In my junior year, my high school decided to experiment on us. They realized that if you took Pre-calculus you likely took advanced English. Or at least you could. Instead of dividing us all up throughout the day, they built a block system.
This might be very popular today. I don’t know. We didn’t do it senior year. I don’t know if it was ever done again.
The point was the teachers could work as a team. If my history teacher, Mr. Artman, needed two hours to teach a lesson, he could take over our English class. In theory, we would have two hours of English class another day.
I don’t remember ever having two hours of English, unless we watched a movie. I remember many two-hour history classes. But this is not a story of how some teachers enjoy teaching more than others.
What I remember most about the two hours of history class is Mr. Artman would lecture us the whole time. One day at the end of one of these lectures, the two kids behind me complained to each other that nobody could pay attention for the whole time. He was crazy.
If you had asked me at the time, I would have said that both of these kids were smarter than me. Both were prettier and more popular than I was.
As they were complaining I looked at them and rolled my eyes and shook my head in agreement with them. I remember this, because I was lying. I had paid attention throughout the lecture. I didn’t find it particularly interesting. I wanted it to be over, but I sat there and listened.
It’s a strange memory to me, because I don’t know if I could listen that long now. And if I did, I certainly wouldn’t lie about it.
Focus has become one of those things I had in my youth, but didn’t know I had and certainly didn’t value. I used most of it up on facts about hair metal bands. I look back now and focus falls into the category of things I’d like to get back. Can I ever run as fast as I did in my youth?
To be fair, I ran faster in my thirties than I did in my twenties. So, maybe anything is possible.
The good news is I’m not old enough to feel like my focus died as my ears started to hit my jaw bone. My focus died with the internet and the reign of multi-tasking and overproduction. I blame society. It’s always fun to blame outside sources.
That is until you can’t stand it anymore. And that’s where I am. I feel like my brain’s been taken over by the internet and TV and stupid cat tricks. I feel like Axl Rose strapped to the chair in the Welcome to the Jungle video with all the screens in front of him.
The difference between Axl and I, the main difference, the one the pops out of all of our many similiarities first, is that in the video’s story somebody bound Axl to the chair.
He has to sit there. A metal bar keeps his face watching all the screens as he screams in terror. He knows the screens eat his brain and he doesn’t like it.
Well, I don’t like it either. It’s annoying me. I want my focus back. I want to be able to listen to an old man theorize about history for hours whether I’m interested or not.
I’m making some changes.
Even as I write that I want to check Facebook. It’s more comfortable to check Facebook than it is to talk about change. Facebook is the same scroll of nonsense every day. David Bowie died on Monday. I know what’s happening on Facebook–Under Pressure videos, old interviews, and tributes. I like Bowie just fine. But I never paid that much attention to him before. On the week that a famous person dies, it feels like my job as a sympathetic human being to scroll through their Wikipedia page, investigate his lovers, and count how old his children are.
When did that become the way to prove that I was an emotional viable human being?
Sorry Bowie. I’m sorry your dead, but if you were really important to me, I would’ve at least known you were sick.
This thinking leads me to my first change. To focus on what my brain is doing and why. I’m reading Cal Newport’s Deep Work. Usually, I find most books on creativity and productivity to be more time consuming than helpful.
Newport is obsessed with one thing: training yourself to concentrate better, more often. He encourages the reader to realize when they are wasting energy on unimportant and irrelevant things. Once you see what’s taking up too much of your energy, you can prioritize it, and remove the lower layer of junk. In my mind, if I could do that, all the creativity and productivity issues I ever encounter would improve.
He breaks down how to eliminate all the junk holding you back. It’s a step-by-step manual for working on getting your concentration back. I know a lot of blog posts would break down the steps for you, but I say read the book. The problem with too many life hack posts are they are just that–hacks. It’s not easy going from endlessly distracted to putting in a few hours of focused work a day. It’ll take more than me writing this post or you reading it. For me, it’ll take more than the tips in that book, but they’re a start.
If you have any tips on getting your focus back, I’d love to hear them. Please leave them in a comment below.