I found that I was replacing the normal interruptions of the office - meetings, email, phone calls, lunch; with getting distracted on social media, general reading, checking alerts, etc. It was like my brain was conditioned to expect a distraction and thus made me seek it out.
It took some effort, but making sure I am organized for the week has really helped as I know what I need to get done. Also, I've now been able to use my "distracted level" as a litmus test of how organized I am. I know when I'm not focused as much as I should, I need to spend some time on my planning.
And oh yes, "deliberate distraction" is highly recommended while doing deep work. So there is nothing wrong posting comments related to deep work on HN. :)
Personally I like small breaks between the tasks, but only if I change work contexts anyways. Do people really have a problem just riding the flow and not heading off to hackernews mid-task (honest question)?
edit: here I especially don't get the "pomodoro" technique where you are interrupted by your own alarm every 20 min.
Btw: noisy music works wonders for me sometimes (other times it's Bach I admit, but even than: loud Bach)
Personally, cultivating the self-control to avoid checking facebook.com is less interesting to me than editing my hosts files to block it, and using my willpower for more rewarding tasks (exercise, learning piano etc.)
With that, I'm turning my block back on HN :)
To go even further than that, those who believe they don't have a willpower limit are more likely to continue challenging it and developing it - paradoxically increasing it. Those who believe they have a limit may exercise it less.
The same effect can be seen in sports psychology. Those who believe themselves indomitable can squeeze out extra force/endurance in physical trails, whereas those who believe themselves fragile perform at a weaker state.
This is just the chat function - no need to edit CSS or anything.
Concentration rests on a foundation of relaxed awareness. Concentration states include flow, zone, etc.
Willpower is usually thought of as having to force your way through things. However, there are disciplines that reframe and retrain that. For example, the Taoist principle of Wu Wei is a good example. Wu Wei is usually applied in the West as Fk It, but it's more that you become the person whose will is naturally aligned and in harmony with the environment and the universe, and as such, you naturally (Zi Ren) do the things. There is a similar idea in classical, medieval Tantra from India.
Having said all of that, I had removed the Facebook app from my phone years ago, only access Facebook through incognito mode without the benefit of passwords. I used to look at it once or twice a month, but now I kinda forget. Sometimes I want to level up my work and not level up my concentration skills.
I do several things to help me maintain focus at work:
- No email notifications. Not even a visible count of unread messages. I check email at natural stopping points in my workflow.
- No social media notifications at all.
- No chat programs.
Those simple things really work to help minimize distractions that could break my focus. The only one I haven't managed to kick is the habit of people to just walk up to my desk and interrupt me (the biggest downside of an open office plan).
Perhaps you're of the minority who has discipline and self-control to resist all the modern world has to offer. Chasing dopamine hits, from net and phone distractions, is habit forming. As it has become a habit most people aren't realising how often they're doing it.
It's easier for me. I know I don't have self-control or sense of time. I set myself up to manage accordingly. I see it as setting up for success. Do you think the many who use headphones and music in office are self-restricting and should use some self-control too?
When I was working on fitness I had a personal trainer. I could have done it alone, but the extra accountability meant I tried harder and didn't skip sessions. I think everyone gets the same benefit.
Pomodoro just constrains the time. You only have to do 25 minutes of thing before you get a break. Taking breaks improves focus. Every 2 I stretch, walk away from the desk maybe grab a drink.
> Do you think the many who use headphones and music in office are self-restricting and should use some self-control too?
Avoiding disturbances coming to you from the outside is another thing.
Well, I wish it could be that way. But it's not. Or, at least, it's not even an issuing of valuing one more than the other. Using self-restriction strategies is based on understanding and acknowledging that our self-control is not as strong as we want it to be, our level of self-control varies over time and may not be as strong in the future as it is right now, and our level of self-control is not wholly within our power.
What you call "self-restriction" strategies involve changing things so we don't need to assert self-control (will power) as much, but still get the benefits. Yes, this conflicts to some extent with (an old-fashioned, inaccurate, unjustified) view that ties lack of self-discipline to lack of personal responsbility. But the emphasis on self-restriction is actually an enlightened way of being _more_ responsible. You can (1) forego self-restriction and rely entirely on self-control and self-discipline as distractions come up, or (2) you can acknowledge, sadly, that self-control is limited and use self-restriction methods to reduce the need to rely on self-control as much. Which of those two is more responsible?
The author of the article ends it by suggesting that, although he hasn't found it, "there may be magical fix". That's wishful thinking. Yes, the "internet era" has made this stuff harder, but it has never been easy.
We need to push ourselves to do things with no immediate reward (because our instincts are a bit short-sighted).
