Focusing on work
April 6, 2014 8:12 AM   Subscribe

It is very difficult for me to focus when I have any problems at all. Sitting around alone in silence doesn't work for me! What might?

I can't focus!! I've tried the pomodoro technique and finding a nice place etc etc, sometimes I procrastinate by dealing with my thoughts, writing them down etc, but other times I just sit there and stare into space while I think... I have so much I need to do! But all of it requires heavy concentration, and I feel like my brain is too weak and fluffy right now to get all of this work done and it is stressing me out a lot.

What are your tips and tricks hive mind?

Thank you!
posted by dinosaurprincess to Education (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I have a similar problem, particularly when I am anxious. I have found that burning off some of the stress with a few minutes physical exercise, followed by a cup of green tea, will calm me down. Then I use the "power hour" or pomodoro technique to chip away at the tasks.
posted by rpfields at 8:39 AM on April 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do something. You managed to focus long enough to write this post, and I'm guessing that you'll manage to focus long enough to come back and read the responses. So it's not that you can't focus at all, since you are obviously capable of focusing. You can do it.

Focus on a given task for at least as long as you focused on this post, plus 10%. Do that enough times that the 110% becomes your norm. Then increase the time again by another 10%.

Also, cut the task down into tiny bits. Go from "quench thirst" to a list like:
1] Stand up.
2] Go to kitchen.
3] Open cupboard.
4] Grab glass.
5] Close cupboard.
6] Walk to sink.
7] Put glass under tap.
8] Turn on tap.
9] Turn off tap when you have the required amount of water.
10] Lift glass to mouth.
11] Open mouth.
12] Tip water into mouth.
13] Swallow.

Little chunks are much easier to deal with.

Also, sometimes you just have to knuckle down and do it. Right now, your comfort zone is to sit and stare into space. You aren't going to get through that by any other way than by trying. All the tips and tricks in the world won't help you if you don't apply them, and while you're applying them, you're focusing on a task. You might as well focus on just doing the work instead.
posted by Solomon at 8:59 AM on April 6, 2014

Mindfulness meditation is all about training your mind to release distracting thoughts and return to the matter at hand.
posted by BrashTech at 9:01 AM on April 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Try cutting the Pomodoro time down into chunks you can work with. I find it easier to go 10 minutes on 5 minutes off at first until I warm up my brain a little, then as the project progresses and I get more engrossed I find myself annoyed when the alarm goes off so I extend the time bit by bit until I am doing 30 minute or more stretches.

Breaking tasks down into smaller components is great too, you get a sense of accomplishment which is very motivating. I like thinking wow in that 10 minute stretch I got 2 "jobs" done, i am so awesome, makes me want to keep going.
posted by wwax at 9:15 AM on April 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just came across this article, which I thought to be rather insightful.
posted by dfriedman at 9:24 AM on April 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

I know you said you "procrastinate" by writing down your thoughts, but have you tried setting aside a dedicated time for thinking about this stuff that is not procrastinating? I find it helps me move on from one thing to another when my brain feels satisfied that we spent some dedicated time on the problem. Follow it up with some vigorous cardio, then get back to your other stuff. Later when you can't concentrate again just tell yourself "no, it's not time for that now. I'll think about that this evening after dinner." It takes practice, but it does get easier.
posted by bleep at 9:46 AM on April 6, 2014

But all of it requires heavy concentration,

All of it? I bet some of it can be broken down into smaller steps. Start by writing down the all-of-it, then take something and write down the steps required to do it, then break *those* steps down. Continue until you feel like doing more than writing, or at least until you find something small enough to get done as a start. Sometimes the "where to start" part is the blank-page of activity.
posted by rhizome at 10:05 AM on April 6, 2014

I'm not sure what you're trying to get done, but I get more done when I go somewhere like a cafe where other people are obviously working. A little background noise is more stimulating than silence.
posted by wintersweet at 12:15 PM on April 6, 2014


If you can't get Adderall, I've found that listening to instrumental trance music helps. I tweak the volume until it occupies just enough of my brain to keep me busy from distracting myself with extraneous thoughts, but not so much of my brain that I can't concentrate on what I'm supposed to be doing.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:48 PM on April 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

You might feel terribly alone, and that's why you have to keep thinking about what's bothering you. You're keeping yourself company in that way. You're too anxious to let yourself go into the "self"-lessness of concentration on something other than yourself. This is similar to the fear of falling asleep. You're anxious, so you have to "hold onto" yourself (or your Self might disappear -- after all, it's very fragile; it has all these worries)

I agree with the mindfulness/meditation recommendation. The first step is to learn that *your thoughts are just thoughts.* Obsessing about what's troubling you helps you to nurture the illusion that your thoughts are *things* and that thought is some kind of action. But it's not. You're just a little person alone with your thoughts, which are ephemeral nothings.

It's a very hard lifelong project to deal with your aloneness and the ephemeral nature of You, and you're not going to "get it" because of asking this question on Metafilter. BUT you could start by telling yourself, "My thoughts are just thoughts; going over them again and again is not helping anything. Now I"m going to get to work for 10 minutes (to start) and then I'm going to "come up" again and see that I'm still here, nothing has changed, EXCEPT I've gotten ten minutes of work done -- which is actually pretty great."

I also agree with the recommendation to have people sounds around you, or other noises, if they don't distract you, because that sort of thing may make you feel less alone too.

In general, though, it helps to have some sort of feeling that "everything is going to be okay" -- in whatever weird definition of that works for you (because it's actually true, if you're willing to expand the definition of "okay" so that it becomes a global sense of relative, fatalisticish peace.)
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:35 PM on April 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

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