10 things to try if you’re struggling to focus

Usually I really struggle to focus. Last week was definitely my most focused week of work in a long time. I’m fairly certain it’s because I did all ten things listed below.

Why not try some or all of them if you’re finding it difficult to zone out of life, the universe and everything and zone into work?

  1. Switch off your emails

Unless you are expecting an important email there’s no actual reason to have your emails constantly logged in, is there? Every time something comes into your inbox and you notice it, it’s stopping you focus on work. If you open it it’s even more distracting. If it’s junk mail that’s even worse.

Check your emails at the beginning and end of the day. If you’re expecting an important one, check them near lunchtime too. But regain some control: it’s your inbox, so you decide when to look at it!

  1. Choose not to go on the net

The verb here is really important: choose. It’s a choice. If you switch off the Internet so you can’t access it, then implicit in the action is that you can’t actually control your urge to go on the Internet, so have to switch it off. That’s ridiculous, isn’t it? That the Internet has control over you.

So leave the Internet on, but choose not to open up a webpage (unless you need it for work). Each time you find yourself thinking of ‘just doing’ or ‘just checking’ something on the internet but decide not to, you’re regaining some control. It’s really empowering and the more you decide not to, the better you feel, and the stronger your ability to focus becomes.

  1. Have a jotter

Many thoughts will pop into your head throughout the day. “I need to email X, I’ll just Google Y…” the list goes on. Each time you stop to deal with any of those thoughts, you’re loosing time and focus. Chances are, none of those things need to be done now; it will be fine to do them at the end of the day. So do that.

And do this: get a good old piece of paper and pen and have it next to your computer so that whenever something comes to mind, you can scribble it down then move on, without even minimising the document you’re working on.

  1. Don’t check Facebook

When was the last time you procured significant, important or useful information from Facebook? Do you really need real-time updates of Frankie’s delicious lunch or Benny’s son’s latest sporting triumph? Save it for later!

The more time you accord to looking at selected pictures of your friends’ seemingly marvellous lives, the less time you’re according to making progress in your own life and work.

  1. Don’t go on Twitter

Twitter is amazing, right? There’s always loads of awesome and interesting stuff on your Twitter feed; it never disappoints, which makes it lethal and addictive. So unless you need to get on there for a specific reason (promotion, networking, or whatever), then just DON’T GO ON IT, you’re asking for trouble, and you’re asking for distraction!

  1. Don’t listen to music

Until the beginning of last week, I quietly held the mentality that if I could listen to music whilst working, then somehow I was beating the system a bit. However, for the next few months I’ve got no choice but to work without music, as I’m analysing  speech recordings. At first I was miserable at the prospect of working in silence: just me and my work. But quite quickly I realised it was okay; in fact, with no music engaging my brain, it was freed up to think more. Less brain noise = easier to focus.

  1. Put your phone on silent

This might result in you frequently pushing the button on the side that lights up the screen to see if there are any notifications on your phone. However, like with points one and two, by doing this you are at least regaining some control. It’s empowering, and so it’s a way of showing yourself that you value your work and your work time, and when you value something, it’s easy to give it your focus and attention

  1. Plan your work for your week

By making a plan for your working week, you’ve got something to keep you focused. This is especially important if you’re a PhD student where, without a plan, the working week ahead could consist of “working on my PhD”. Not that easy to focus on.

  1. Set daily targets at the threshold of your reach

In my experience, it’s key to set targets at the threshold of your reach. That way there’s a strong possibility that you’ll meet them, but you have to stay focused to do so. The challenge aspect and prospect of meeting a target serves as a great motivating factor, which will propel you forward and help you stay focused.

  1. Keep track of where you are with your work

Make yourself a tick sheet. Everyone likes ticks; they are encouraging and motivating. And the prospect of being able to tick more things off on your list can also be motivating and help you to focus.

In short:



Solutions to the seasonal science challenge!

It’s Epiphany! As promised, here are the solutions to my seasonal science challenge. I’m going to take it a line at a time:

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 14.54.41

1. So to kick off, this is supposed to be a magnet, and magnetisation may be represented by the letter M.

2. Next up, this is a lino-cut attempt at an atom, so that blob in the middle is the nucleus, and those bits around it are electrons orbiting the nucleus. Electrons may be represented by the letter e.

3. We move on to the third drawing. Was your go-to an ECG? Alas, that’s not what I was thinking. This is the symbol that is used in electrical circuits to represent a resistor, and resistance is represented by the letter R.

4. Now we’ve got a repeat of a resistor -> resistance -> R. 

5. Next, we’ve got part of a graph, the X-axis is missing, leaving the Y-axis, which gives Y.

Next line:

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 14.54.48

6. So this is a picture of a pencil. And as we all remember from school, pencil leads are not made from actual lead. They are made from graphite, which is a crystalline form of carbon, the symbol for which is C. 

7. If you worked out that the zigzag was a resistor, there’s a good chance you worked this next one out as well since it’s also found in an electric circuit. It’s the symbol for an inductor. Inductance is measured in Henries, the unit for which is H. 

8. Another repeat of a resistor -> resistance -> R. 

9. Let me be the first to say this tile is not my finest artistic creation. It’s supposed to be seaweed. Did you get it? Have a bonus point if you did! Someone once told me, and I have verified with multiple internet sources, that seaweed contains iodine, the symbol for which is I. 

10. That’s a match. You can read about how matches work here. If you read through the article, you’ll learn that one of the materials that goes into the tip of the match is sulphur, its symbol being S. 

11. Tick tock, tick tock. Time may be represented by t. 

Next line:

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 14.55.02

12. Another magnet -> magnetisation -> M. 

13. Now, this is the symbol for an alpha particle, alpha being the first letter of the Greek alphabet: α. 

14. And to finish it off, another match -> sulphur -> S. 

Put all that together and what do you get?

MeRRYCHRIStMαS, of course!