* Read part of a book before starting work.
* No HN/reddit/etc until noon.
* No Facebook until 6PM.
* Disable almost all notifications.
* Only check emails/texts once an hour at the top of the hour.
* Use software that respects my desire for focus.
The last one is currently the most interesting to me. When I was going through disabling all my notifications, I realized you can't truly turn them off on FB messenger. You can only mute them for up to 24 hours. After that I decided to remove any software from my life that was created to manipulate users rather than empower them. That's mostly meant switching to OSS apps and self hosting.
https://github.com/Kickball/awesome-selfhosted has been an incredible resource
At least on iOS, you can go into the system settings, scroll down to the Messenger app, and untoggle "Allow Notifications".
It's having to go around Messenger, and doesn't disprove your point at all. But I ran into the same realization you had, but couldn't easily stop using it completely as Messenger video calls are really important to my grandparents. So I just disabled Notifications at a system level, and open it up periodically to check new messages (same as you mentioned for email/text).
As an iPhone and gmail user, I used to think that not having gmail push notifications in the stock mail app was a drag. But now I realize that it is actually a blessing in disguise. Sure, one can manually set the mail app to check for new mail via a "fetch" schedule (or not at all), but something about there being no option for true push is quite nice.
This will bring back + tremendously improve your attention span, in 10 days, guaranteed.
Once you leave the retreat, you will encounter the same environment and habits which robbed you of it. Which you will need to address.
Knowing that social media is being intentionally weaponized to extract attention from its users is helpful as your attitude toward social media and internet usage is likely a big part of it.
However, its value only carries if you continue meditating daily, at least for 30min, which I haven't done and I suspect most of us will struggle to do after the retreat.
I agree with the last point that most tech is aimed to get your attention and few things are actually worth it. I'm working on a model for news/media that addresses this shortcoming.
Also, meditation is not running, meditation is rest.
I myself went on one, found it helped concentration, but neglected to keep up a daily practice since.
Meditation predates Christianity. Buddhism any one? I don’t recall anybody meditating and then become ing a suicide bomber.
Please stop spreading this misconception that religions are somehow completely different and incompatible, they are simply different paths to the same goal, this has been acknowledged by saints and scholars across the world for as long as there has been religion. We might disagree on some particulars but the core concept and idea of the absolute reality is the same.
I have struggled quite a bit with attention. The single most effective thing I can do (more effective than medication) is to improve my diet by cutting out carbs. I find if I am in a mild state of ketosis (greater than 0.3), I can concentrate way better. I am not advocating that everyone go on a ketogenic diet, but cutting out refined sugar and eating only healthy nutrient-rich carbs does wonders for my brain, i.e. salad, blueberries, kale, etc
Get up a little early and go eat a decent breakfast one day. An easy way is to go to a five star hotel and eat breakfast at the buffet, they always have an out-of-hotel guest deal, heaps of fruit, salad, etc. Ignore the cost, this is an experiment.
Check your energy levels and achievements in the late afternoon and see if you don't feel noticeably more awake and energized versus regular diet.
Secrets of the illuminati, #18283: breakfast is non-negotiable.
Also, you accidentally put "it" instead of "I" in the question. Perhaps related?
A nice side-effect of that approach, or perhaps the whole point of it, is that you can now consider meditation as a general thinking tool rather than a more specific way to deal with some specific problem as in OP's case (solving attention problems).
Instead, like OP says, meditate on something instead. Consider if the difference between zero, one, and a million. Zero thoughts works but is hard, one thought works pretty well, and one million thoughts is simply restating the problem.
The closest meditation exercise I've found that is basically a workout for your attention span is to sit still somewhere quiet and count your breaths, in and out. Breathe in 1, breathe out 2, breathe in 3, etc. It may help to visualize the number as well. Every time you catch your mind wandering, you gently bring it back and begin with the last number you remember. After a cycles of this, you'll find you're able to count for longer without becoming distracted. Do this regularly and see if your attention span on other tasks is increased as well.
I think most of the things we do in day to day live consist of habits combined with choices we make. I think our attention span is mostly a habit.
The things I do in day to day live ingrain some habits. I like to read a lot on the internet, learn about things. However a lot of the content on the internet currently focuses on short attention spans, things like reddit (clicking on a few pictures, opening an impressive title) and social media. They focus on short attentions spans because it's easier to keep someones attention that way. For me this formed some habits which fit short attention spans like opening up a lot of pages and reading small parts of them. For me this lead to fast short term rewards.
