Having worked from home for nearly a month now due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve started to realise a few things about my attention.
My attention span is shocking. Terribly bad. Thinking back to my (short) school career, every report had a section about how Paul needs to concentrate more. How I needed to pay more attention.
I have distinct memories of sitting in my Year 4 classroom and spending many days watching the birds attack the bin where we put our tied up crisp packets and wanting to be one. This did create some academic curiosity in me, I learned about the concept of reincarnation and decided that I wanted to be reincarnated as bird. To be able to fly without limits or cares. I still do.
How has this translated to later life. Not much has changed. I still struggle with my attention. I still get lost in YouTube black holes regularly. Recently I’ve got back into using Twitter and now I just spend my time dropping into twitter threads and arguments just as easily. Twitter is a brilliant distraction. Each tweet is long enough to get my attention, and then the next one is just long enough to get my attention, and the next one is just long enough…
I’ve tried to maintain my attention with a variety of methods. The most useful I’ve used for longer tasks is the Pomodoro Technique by Francesco Cirillo. When I have had tasks that take a long time (think annotating coursework for moderation) I’ve broken this down into 25 mins of work with 5 min rests. Do this 4 times then take a full 25 min break. I’ve created a simple timer that I run in my browser to help me with this.This has worked well. What I lack now, as ever is consistency.
I’ve recently installed a RSS Feed Reader on this website to allow me to have quicker access to more news sources and blog posts. A way to filter through the noise. A way to streamline the input to my attention.
The next stage is the clear the conscious of all busyness, the things I need to remember, the things I need to do, the reminders and niggles. This is where a system is needed to store these out of my mind. If I have a trusted system to do this I can focus on the task at hand. Reading, writing, thinking, marking, planning, whatever. To help this I have installed a local Kan-Ban style to-do list on this server. This is easy to see and allows me to list everything and just delete it when it’s done.
There is also a space for mindfulness, meditation, to bring perspective and realisation. I can’t do everything. I can’t do everything I want to do, and I have to do things I don’t want to. Temporary chores completed quickly leaves more time for the real development and introspection.
Time to go and get on with something useful I suppose…