Sunday, June 22, 2008


For me, focus has become a major obstacle to my productivity. I can ignore the phone, which doesn't ring all that often anyway, and household chores seldom call to me, but email and the internet at my fingers constantly tug at my attention. So I was interested in this article in the New York Times: Fighting a War Against Distraction. I've been looking for a long time for tips about how to focus better. This may be it.
The first step is to learn to speak a language of attention. The exciting news is that the enigma of attention has just begun to be mapped, tracked and decoded by neuroscientists who now consider attention to be a trio of skills: focus, awareness and so-called executive attention. Think of it this way: You can be “aware” that you’re in a beautiful garden and then you can “focus” on an individual flower. The last piece, “executive attention,” is the ability to plan and make decisions.
The article also talks about meditation, which, it seems to me, might be the key. Any other thoughts on how to focus?


Anonymous said...

great topic. A huge issue. About two months ago I started meditating. Does it help? Not sure yet.


Anonymous said...

Turn off your computer.

I realize this is a bit of a paradox, me saying turn off your computer and offering proof with an online Atlantic Monthly article.

Turn it off sometimes, how about that.

Clifford Garstang said...

"Turn off your computer."

Well, yes, of course, that's an option. That would mean writing long-hand, though, which I don't find very efficient except at the very early (outlining) and later (proofreading) stages of my work.

Turning off the DSL connection is an intermediate step that ought to work--if I'll leave it off.

Thanks for the link to the Atlantic article, which I'd actually seen already in hard copy!

ryan call said...

hey cliff

scott's got a good reply to that google article on his site

i tend to embrace my inability to keep focused...
for bad or for good, who knows?

Clifford Garstang said...

Thanks for the link, Ryan. One more blog to follow instead of doing my own work!

I hear what you're saying about "embracing your lack of focus" and I guess I've done okay so far, but at what point does distraction become ADDiction?

Mary Akers said...

Great article! And, incidentally, from that article I followed a link that led me to two more great articles (and now, twenty minutes later...). Hmmm.

dh said...

Hi Cliff,

I'm a GMU MFAer and saw this site from Ryan's links. I really like the diversity of it.

I have attention deficit disorder. That doesn't mean I can't concentrate ever, but sometimes I have trouble focusing even on something that I want to focus on. I think that is the difference--do you sit down and start writing and are simply unable to keep your mind on it, or do you sit down with the intention to write and let yourself get caught up in the Internet and e-mail? If the latter, I don't know if it's worrisome, it's more about choices, and sometimes, as Ryan seems to say, maybe that choice you're making to be distracted is okay. The first sort of awareness, seeing the whole garden, is very useful for artists. But I will want to read a book and I can't quiet my mind down and I read the same sentence over and over again. It takes effort.

Having said this, I think meditation is a great idea, because it trains you to quiet your mind. It may be difficult to notice the difference without some empirical measure of your productivity, but I'm not advocating that. Meditating just seems a good idea all around.

Also, exercise. I think you have a national park very close by? With mountains in it, even. I am jealous. I find a good steep hill every now and then forces me to focus on important things. Breathing, for example.

ryan call said...

true, cliff, so true

i have no idea - it probably is not good that i dont know that...

Clifford Garstang said...

Thanks, DH. I've tried variations of those suggestions, but I'll keep trying.