Reversing this habit of a short attention span is like an exercise. Staying away from sites which cater to short attention spans and only opening one page at a time which I read completely. In that way I try to learn a new habit. I don't use reddit a lot anymore and I try to use hackernews instead because there are a lot more longer articles here of greater quality, requiring longer attention spans. Maybe that could help you. But all of this is obviously completely personal and anecdotal.
Some things which I found helpful:
Charles Duhigg: The Power of Habit (Book about habits)
The Coursera course: Learning How to Learn (Since learning requires a long attention span)
Ask HN More Like Hackernews: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3734303 Contains a lot of sources like longforms.org, https://aeon.co and https://aldaily.com websites which have content which requires long attention spans.
Possibly there are some things in this post which are a bit unclear I've got a bit of trouble writing English since it's not my native tongue. If you have any questions I'd be happy to answer them.
The best introduction to śamatha that I’m aware of is B. Alan Wallace’s “The Attention Revolution: Unlocking the Power of the Focused Mind.”
1) Get off your phone as much as possible. Disable all notifications if you can except text / call. Delete apps you don't need to aimlessly check out of boredom (Social media, Reddit, HN, etc).
2) Meditate in some form. For me, this is yoga and taking soothing baths in the morning before work. Clearing your head and getting away from technology for a bit. Allow your brain to breath and think without information being shoved in it's face.
3) Practice focusing on context switching instead of "multi tasking". Realize that as humans, we cannot actually multi task. Assuming you work at a computer all day, don't have streams up, a million tabs, emails, chat services, etc. You only need to have open what you NEED open and nothing else.
4) Exercise. I've found running in short 2 mi increments 3-4 times a week really provides me the energy I need to complete the above 3 items.
Cheers and good luck mate!
1. Look to your health. This is a complex topic and I have zero info about your health, but the short version is a sound mind in a sound body. Health issues of various sorts tend to erode cognitive function.
2. Find a way to take control of your life, to set goals and carve out space to pursue them. The problem isn't that social media (etc) clamors for our attention. The problem is that we feel obligated to give it. Use notifications for your purposes, but don't let them make you a slave to social media or other people. There are various techniques for doing this, but I think the essential detail is exercising agency on your own behalf.
3. Take a break from your life. Go on vacation or change jobs or move to a new place. Getting out of your usual context can help you see it more clearly. This can clarify where the problem lies.
Stop visiting HN more than once a day. Repeat this for every “news”/“feed” site and app that you use. It sounds completely nuts, but it forces you to stop slicing up “read the news” (a focused activity) into “read the news distractedly” (a timesliced activity).
Shut off push notifications for anything that is not money/shipping related or a direct IM with individuals. Email notifications off, news and feed notifications off, social site notifications off, Twitter “favorited” notifications off.
Turn off notification sounds for everything that’s left except direct messages from human beings or e.g. Pagerduty.
Aside from direct IMs — I got a total of 10 pushes yesterday. None made a sound. None required a response. None required interrupting my focus.
Do this for a month, on desktops, laptops, mobile. Your focus will improve dramatically, simply for having not wasted all your brain’s dopamine on “new email alert sounds”.
EDIT: Meditation is far more challenging when your brain is constantly looking out for the next “new notification” ding. It took me nearly a month to overcome the Pavlov ding response when I first implemented this approach in 2005. You’re going to hear a lot of phantom dings for a long time.
EDIT2: If you haven’t already done this muting approach, set your push notification sound to the red alert klaxon from BSG (three repetitions) – or any red alert sound from any sci-fi show. If ever there was a way to amplify the visceral effects of notification sounds to your conscious thought level for evaluation and consideration, that’ll do it.
EDIT3: If you’re autism spectrum, you may have “executive dysfunction”, which is a willpower disorder of sorts. Focus is willpower-related. There’s no magic fix, but awareness is half the battle, and it may offer steps you can take to reduce your life’s “willpower” drain so that you can have more of it for “focus” instead of whatever.
I still unlock my phone and look at the homescreen only to realize "oh yeah, I removed that stuff so there's nothing to do here". I'd thought that by removing social/news feeds, I would find something else to do with my thoughts by necessity, but really nothing has replaced the "open phone for 30 seconds to find something briefly entertaining".
