently it has tasks around sleep, eating, exercise, meditation etc
                                    • Have a daily list of ad-hoc tasks that I update throughout the day

                                    I can usually tie most things I do back to my primary objectives. Then, it’s fairly easy to stay on track.

                                    Practically, I use an adaptation of the bullet journal for tracking tasks etc, though for me it’s all in text files rather than prettily decorated books.