I however still fear that (2) might cause some detachment from your "inner self". If you force your mood, your feelings, your body to step back to make the high-level goal possible you might burn out quicker. The high-level goal being something you imposed on yourself, like having a skyrocketing career. That in itself might be triggered by swelling fears you don't want to deal with (to stay productive and functioning, haha, here we are in a spiral). On the other hand effective working might reduce stress too and your career can avoid money trouble. It's hard to weigh in all factors. But as said, I think it's healthy to be a bit skeptic towards such self-optimization.
edit: Another thought: when I was young I used to play computer all day long for the first 2 weeks of the big summer holidays. After that, quite suddenly, it urged me to do something more fulfilling that might be considered more healthy. I think there is power for self-regulation, even on a subconscious level, but it might need some more freedom to keep that. In this case it needed a whole 2 weeks to waste on games before it made me feel empty and longing for something else. 2 weeks of time sadly is a luxury I just had once a year as a teenager and is hard to come by as an adult.
Interesting thought. I know the feeling, actually, as someone who tends to binge on computer games and TV series (and novels). It's sadly true though, that adult life is usually clocked even stronger than teenage years. I often feel that if I could only get one week away from work and people, I'd feel much better overall. Alas, it's hard to get a week off from being an adult.
The slower your tools, the viciouser the cycle.
Opening the internet on encountering any sort of difficulty or setback in your task is a particularly vicious reflex. Sometimes I'm on my phone or checkinn slack or whatever before I even consciously realize whay I'm doing.
Pomodore helps bring a modicum of structure to that behavior by keeping me off the internet for 25min and then letting the flood gates loose for 5min. It fails in the face of slow tools of course.
But here is also the question if it wasn't better to listen to your body in the long run, instead of tricking it in to something. On the other hand we need to counteract facebooks trickery of course.
I find myself seeking distraction everytime I hit the compile shortcut and have to wait 10-20 seconds to test my code. The later in the day, the harder it is for me to resist the urge.
I think I need a faster machine or to compile less often.
Do people really have a
problem just riding the
flow and not heading off
to hackernews mid-task
I have on more than one occasion even caught myself thinking "now I'm really in the zone, maybe I should check reddit"... But why would that help anything?
Self-control requires you to continuously spend willpower to resist, while self-restriction removes that continuous drain on willpower (a finite resource). Similarly Pomodoro tells you when to take a break and when to concentrate, no decisions required.
I'm not sure how valid this model of willpower is but it seems to have truth behind it. I personally find pomodoro breaks to be way too frequent, although I did do it for a while and found that it was amazing training for being better at focusing and falling back into flow after a break.
edit: http://seriouspony.com/blog/2013/7/24/your-app-makes-me-fat (certainly that was a hn-post)
If you have goals in life, you’re probably going to need some sort of organization. Even if it’s an organization of just you, it’s still helpful to think of it as a kind of machine. You don’t need to do every part of the process yourself — you just need to set up the machine so that the right outcomes happen.
For example, let’s say you want to build a treehouse in the backyard. You’re great at sawing and hammering, but architecture is not your forte. You build and build, but the treehouses keep falling down. Sure, you can try to get better at architecture, develop a better design, but you can also step back, look at the machine as a whole, and decide to fire yourself as the architect. Instead, you find a friend who loves that sort of thing to design the treehouse for you and you stick to actually building it. After all, your goal was to build a treehouse whose design you like — does it really matter whether you’re the one who actually designed it?
Or let’s say you really want to get in shape, but never remember to exercise. You can keep beating yourself up for your forgetfulness, or you can put a system in place. Maybe you have your roommate check to see that you exercise before you leave your house in the morning or you set a regular time to consistently go to the gym together. Life isn’t a high school exam; you don’t have to solve your problems on your own.
I'd be restricted, but still unable to focus. And when I could focus, those restrictions were distracting.
Interesting you mention Bach. My background music as we speak... 
But this comes down to choosing between magnifying your talents or working on your weaknesses. We are evolutionary programmed to be very susceptible to interruptions. They were important once upon a time. We can spend effort trying to reprogram ourselves I guess. But I'd rather spend that effort elsewhere.
More than just crossing off a task and taking a break, I take a moment to really notice my progress---what I accomplished, learned, implications, etc---and then write it down.
This little bit of reflection feels good (a small win!) and helps me close the task out from my attention. So then, I'm refreshed and ready for the next thing (after a glass of water, play with the puppies, etc).
The long term result is that I can look back at any day and see what I actually accomplished. Which is pretty sweet.
Pain is a good example: If you begin to observe it as a simple reaction by your body, not as a state of yourself, it can become very bearable. If the pain is too strong however or you don't have the relaxation it takes to do this it doesn't work. To become an observer is hard with strong headache on a busy day, first you have to remember to become an observer and than it still might overpower your state of mind.
I have an agreement with myself that if a timer on my phone is set for 15, 30, 60, 120, 180 minutes, I should work non-stop without any distractions (no food, no music, nothing except my work).
