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How to stay concentrated for a long period of time?

by infinickel 1 min read3rd Feb 201915 comments


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.

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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.)

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.

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.

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.