September 7, 2014 by jimstogdill
A room with a (limited) view
I have always had trouble with focus and attention. When I was a kid they didn’t call it ADHD, they just said I was hyperactive. That term also works, to a point, but it implies a higher state of stimulation while failing to capture the dimension of internal struggle that comes from trying to stay on point. It’s difficult to ignore the squirrels in my peripheral vision. Or eventually, the absence of a squirrel, which sets my mind to looking for one. It’s like a timer in my head that starts at 60 seconds and at 20 makes me jumpy waiting for the next micro-burst of stimulation.
The advent of the smart phone brought me to a crisis of attention and over the years I’ve tried various strategies to retain a modicum of presence and achieve flow when I have to have it. At one time or another I’ve implemented most of the strategies suggested in @jakek’s piece here. I’m working on a bunch of writing projects right now and too often the computer I’m writing on feels like a bar full of my friends, so his timely post gave me impetus to rebuild a framework for solitude when I need it.
I took his recommendations for my phone and removed email and twitter (those are my primary distractors) and already the twitch to reach for my phone in line at the coffee shop is receding. More interestingly, I decided that the phone wasn’t enough. I needed space for writing too so I re-built a spare computer into an isolation chamber of sorts. A digital equivalent of a room with window, a comfy chair and desk, book shelves and filing cabinets, and little else. I installed dropbox, writing tools (Pages, Scrivener, …), Evernote, and DayOne (I use it for stashing ideas) and nothing else.
So far it feels like that first month of going paleo with my diet. Hard but rewarding with gradually improving focus. I hope that, like with diet, I’ll be able to build some longterm habits that make concentration and presence easier and more rewarding.