I self-enrolled in AA. Alcoholics Anonymous? No, something far more potent than your favorite liquor.
Welcome to Attention Anonymous. Thank you for attending today’s meeting. You are among friends. To break the ice, let me confess my personal story. I am sure you can relate.
Like you, I have perfected the art of wasting time. First, I scan the sports headlines, detouring to fantasy football and basketball leagues. Second, I check news headlines and political op-eds. Third, I browse Twitter for last-minute airfares, shopping discounts, and the occasional insight. Fourth, I head to Facebook, speculating whether my 9th grade crush is single, divorced, or Facebook-evasive. Grousing at my tousled hair, frayed T-shirt, and stubbled self in the mirror, I promise to seize the day …. tomorrow.
A lot of heads are bobbing in agreement. Let me offer five strategies to overcome useless browsing:
- Incentivize productivity.
For every 15 minutes of productivity, reward yourself. If your attention wavers, redirect to the task at hand. You can slowly retrain your mind to concentrate. Mindfulness is a core principle centered on awareness and acknowledgment of intrusive, unwanted thoughts. Let your mind’s cacophony hum in the background; you are achieving your daily goals. Carpe diem.
- Disable certain websites.
When tasked with a demanding work project, my instinctual reactions: browse sports, news, and then more sports websites. Looming exam? I would read one more article — just this acclaimed Sports Illustrated story. But Alexander Wolff has always been my favorite columnist, and his hyperlink is right there. As soon as I click the link, the (world wide) web has ensnared me. And you.
- Associate a certain place with work.
The library was sacrosanct. I would find a hidden nook in cavernous Davis Library and plop down with my overstuffed satchel. Within 10 minutes, I would be grappling with the latest econ problem set.
My dormitory, for me, was Kryptonite. Study hall degenerated into social hour. Friends, preying on my competitiveness, would goad me into a pickup basketball game. Four hours later, I would collapse on my beanbag. The perpetual smirk after besting my hoop buddies? Short-lived, as I recalled — and recoiled — at next week’s physics project.
- My pathological addiction to email.
Globetrotting in Costa Rica, I rifled through my pockets for my buzzing iPhone. Scrolling through my messages, I shook my head in dismay. Here I am living la vida, and I am searching for a phone. For what? To receive the latest restaurant.com special or booking discount code?
Turn off the iPhone, disable the Bluetooth, and revel in the mist shrouding the mountains or the untouched stream meandering through the rainforest. As for that buzzing sound, it deserves your immediate attention if it is a family of bees encircling you.
- Life is all about timing.
Or so we mutter when commiserating about lost romances. Papers, like relationships, deserve your full attention. Both are time-consuming.
Tossing the latest draft into the trash, I cringe. I will be burning the midnight, and 7 a.m., oil. My writing style can be likened to your first car: a lot of starts and stops interrupted with intermittent hissing. A la my 1990 Volkswagen Cabriolet, a quick 15-minute spin devolves into a hour-long excursion. While I bemoan my indecisiveness, I also understand how to budget my time. Just like my treasured Volkswagen, I overheat when I crank the accelerator.
Work quality mirrors our time management skills. When rushed, thoughts are scattered, paragraphs are choppy, and main points are underdeveloped. If your attention wavers like mine, divide the paper into smaller, more manageable sections.