man looking through magnifying glass with one eye towards camera

There are so many things these days that can steal our focus.

Emails. Breaking news notifications. Calendar reminders. Twitter. Online shopping. Google searches. New research published on ResearchGate. TikTok. Audiobooks. Instagram. MS Teams. Messenger. Podcasts.

Speaking of podcasts, I recently listened to Oprah’s interview with Johann Hari. He’s published the book, “Stolen focus: why you can’t pay attention. He mentioned that students focus on a task for an average of 65 seconds (and only three minutes for office workers). That statement wasn’t surprising at all and lately I’ve been seeing how mentally exhausted I find myself at the end of each day – and it is not exhaustion from working really hard on my paper. It’s exhaustion from all the ‘notifications’ from everyday life in this century. Although he discusses why we can’t entirely blame ourselves for this, we have the means to fight against having our focus robbed from us. I feel really privileged that I’m engaged in work that requires deep, thorough thinking. How can I though, carve out significant periods of my day to this endeavour, my thesis? How do I accomplish that while still being connected to friends and keeping up with current research and current events in the economy/community?

Johann described some of the things he would do personally to fight against his focus being stolen. What is he doing that I’m not that could help me sharpen my focus?

  • Lock. He would place his phone in a box with a lockable timer. I’m not really able to do this as I need to receive any emergency phone calls with regards to family members. However, I could change the settings in that, for certain periods of the day, anything or anyone who won’t need to contact me during an emergency will be on mute. I won’t receive any unnecessary notifications or messages.
  • Block. He would use an app that would block certain websites and emails from distracting him during periods of time he’s set for deep, focused work. I do this to some extent. My Google phone has a Focus mode mechanism which means any distracting app is blocked for that time period each day.
  • Stop. He takes a couple of weeks off of social media every month and gets a trusted friend to change his passwords. I’ve not tried this. As I am not originally from here, I’d like to be connected to friends from back home. Maybe instead, I can set up Messaging groups for those really close-knit groups which means I can switch off certain social media accounts every so often and get a bit of a break.
  • Out. He takes walks regularly and does not bring his phone with him. Again, I need to have my phone on me in the event of any emergencies, but maybe instead I can sharpen focus by committing to practicing mindfulness twice each day – every morning and night.
  • Play. He makes it a priority to engage in free play time with his godchildren. Done – I get to do this every single day!

It’s not perfect but it’s a start. It’s also very important for me to sharpen my focus as it will help see me through to completing my degree.

Tagged in What messes with your head, study, self-care