How can you concentrate more? It’s something that many people are struggling with. In the US, the New York Times reported that 11% of school-age children have received a diagnosis of ADHD. While that number has been disputed, there’s a general theme arising in society about the amount of information available and our brain’s ability to compute it. The Economist highlighted this in their special report on aging asking some pretty important questions on the ability to handle information. We’re also living in a climate where the speed of information is changing. How do you cope with all the bullshit?
I was struck this week by Hugh McGuire’s piece “Why can’t we read anymore?”. The thesis was that the digital lifestyle doesn’t allow us to concentrate on deep thinking (like books). As an example, while writing these first two sentences in this paragraph, I stopped to check my email, updated applications on my phone, updated the latest plug-ins on this website, was interrupted by my wife texting me a few times, and watched an Instagram video of a doctor who pops pimples (Dr. Pimple Popper on YouTube, check her out to be oddly satisifed).
My Day: A Lesson In Not Concentrating
I multi-task a lot through the course of my day. I’m managing my work-related tasks on Asana, clicking through my personal checklists on Wunderlist, making sure I’m up-to-date on The Economist, The New Yorker and the hundred different news outlets through my phone. I subscribe to a variety of daily emails: Quartz, Skimm, Skint, NextDraft, Medium, The Week, etc. I simply cannot keep up with everything: The latest Twitter trends, cult companies, our President’s latest tweet, sports, natural disasters, the latest memes, etc. This is compounded by social networks which are featuring more and more clickbait articles — the ones that promise insight but deliver little (and I sadly click on most of them from “Five Funds That Will Beat Your Index Funds” to “Watch the newest ‘Star Wars’ trailer”). Videos now autoplay on my Facebook feed so a minor distraction turns into a half hour venture when I’m done.
There’s more information available online then there ever has been before, but I’m also less concentrated than I have been before. I’m stretched to the point of exhaustion some nights. McGuire came up with a solution of sorts that I might borrow from. He writes the following items he is working on with an emphasis on how easy or hard they seem:
- No more Twitter, Facebook, or article reading during the work day (hard)
- No reading of random news articles (hard)
- No smartphones or computers in the bedroom (easy)
- No TV after dinner (it turns out, easy)
- Instead, go straight to bed and start reading a book — usually on an e-ink e-reader (it turns out, easy)
That’s a hard list of things to do, but I’m in a position where I’d like to try some of them out. I check email a lot because it’s part of my job (but I do admit there is a certain amount of unhealthiness to checking your email all the time). But how do I concentrate more? Weaning myself off of all the news will be more challenging. It’s an attitude shift to concentrate more. We have so many small payoffs through the course of the day: but the digital lifestyle does damage to how we can concentrate.
My next steps are to read Daniel Levitan’s book “The Organized Mind” and come up with a long-term strategy for determining how to organize my time better. I have a few specific goals both qualitative and quantitative.
- What are your tips for concentration? Have you implemented anything that will help your life?