How to Focus 3 replies

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Superfluous Curmudgeon VIP Member

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#1 5 months ago

I have found this to be more and more difficult as the work I do is less deadline-based do half a dozen relatively clear-cut problems and more open-ended, loosely scheduled, and more technically complex. But I've found that since I've started my master's degree, it's been tremendously difficult to focus. Usually it's either I have plenty of energy but am quite scatter-brained, easily distracted, etc. or I am very low-energy/lethargic and just want to lay down/stare at a wall. In either case, I feel like I'm operating at no more than 25% efficiency when it comes to getting meaningful work done with regards to the task at hand.

During my undergrad years, I had similar issues, but I was able to survive pretty ok because impending deadlines have a way of turning on adrenaline/focus mode on for me. It was usually panicked and I hated myself during the time I was madly rushing to get the work done, but except for a handful of cases, it was easy enough work to get things done in this manner.

But now, it's a bit different. I feel pretty motivated and have been spending 50+ hours per week trying to work on my thesis/grad school-related work, but I feel like I'm crawling through things. Part of the time, I lack the mental energy to get meaningful things done, part of the time I'm hyper-active and feel super physically energetic but mentally drained, part of the time I'm more mentally energetic.

So I've been trying to figure out ways to increase mental energy and more importantly, my focus/productivity. Caffeine can help a bit, but a lot of times it's hit-or miss. Like, a 50/50 chance whether it will help or not on any day. If I'm very tired, it might give me an hour of energy before I'm feeling drained again. And if I'm already somewhat energetic, it might help me focus more, or it might make me even more distractable/scattered. I've not really been able to predict too well what it will do.

Diet-wise, I'm pretty consistent. I eat a low-carb diet with plenty of meat/seed protein and fat, and a fair amount of veggies. The results are definitely better than with the garbage diet I used to have, but leave a lot to be desired. For instance, I still crash after lunch a good portion of time. I'm thinking about trying a ketogenic diet, as I've heard that if it's done right, it can improve consistency of mental energy, and doesn't  really have the after-meal crashes that more mainstream diets tend to have.

I've been exercising fairly consistently as well - about 4 times per week. On gym days, I usually go late afternoon/evening and am usually physically re-energized after I finish, but  I can only expect about another hour of mentally demanding work when I'm done. Ideally I'd have another 3-4 hours in me once I finish.

My sleep schedule is a bit of a wreck. I often get up at 12pm and go to bed at 2-4 AM, but once or twice a week I have to get up a good deal earlier (closer to 8 am). I do feel a bit more focused when I start the day earlier, but I lack the self-discipline to get up earlier when I am not forced to by work. To compound this, I randomly need an extra 4+ hours of sleep once or twice every 2 weeks, and also randomly cannot sleep for several hours of the early morning each week. I'd imagine that fixing this would be helpful, but I'd need to try a different approach to be able to try this.

I'm not on any medication, though I'm tempted to get tested for ADHD/ADD and see if any medications typically associated with those conditions would help. 


Any suggestions/similar issues? It does seem a little funny that the biggest impediment to me getting this degree is my own ability to get work done efficiently. Seems like a skill I should have figured out by now, but go figure - I guess undergrad-level engineering college isn't as demanding as I'd thought. Or maybe something's changed with me that makes it harder to get things done.




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#2 5 months ago

Honestly, I think you have to be passionate and motivated about something to truly focus 100% onto it, otherwise you will never be able to do that, you can force yourself into working harder but I find if you want to make something happen it will just happen with no effort, you wont have to force yourself to be motivated.

Sadly I dont think this is easy to come by for most people.


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Nemmerle Forum Mod

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#3 5 months ago

Uhm - couple of things that might be worth trying?

Your sleep schedule is terrible so it's not super surprising you lack energy? Get up at the same time every morning - especially if you don't want to! Go for a run, make sure you have breakfast. Spend the few days it takes feeling like utter death before your sleep schedule stabilises. Random crashes kinda indicates that you're not getting enough sleep! (Oh and make sure you sleep in total darkness (buy a sleep mask if this isn't already true?) and with as little noise as possible.)

3-4 hours of constant mentally demanding work is too much to ask of yourself. Like, I do 3-4 hours of mentally demanding work at actual work and I get a lot done in that time. But then I need to go do something else. Maybe fit a couple more hours in late in the evening, maybe not.

Deadlines are kinda self-imposed. Like, in a sense it's good to have someone chasing you for stuff - but at the same time even if someone's chasing you it can still be blown off - it just has consequences. You know that the stuff you're doing has consequences if you blow it off... that's a deadline, of a sort.

On and around the last two - suitably redacted, here is what I have on my work-list for today.

Hn4Zsi3.jpg

(I should update that, I've done a bunch of those since I last did so.)


I am not motivated to do most of that stuff. But it's a list, you go through, you knock things off. I generally assign each thing on there an hour - whether they actually take an hour or not. You would be amazed at the amount you can get done if every hour you just tick one thing off a list. This week I'm going to do about 35 things. Next week I'll do 35 more. That's not working particularly hard, that's just going 'Okay, roughly every hour I'll tick something off. Some days I'll tick off less, some days I might feel like ticking off more. Average about 7-8 Things a day. And then the rest of the day I'll do whatever.'




Last edited by Nemmerle 5 months ago

MrFancypants Forum Admin

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#4 5 months ago

Hm, at university it can be hard to be self-motivated. So many distractions and so little oversight. For the best time I had studying was when I managed to make it habitual. Follow a routie: get up at a certain time, take a shower, have breakfast, then work for a couple of hours. Take a break, eat something, work some more hours. Then reward yourself with some leisure time in the evening.


For the low-energy problem there could be a bunch of reasons such as depression,  lack of sports, lack of light... I had an iron deficiency for quite a while which got diagnosed only by chance and took a long time to compensate, that really caused a dent in productivity.


Nowadays for me the problem is more on arranging the multitude of tasks in a manner that makes work effective. It is more about multi-tasking and avoiding distractions.