How to stay concentrated for a long period of time?

post by infinickel · 2019-02-03T05:24:28.455Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · LW · GW · 15 comments

This is a question post.

Contents

I find it nearly impossible to focus on anything more than 2+ hours straight. Even if I enjoy an activity, I end up being distracted by a hell lot of things or just being too exhausted to continue doing it.

The situation is only getting worse if I have a task that is not rewarding in a short-term. Yet a lot of people I know can endure unpleasant tasks even for a few days (e.g. when they have to finish "that dull project" right before deadline).

The question is, how can a person develop ability for staying focused? What kind of tricks can be used? If these tricks can be harmful for health, I'd like to hear about them anyway.

answer by Elo · 2019-02-03T17:07:18.026Z · score: 8 (None votes)

Meditation can help train concentration. Meditation can also bring clarity to goals and allow you to notice when you don't want to pursue that one. It can also enable vividness control over dull moments.

(yes it feels like a super power at times these days and yes I'm using it to write.)

answer by habryka · 2019-02-03T05:28:26.486Z · score: 6 (None votes)

My inner Scott Alexander is screaming: "Have you considered you have ADHD? Have you considered you should take ADHD medicine?"

My inner Scott Alexander does not have a medical degree, and I don't know to what degree I endorse this as advice, but it seemed like the obvious hypothesis on the table. I know of a lot of people who have been helped by ADHD medicine.

answer by mr-hire · 2019-02-03T14:27:14.099Z · score: 4 (None votes)

Critch mentioned that when he was working for focusing for long periods of time on math, one thing that helped him was tying the pursuit of math to as many terminal values and deep needs as he could (he had a list of those needs from a theory of human motivation, but the general idea should work without the list). I've since had varying levels of success with that technique, the key being really having my system 1 get how this particular activity is tied to what it wants.

The theory being that often distractions are to meet a need that's not being met, and if you're already getting (or realize you will get) that need met from your current activity, there's no reason to switch tasks.

I think the old "urge propagation" CFAR technique was doing something like this.

answer by Rakefet Cohen · 2019-02-03T09:10:31.457Z · score: 4 (None votes)

Great question!

I used an advanced type of Pomodoro technique, which is Forest.

Forest is a very pleasant way to time your tasks and breaks. It's actually great that they have time for breaks, but they make it organized and restricted.

Habitica is a great way too. You earn points for completing tasks. Actually, any app that allows you to strike out tasks will do the job. I use an Excel sheet too, which also allows me to track my progress using a progress bar (just start out a new sheet from a ready template that does that).

I also use Time Spend on Facebook. Does what it says. This is a little bit of a shaming but does the work, so it's controversial for me.

Now I use Mindful Browsing, which like Forest, is also a pleasant way not to get distracted while browsing.

As you can see, pleasantness is very important for me. I don't want to feel guilty. This is why I try now and then to go off these apps and extensions, but when my exams appoach I'd rather not to take a chance and to do use them.

15 comments

comment by mad · 2019-02-03T06:10:58.388Z · score: 8 (None votes) · LW · GW

I think the answer to your question is "people don't concentrate for 2 hours at a stretch". That's why the pomodoro technique is so useful!

I'm very focused in general, and I find 45 minutes to an hour is the longest I can sustain my attention on a task, especially if it's boring. Contrary to the other poster I don't think that I have ADHD (though I don't doubt I'd be able to focus for 3 or 4 hours straight if I took dexies, since my husband *does* have ADHD and the medicine does that for him).

You should look online for resources about combating procrastination, getting motivated, etc, as it's the same sort of problem everyone runs into.

Here's my personal productivity tips:

  • Pomodoros: I use the complice.co less wrong study hall, which has 32/8 pomos. I like that balance as 32 minutes is coming on the maximum amount of time I can be "mostly reliably" focused. I won't bother explaining pomodoros as they're on about ten thousand different websites.
  • Beemindier: I've been using beeminder since its official launch and it's got me to do everything from an 1800 day duolingo streak to reading a textbook to writing a 50,000 word novel to studying several hundred anki cards a day. If I don't, I have to pay $5, and I'm so cheap I'm not ever going to give up the $5.
  • I reward / bribe myself. "Can't start making breakfast until I've done one pomo", "that pepsi you're craving will only be yours if you've done a pomo of project status reports", etc. Only ever small things that I get immediately after my equally small achievement.
  • Don't be too hard on yourself. The biggest thing that gets me in my work day in terms of productivity is my "shame spiral". I don't get much done which means I feel shitty about myself and keep on not getting much done, "the day is wasted anyway". I try to think what my best friend would say to me and internalise that rather than thinking what a failure I am. Also, if I have a real shame spiral sort of day, I try to change my to do list to just one or two stupidly easy things, or break tasks down to steps the include "open the program", "click on the link", "type in the name of what i'm searching for". It's stupid, but it's so motivating to give yourself some wins.
comment by avturchin · 2019-02-03T14:53:22.521Z · score: 2 (None votes) · LW · GW

I am bad in concentrating, but good in getting things done to a deadline. So I think that concentration itself is not so important, if you can do the work. I am distracting every 5 minutes to check facebook, news etc. I interpret this as that my "pomodoros" are very short and I just need to rest every 5 minutes.

comment by mr-hire · 2019-02-03T13:38:19.346Z · score: 1 (None votes) · LW · GW

Note that people with ADHD often have hyperfocus, and can concentrate on certain things for much longer than two hours (e.g. videogames), they just have poor attentional control.

comment by Pattern · 2019-02-05T00:31:08.660Z · score: 0 (None votes) · LW · GW

This comment seems identical to another one here [LW · GW]. (I am also curious about what caused this change in belief.)

comment by Elo · 2019-02-05T01:04:18.691Z · score: 3 (None votes) · LW · GW

I assume this was a shift in formatting from "comment" to "answer".

comment by Pattern · 2019-02-05T19:00:57.249Z · score: 0 (None votes) · LW · GW

No, both were comments, one on a question, and the one I linked to was a comment on an answer. As the author retracted the one above, it seemed reasonable they might wish to do the same with a duplicate.

comment by mr-hire · 2019-02-05T19:47:07.027Z · score: 3 (None votes) · LW · GW

I retracted it because I accidentally posted as a full post comment instead of as a reply.