I almost jumped out of my seat as I looked up at my friend who just sat down across from me.
He was pale as a ghost and his eyes were wide as an owl’s. I looked at him more intently, peering into his overly dilated pupils thinking I may be able to see his brain.
He looked and acted irritated like a crackhead, stuttering and unable to put together a coherent sentence without getting lost in his own train of thought. He had taken adderall to get more work done.
“Yo man how do you get so much work done and focus like that?” he said while staring into his computer.
I looked at him and began to explain how I had to WORK to get over my past fidgety nature and inability to focus.
“So you don’t take anything at all?” referring to drugs in a dumbfounded voice.
I shook my head…… This is a common problem, we can’t focus, and taking drugs is not the solution.
A few years ago, I couldn’t focus. I sat down to do work and after a few minutes my attention wandered off. I could barely last an hour on a quiet floor of Rutgers Alexander Library. Worst of all, seeing my girlfriend study longer and more intensely than me was embarrassing. She would sit and crank out problems for hours while I would become restless and wonder around.
At first, I thought she was some sort of super genius and her attentive abilities were innate.
And like most, I have always wondered how a select few could achieve such great results.
My embarrassment and frustration led me to look for solutions on the internet. Surprisingly the only solutions I returned with were a bunch of “smart drugs” to increase focus.
Adderall, modafinil, ritalin and some weird new hard to pronounce drug that fighter pilots take; the thought of altering my brain chemistry with amphetamines made me sick. There had to be another way to increase focus naturally. 5 years prior, I had started one of the most life changing activities ever, I started to weight train seriously. Slowly and steadily I increased my training transforming myself from a stick thin target for bullies to powerful and confident.
What if I could apply the same principles to train my focus? Just as a weightlifter starts light then slowly and steadily increases his training over time, I would start by focusing on a difficult task for as long as I could and slowly increase it over the next few months.
Luckily I had the perfect opportunity to test this theory, the most boring job in the world! At the time, my job was painfully dull. I dreaded spending every day in that 5×5 cube only to be relieved by an occasional forbidden conversation. If I could be this bored and miserable and still focus here, I knew I could pretty much focus on anything anywhere else. It was like training in the worst conditions in the world so everything else would seem like a walk in the park. Every day I would sit there with a timer and crank out calculations until my head hurt and my eyes bleed. Using the time as a benchmark I slowly increased my time over the following weeks.
Work still sucked but my increased focus led me completed all my daily work in just a few hours leaving me time to secretly read ebooks on the computer.
I completed 3 full books during working hours in 6 months!
A few months later I quit my soul crushing job and decided to go to medical school. I used the same strategy with mind dulling MCAT passages that could double as a torture device. At first I was barely able to read and answer questions for 20 minutes. Eventually I worked up to over 2 hours of nonstop deep focus.
Now I have no problem engaging in complicated, tedious, boring tasks. My attention span tripled and I am experience an unexpected side effect! my mind feels laser sharp as it computes analyzes and dissects everything from old english literature to fluid mechanics.
How much more productive do you think you would be if you were able to focus longer? A study in 2005 showed that people get distracted and lose focus after 11 minutes. Even more surprising is the fact that it takes someone about 25 minutes to redirect their attention back to the original task! By training your focus you could triple or even quadruple work time. Going from the average 11 minutes to 45 minutes will result in a higher quality of engaged focused work.
Now, imagine how productive you will be by being better able to focus. Instead of getting distracted by social media, email or playing around on your phone and burning precious time, you are focused and productive finishing your work early! This allows you to spend time on things that really matter like, going out with your family, working on you personal hobbies, reading ebooks at work like me, or just plain relaxing.
Here is a simple method to double or triple the time you can focus:
● Pick one book, a somewhat challenging book that you have never read before.
● First thing in the morning or last thing at night, sit down and read it for as long as possible until the words start to jumble and you can no longer remember what you read a few lines ago.
● Stop, note the time in a notebook or an excel spreadsheet so you can keep track of your progress.
● Create a habit of doing this everyday for a month by placing the book in an easily accessible spot like your night stand, kitchen table, bathroom sink or desk so you will not forget.
● Repeat this every morning and keep track of your progress. Slowly try to increase that time over the next few months and eventually aim for 30 minutes. (You will feel as if your mind is being sharpened like a dull knife. Your focus will notably improve. )
Before long you will be able to focus like a laser beam.
Photo by Timo Kohlenberg