Out of Focus

As I currently write this I enter hour three of staring at my cursor blink… blink… blink on an empty Word document. It’s hypnotic at this point and convinces me that a quick scroll through Twitter will help me think of ideas. However, that “quick” scroll becomes half an hour and I forget that I still have an empty document waiting for the next great blog post to be written on it. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to overcoming it and I am not afraid to admit that social media might have a slight control over my life.

Cal Newport’s book Deep Work, states that the best way to do your most effective and overall best work is to turn those attention sucking cell phones off, stay far away from checking your email, shut down your computer completely and do everything short from locking yourself inside an internet free isolated tower. As fun as a tower sounds, I immediately knew that Mr. Newport obviously hadn’t considered his audience when he suggested going so completely off the grid. How can one expect a working mom to find the time to lock herself away with no distractions and keep her nose pressed to a book? I also can’t help but wonder about people with ADHD, what if sometimes those “distractions” are actually helping them focus better?

Since I could immediately recognize the outliers in Newport’s thinking I had to wonder if I was one of those outliers too, how could I know if his way was the best way for me to focus? I decided the only way to truly figure this out was to run an experiment.

The experiment would follow these guidelines:

  1. Set a timer and write for five minutes, after the five minutes see how much and what the quality of what I’ve written looks like. Leave my computer screen the way it usually is (social media in windows in the background, texts also visible and do not disturb is not activated) the entire time.
  2. Set another timer for five minutes but this time exit out of all the social media and text windows completely, also activate do not disturb mode on my phone. Evaluate writing.
  3. Leave the windows as they were in the previously step but this time place my phone in another room with no timer. Write for as long as my focus will take me and compare my writing to the previous two experiments.

The Results:

After following the first guidelines set by the experiment (the method I use for almost all of my work) I found the results… disappointing. I wrote two sentences and paused to look at Snapchat in the middle of it. While I am not thrilled with these results I will say in my defense that the sentences were very information heavy and did require a lot of thinking to make sure I was saying everything properly. Even so… I know I can do better.

During my second trial I found things to go more smoothly. I wrote five sentences (more than double of last time) and managed to stay off of social media the entire time. I found my sentences flowed nicely and overall my quality of work has improved from my last trial.

For my last part of my experiment I was astonished by my results. I managed to finish the two-page paper I was writing in twenty-five minuets and stayed away from social media the entire time. My focus and motivation was stronger than in either of the other two trials and I found that words came easiest to me.

Newport quotes Antonin- Dalmace Sertillanges by saying,

“Let your mind become a lens, thanks to the converging rays of attention; let your soul be all intent on whatever it is that is established in your mind as a dominant, wholly absorbing idea.”

I believe this quote sums up my experiment nicely. Focusing all of your attention on the task at hand really is a great way to receive your best results, if your circumstances allow for it. I know that not everybody has the ability to shut down and give all of their attention to one thing, but I do believe that it would benefit almost everybody to try and schedule ahead for a time where something similar is possible. I am also aware that while this method works for me, forcing myself into a library and having other people potentially judging me for not doing my assignments works just as well as a motivator and some other method might work even better than the other two, but I will never know unless I try.

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