How to Focus in the 21st Century

February 3, 2014
Allen Rabinovich
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Continuing on last week’s post regarding the change in study habits through the generations, I want to go into several ways to get things done in this day and age.

1. Silence distractions to Maintain Flow

You might know flow more familiarly as “the zone.” It is a real and researched phenomenon that is the key to productive work for many successful people.

How to get in the zone:

  • Silence your phone: do not set it to vibrate. As we learned last week, for every distraction, it can take an average of 25 minutes to get back to work. You can always check your text messages after you’ve finished a portion of your assignment.
  • Maximize and isolate your active work window. Having 15 tabs open fighting for your attention only aids in getting you out of the zone and unfocused. Open as few tabs as possible, and make sure they’re all completely relevant.

2. Break up Long Assignments into Manageable Chunks

One of the central drivers of procrastination is the intimidation of the task in front of you. Eliminate this stress by dealing with your work in smaller pieces.

Two Ways to Split up and Deal with Your Work:

1. Set a time limit for your chunk at hand.

  • Use a pomodoro timer where you can specify a work time limit and then a scheduled break time. By doing only 30 minutes of focused work at a time, it can actually to add up to a much greater end result.

2. Break up your big assignments into mini goals.

  • So let’s say you have an essay to write. Instead of saying I’ll work on it for 30 minutes, you can instead say, “I’ll just write the introduction now and take a break.” Whether that takes 15 minutes or 40 minutes, it will be more productive than just stopping in the middle and losing your train of thought.


3. If All Else Fails, Force Yourself to Focus

There are some excellent applications that allow those of us with less willpower to fight against the procrastination bug.

  • Stayfocusd extension for Google Chrome (download)
    • Is social media eating up all of your productive time? Protect yourself from…yourself by setting a daily time limit for your most time-sucking web activities. After the timer expires, it automatically disallows you from visiting the sites on your blocklist.
  • SelfControl app for Mac (download)
    • A heavy duty option for the social media addicts out there. There is no way to turn off this application once the timer starts. It’s an unforgiving combination of pomodoro and stayfocusd, a great assistant during finals week.
    • Stickk is an original goal-setting website that lets you put your money where your mouth is. You can set goals and put up actual cash as motivation to stick with them. If you happen to fail, your money will either go to charity or to an anti-charity (hate the NRA or Manchester United? Be careful not to fund them).

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