I can't concentrate! Help!
January 30, 2008 2:34 PM   Subscribe

How do I get back into the mental groove? Got any tips on how to get back my focus and get things done when I've been thoroughly distracted and just can't get back into it?

I'm a software developer, and well, writing code takes concentration and focus. I need advice on how to get that focus back, sooner rather than later, after I've been thoroughly distracted.

(A little bit of backstory, just to give an example: I was doing my geek thing, working on a project. Then I got roped into an work-related email conversation that's, well, pissed me right off and now I'm hurt and angry and trying really hard to just brush it off and get back to work. But nothing's working - i've completely lost my focus, I *need* to get it back, and am now using my precious weekly question to ask the nice MeFi people for advice!)
posted by cgg to Work & Money (11 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I work from home. My supervisors are cats. My distractions range from the internet to the garden to the dishes in the sink to... well, you get it. They are legion.

When I lose my motivation -- which happens often, even when there's a deadline looming -- I try to just accept it and deal with it. I recognize/acknowledge that I just goofed off for half an hour (or three hours) and commit to working for the next hour. But before doing that, I've got to take a 15 minute break doing something completely unrelated to work or to the goofing off. So, I'll tidy up the bathroom, or talk to the corner, or something like that, with the explicit understanding that when I'm done, the work begins again.

It takes a certain amount of self-discipline (and I'll admit that I don't always possess it). But it can work, too. You've basically just got to DO it.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:42 PM on January 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

or talk to the corner

Um, since I basically just outed myself as a crazy cat lady, I have to clarify that that's meant to say walk to the corner. Really.

posted by mudpuppie at 2:44 PM on January 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

In general, when I am urgently in need of focus, I will close Firefox, Thunderbird, and Pidgin until I've started making progress again. If that doesn't work, then I'll go for a walk if the weather is nice, and then try again. If the weather isn't nice, then I'll call home or listen to music or do some other totally unrelated thing. It's not procrastinating so much as stepping back, taking a look at the big picture(or just letting your mind wander/decompress), and then diving back in again.
posted by Zach! at 2:48 PM on January 30, 2008

Well, if some of that temptation involves the net or applications on your computer...

It's freeware that lets you lock yourself out of any application you choose, including browsers, email, etc...
posted by Ziggurat at 2:55 PM on January 30, 2008

seconding the crazy cat lady and zach. i do both.

i also have this series of activities that kind of get my mind into the groove (i'm a designer).

i clean up my office, do the dishes, or clean up one room of the house. it's the type of organizational work i can do while focusing organizational creative thought on the actual organizational thing i should be doing -- kind of like warming up before a workout. then i dive into the actual task. makes things a lot easier. also makes my actual work go much faster, because i've run through what needs to be created three or four times in my mind.

also, close your damn communication tools. people who think artisans should be up for communication with the same level of speed as account people are assholes. just don't do it.
posted by patricking at 3:27 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Go for a walk, 10 minutes brisk walk around the block, maybe with a healthy snack and then back to your desk. Always freshens me up and clears out whatever it was that distracted me to begin with.
posted by patrickk at 3:34 PM on January 30, 2008

It sounds like your concentration problems are primarily emotional. Some ideas: go for a walk, get a snack, talk to someone who can sympathize, write out the experience.

Or yes, ditch all the distractions, put on some (non-distracting) music, and just start. Try the smallest stupidest part of the projects, tell yourself that you'll work on it for 10 minutes. Hopefully, but the time the 10 minutes runs out, you'll be back in the groove.
posted by epersonae at 3:55 PM on January 30, 2008

I don't know about writing software, but I am taking piano lessons from a mean East German woman (seriously). There can be no slacking off in her presence. So maybe you can think of her yelling at you when you get distracted.

If it helps you, she looks kind of like a sturdier, wrinklier Bea Arthur aged about 15 more years, several of were probably served in Siberia.
posted by amfea at 4:27 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Amfea, a photo would help us all benefit from your experience.
posted by jbickers at 5:21 PM on January 30, 2008

I have had great success using the technique godawful posted about here. I wonder how effective it would be for someone emotionally riled up, though.
posted by TheManChild2000 at 7:04 PM on January 30, 2008

jbickers: I do not have a picture of her, but I spent some time searching the net for someone that looks like her. Milka Planinc, the former Yugoslavian premier, could pass for her sister. Here is a photo of her...

posted by amfea at 8:48 PM on January 30, 2008

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