It’s 5:00 PM. You’re sitting there with a list of things (either mental or physical) to do in front of you. You are fully aware that you need to do them, and perhaps you’ve even started tackling it. You have every intention in the world to sit down and do your work. And then… it buzzes. You harmlessly check to see if the notification your phone just gave you was important. You see it’s a text from your best friend, and as a best friend you’re obligated to make sure everything is alright. Then, you decide to press the back button and see if you have any other texts. You notice your friend Grace on your recent conversations and you remember you meant to ask them something, so you send it really quick. Then, after you send that you get a Snapchat notification from Dave, which you instinctively check. Then, before you know it you’re tapping through all the 40 Snapchat stories that have been uploaded since the last time you checked two hours ago, and before you realize what’s happened, you’re lying in a weird position on your chair and it’s 9:00 PM and you haven’t done any work.
We have all experienced this to some degree or another. It’s incredibly easy to get caught up on devices and get distracted from our work. It’s particularly easy if you don’t have any intense drive to do that work. For example, you may not be super excited and driven to do your 10 difficult physics problems on the topic you barely understand the fundamentals of. I get it.
Focus is difficult. It takes so much more energy to focus and pull ourselves away from all the distractions than it has for any other school generation in history. We’re getting stuck in this pattern of being constantly pulled in different directions and making the habit of continuously multitasking. Multitasking is not the way to go. It’s not efficient and it produces sub-quality work. Of course, in some situations it can be beneficial, but I’m speaking in general terms.
I realized recently that I have developed a serious problem with focus. I would check my phone every 10 or so minutes when working, even if I didn’t get a notification. Once I started being more mindful about when I check it, I started to realize how unnecessary it is to do this. So, I conducted a little experiment. I put my phone in the other room while doing homework, and I realized that I didn’t get as distracted. But, it’s not always, and most often not, possible or efficient for me to do a lot of my work with my phone in the other room. Oftentimes I need the extra screen when working on something, and for ease of looking something up while having a couple things open on my laptop.
So, I can’t keep my phone physically away, and my phone distracts me. What do I do? Well, I found a couple helpful apps that have aided me in keeping focused on work while still being able to do what I need.
The first app I discovered is called Forest. It’s a timer app that counts down your desired amount of focus/no phone time, and in that time, you grow a tree. When you try to access any other app on your phone, you’ll kill the tree, which is just sad. You get to grow yourself a forest of focus trees and it’s really satisfying.
The other app I discovered is called Tide. It’s another kind of timer app, but it’s optional to have the no-other app feature. It also has optional white noise wave music which I find really helpful – I like to listen to something while I study, and music with lyrics is too distracting so it’s a good option. It also has built in breaks, so I like to use it for long periods of work time since it reminds me to stop. You can adjust the timer to any time you’d like, and it automatically adjusts the breaks accordingly. I like to do it pomodoro-style, so I do 25-minute sessions with 5-minute breaks.
While there are these kinds of tools available to you, they won’t do the work themselves. You have to find your own ambition and drive to focus and get done what you need to in an efficient way. The best way I’ve found to do this is through figuring out the why of each task. If I’m feeling unmotivated, I’ll look at the next thing on my list and ask myself why I put this on my list, and why it’s important to accomplish. I ask myself what I’ll get out of it – what the benefits are – and what my feeling will be after I get it done, versus if I put it off. Taking the time to ask these questions can easily turn procrastination into productivity if assessed correctly.
Focus is important – the more focused you are, the more you can accomplish. For tasks we don’t want to do, focus allows us to get it out of the way so we can then focus on the things we do want to do.
How do you buckle down and focus, with all the distractions around you? Let me know!