Since then, it's much more easier for me to work really hard and be very focused.
If I'm too lazy to set timer for 3 hours, then I set for 15 minutes. It's easy to convince yourself to work hard during 15 minutes. Then I usually become warmed up a bit and set a new timer for 30 minutes, then for 60 etc.
I also keep track of how much time I spend daily. For example, in October, I worked purely on algorithms like this:
03.10.2016 1.75 2
04.10.2016 2 0.75
13.10.2016 0.5 1
15.10.2016 1 2.5
16.10.2016 0.25 2 2.5
Numbers are hours. I.e. 0.5 = 30 minutes. Several numbers mean that I had pause/time gap in between.
Algorithms/math and problem solving olympiad problems require a lot of really hard work. With a timer, I'm working much more effectively like I never did before.
Why timer on a phone instead of a computer? Well, it's easier for me to just click and close window on the computer. If timer rings on phone, I have to get up and walk to the phone (I intentionally put it on the next table).
By the way, it's very good to keep a journal because overtime your collected data about yourself become valuable. For example, I plan to draw a graph with moving average, so I would see overall picture how dedicated I'm. If you don't have such data, it's easy to fall into trap convincing yourself how good you are (like I did before).
I have been successfully using meditation as a "model problem" to train my ability to become aware when I have become distracted and bring my attention back to the object of focus. A classic analogy of mindfulness meditation is that of an elephant (your mind) tied to a post (your breath or whatever is the object of your focus) through the rope of mindfulness. When the elephant strays, the rope pulls it back to the post.
While there seems to be some scientific evidence that meditation does indeed improve your ability to concentrate on any general task, my own conviction arises from seeing first hand the similarity between countering distracting stimuli during meditation and during general work.
"This is all a lot easier if you’re working on interesting and important things." Definitely one of the more important points made at the end of the article and, unfortunately, not always something within our control.
I was recently reading about learning theories (during a period of distraction) and noticed a possible relationship between Vygotsky's Zones of Proximal Development  and distraction. There must be a point of inflection between "completely distracted" and "deep working focus" where we feel compelled to switch off a current task or procrastinate. Maybe a similar scaffolding approach can be used to ease you back on task.
However, when I was away from my computer I was less distracted and could get a lot of (high school) work done. Cell phones are pretty much the only technology that has made distraction ever-present. That giant box with the 12-lb keyboard that used to sit on my desk at home is now shrunk down and within arm's reach at all times. It does pose a problem.
Also, the modern office is a place of distraction; especially open-format offices. I work in one of these and I generally avoid coming into the office if I have some detailed work I have to do. Managers don't seem to realize what an awful place those types of offices are for actually getting work done. High ceilings that bounce noise, inconsistent temperatures, seeing frequent movement out of the corner of your eye, people goofing off two rows away.
I've already picked up some of the behaviors the author details. I don't use social media (except LinkedIn, very infrequently). I silence my phone while working. I take breaks every 90-120 minutes. I keep a calendar of all my appointments and meetings, in and outside of work.
One other suggestion I think is good: have a "work" computer and a "play" computer/device. If you have a work laptop, then this is pretty easily done. I equate this to the advice given about beds. Beds are only for sleeping and sex. Don't study in a bed, don't eat in a bed, don't work in a bed. I find when I'm in front of my "work" machine, that I'm more naturally prone to doing "work" things and not "play" things.
I think of it like getting in the zone with coding where you get deeply valuable work done without distractions.
Remember how in the late '90s, everything was e-/i-/cyber, even things that were only tangentially related to computers or networking? It feels like that.
Today, I've seen posts and ads for "deep work", "deep analytics", "deep thinking", (not using anything recognizable as deep learning), and a few other things. Most of these are more-or-less idiomatic, but I think they would have been called something else 5 or 10 years ago.
I mean, it's not even tangentially related other than that the author happens to be a computer science professor (who works on distributed systems, not AI).
People who needed to do serious work went to monasteries or lived in caves.
The biggest distraction for many people is other people. Solitude is the way to get real work done.
There's a lot of interesting stuff here: http://www.hermitary.com/articles/
Check it out and let me know what you guys think!
Stopping the escapism is still important.
Also think fear plays a role. Hard work can be scary. This video on procrastination from School of Life comes to mind https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QetfnYgjRE
Personal favorite tip: Breaking things into bite-sized tasks! I have a whiteboard for just this purpose.
Timewarp is going to help me. Set some wormholes up with quotes like "Stop playing the slot machines"
It's a pretty good introduction and he talks about his own approach to work. He's also a professor of computer science!
They talk about his other book first (also interesting), so you need to skip a little way ahead for the deep work stuff.
Another thing that helps me focus is Chrome's user profiles (and the main reason I haven't migrated to Safari). I maintain both 'Work' and 'Play' profiles -- that separation helps limit the urge to cycle through my bookmark bar.