Two Strategies for Focusing

– or, How I’m trying to control my internet use in order to study.

A long time ago I was an intern at a small publishing company in Boston. Before you get the idea that this overachiever as a good intern, let me crush that thought.  I was 20 and I was a terrible intern.  I hated that internship with a fiery passion.  What I thought I hated about it was the amount of time I spent sitting and staring at a computer for 20 hours a week, but the truth is, I hated it because it asked me to focus.  In particularly, the demands of the internship were that I focus on what my supervisors wanted me to do, instead of what I wanted to be doing.  I chafed under that, I struggled, and I failed.

My internship, at least, was in beautiful Harvard Square.
via flickr – wallyg.

At the time, I thought there was an easy solution to this problem, don’t get a job where you have to work on a computer with the internet.   Fast forward 7 or so years and I’ve come to grasp that there will very soon be no jobs that don’t involve computers.  At the very least, none that I want to do.

So the time has come where I’ve got to knuckle down and address the root problem of that internet-ship – that there are times in life where you can’t do what you want, and you will be confronted with the ability to “cheat” your way out of situation by appearing to work, but not actually working.  If you do, the only person that will loses in that situation is you.

The problem after all, is not the internet, or the time, it’s your ability to focus on one thing at a time.  It’s an issue of focus.  Which it turns out is one of the seven crucial skills for people to succeed.  But that’s another post for another time.

Last week in my management class we covered the theory behind TQM (total quality management), which my professor laid out in two neat columns.  The consequences of poor work are wasted resources, wasted materials, wasted employee time, shoddy products… and the list goes on.  In fact, he said according to some studies, a company which works poorly can lose up to 25% of their products and energy.

And it’s not just business – I see the same problem in the libraries of colleges.  I see students who are studying – by checking their smart phones, their facebook pages, and talking with their friends.  Sometimes I find myself doing the same thing.

When it comes to mental work, it’s a problem of focus, and the world is full of distractions.

I think the answer to this can be found in two places.  Structure and Mindfulness.

Let’s deal with Mindfulness first.

Mindfulness – the trait of staying aware, or paying close attention to your responsibilities and life.  

Whether that is studying, working, eating, or driving. It’s easy to lose control of your mind, to want to drift away.  In the circumstances of study, or work, it’s easy for one thing to lead you down a rabbit trail of ten other things.

This is me studying for my midterm – Oh,here’s the chapter about mission statements and plans.  That reminds me, I wanted to check on my five year plan and update our family mission statement…. Oh, I am going to update my budget… and so on.  For twenty minutes.

…and now I’ve started attempting to use twitter too…

Mindfulness techniques help you to recognize these thoughts… and Let. Them. Go.  No need to follow them through to the end.  You are engaging in the moment, writing a blog post.  Not looking at twitter.

The second is structure.

A good daily plan will always help you with your life.

Following my daily plan for the day, not allowing myself to try and tackle all tasks at once is what keeps me focused and on target.  They help me see what can wait, and what needs to be taken care of right now. I make my goals bite size, and tackle them bit by bit – like the old joke about how to eat an elephant. This really helps me keep from being overwhelmed.

But there are still times, when I need to really buckle down for example –  when it comes to crucial focusing or writing.  I jot down the stray thought so I’ll have it later, and then I breeze right past it, refusing to look up something that will drive me that 20 minute internet foray.  A time chart will help with that – and give you an accurate idea for how much time each project takes.  All you need is an excel spreadsheet broken into 15 minute chunks.

Study Chart
Study Chart – Keeping track of distractions

What ways do you use for focusing on tasks at hand?  Do you struggle with this?

If you liked this post, you might like my post about how I organize my day.

Also, you could follow me on twitter – @BethMelillo

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Author: Beth M

Life Lessons, Parenting, Books, Sustainability.

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