I was expecting to be bored, but it's more of a low-level frustration at all times except when I'm focused on something, like I know I could be finding some trivial but interesting thing.
Unexpectedly, that’s turned out to be a key hallmark sign for “I need to take a nap”, and sure enough, I usually end up with 20-30 minutes of hard REM sleep and then I’m interested in the world again.
It sounds like you may have other issues with your health that are causing concentration issues.
It’s incorporated into a general school called “mindfulness” which you read more about. A book I’d recommend for beginners is “The Joy of Living” by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.
The theory is that training your mind to focus on something mundane like your breath for 10 minutes, you will generally train the capacity of your mind to direct focus.
This greater focusing ability will come in handy when you want to focus on other specific things without being distracted as easily, like listening to someone in a conversation or going through the debugging process for a bug.
I like his approach since it has a more modern appeal and his writing is very approachable for those new to meditation (at least to me).
Meditation is also great, but I think the barrier to entry is pretty high for someone already struggling to focus. Certain types of yoga (Iyengar/Hatha) can be good gateways into meditation.
-  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/66354.Flow
-  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25744928-deep-work
-  https://www.robinwieruch.de/lessons-learned-deep-work-flow/
Fortunately, for the past year I been slowly setting up things in a way where I can defend my time better.
Though, you may be a 'hunter' type and it'll be a life long fight.
After physical exercise I feel it’s easier to concentrate.
I went through a similar stage in my life. I was recommended mediation, exercise, etc., and I did religiously follow those. However, I never saw much improvement. Nothing helped and I felt that I was loosing it - until one day when I said enough is enough, I'm going to fix this no matter what.
You see, the problem in recommending meditation is that it doesn't always connect to you the same way it connected to me or someone else. That was my problem. I never had the interest and never even felt that meditation will fix my attention span. The more I tried it, the more frustrated I was. That is when I realized I had to do something different. To be clear, it’s not that meditation won’t work for me. It’s just that I had to practice meditation in a different way.
I figured that meditation is just a way of practicing awareness and mindfulness. To do this, I first listed what makes me distracted most. The first reason I found was that I wasn’t happy in my life. I listed whatever made me unhappy, and tried coming up with reasons to counter them. This is typically one of the main reasons why we loose our focus. Something else is bothering you more than what you want to do. Address that first, and rest of the tasks become easy. Tip #0: Spend some time to introspect. Identify root causes for your discomfort and come up with whatever reason that helps you feel less stressed about those.
Next, I realized that I spent too much time on YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, Instagram, etc. The first thing I did was to cut them off. Just check them less frequently (say, once a week) that you are used to before (say, once every few hours). You’ll have some withdrawal symptoms in the first one week, but it gets way better after that. Trust me, you will do just as good without those - I’m a living example. Tip # 1: Identify what distracts you most and try to cut it down.
Next, I wanted to practice mindfulness. To do this, I picked something I used to enjoy before, but not anymore. Painting, sketching, reading, watching old movies, documentaries, reading history, listening to podcasts, listening to music, etc., were all the things I used to do before, but lost interest just because I was loosing my attention span. So I forced myself to start finishing what I started. Take listening to music, for example. I’d start a song, and skip it within a minute just because I used to get restless. I started forcing myself to listen to the whole song. I started forcing myself to finish the whole article, the entire book, the entire movie. The best part of doing these is that you’ll know exactly when you’re getting derailed. I’d take a break - pause the book, pause the movie - and reflect on why I want to skip, and why I want to re-focus. That helped me tremendously. I’d take a few minutes and get back to my goal. Tip #2: Identify your hobbies and practice mindfulness so that you don’t get stressed more than you currently are.
Then I moved on to my actual work. I’d pick a topic that I “sort of know“ and focus on getting better at it. For me, it was selective topics in coding. Just because I practiced mindfulness with other tasks (i.e., hobbies), I was aware of when I was loosing track of my work. And every time I lost track, I’d pause, take a short break, and force myself to get back at it. Tip #3: Practice mindfulness not just at some tasks, but at every task.
Overall, I’d say pay attention to your actions. You’ll get better at this. Give it time, and be patient - nothing comes easy. I hope this helps!