Relearning to Concentrate

I’ve been studying for my MCTS Examp 70-448 the last month and a half and have found my ability to block things out and focus for long stretches of time to be lacking. And I don’t think it is the somewhat dry nature of the material. I’m tackling an engaging book on a different topic in my spare time and find the same thing — my attention seems much less disciplined than it used to be.

Like many people, I use Twitter and Facebook and I read blogs on a daily basis using Google Reader. My information intake over the past few years has been heavily skewed towards taking in a lot of varied information in small bites. And my ability to settle down and simply concentrate on a single thing for say 30 or 40 minutes has apparently dropped off significantly.

Since I started studying for this exam though, my ability to concentrate has definitely increased a little. I can do about 20 minutes at a stretch before getting fidgety and needing to take a break. Nothing to brag about, obviously. But a month ago even 20 minutes was a struggle.

At the School of Life blog, Alain de Botton writes:

One of the more embarrassing and self-indulgent challenges of our time is how we can relearn to concentrate. The past decade has seen an unparalleled assault on our capacity to fix our minds steadily on anything. To sit still and think, without succumbing to an anxious reach for a machine, has become almost impossible.

I like this quote but I wouldn’t label the retraining of concentration as self-indulgent at all. Isn’t concentration a critical skill that is necessary for getting difficult things done?

I find at this point that my tolerance for jumping around Twitter, Facebook and blogs to take in little bits of info here and there seems to be suffering. Maybe this is because I just haven’t been spending as much time doing it lately. But I wonder if the skill of sustained attention and the skill of multi-tasking are somewhat at odds with each other.

In the end, I don’t know that I’m actually missing much. You can’t act on everything you read. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is hard to act on most of what you read. So aside from entertainment, is it any big loss if I skip Twitter, Facebook and blogs for a few days or a few weeks?


  1. says

    I agree that I’ve lost concentration over the last few years as I’ve had jobs that have me in front of an internet connected computer for 8 hours a day. I actually find it remarkable how focused I am when away from a computer. Things like tabbed browsing and OS X’s Spaces have made multitasking required (because it’s possible), and made distractions easier to manage (because multitasking has wired your brain to keep a few distractions on hand)

    I think the blogs are the easiest to cut out when needed. Much of the info is not pressing, and is actually entertainment. Google Reader will also save all your faves like an inbox, so you won’t actually miss anything when you have the time and return. Google Reader tip: Create a folder called “disposable” and add any feeds that are not a) crucial for your job, b) actually written by your friends & family or c) just the best of the rest. Then, when you open Reader but don’t have much time, you can quickly “Mark as Read” everything in the “disposable” folder. (Feeds can belong to multiple folders).

    However, Twitter & especially Facebook are now integral parts of my life, like email or my Google Calendar. I use them for work and connecting to friends and colleagues in ways that simply weren’t present before. If I need to concentrate for a few days, I’ll limit myself to only accessing those sites on my iPhone, and keep the computer limited to tasks at hand.

  2. Rob says

    I never thought of constraining certain things to just the iPhone like you suggest. That’s an interesting idea. I’m going to have to try it. Thx.


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