Brain's Short-term Concentration and the mind

8 Things Everybody Ought to Know About Concentrating

by sscheper on April 18, 2010

“Music helps me concentrate,” Mike said to me glancing briefly over his shoulder.

Mike was in his room writing a paper for his U.S. History class. On his desk next to his computer sat crunched Red Bulls, empty Gatorade bottles, some extra pocket change and scattered pieces of paper. In the pocket of his sweat pants rested a blaring iPod with a chord that dangled near the floor, almost touching against his Adidas sandals. On his computer sat even more stray objects than his surrounding environment. There must have been twenty browser tabs open. The tabs included political blog news, random Wikipedia entries, Facebook profiles and a Myspace page blasting more music at him. Two notifications with sound popped-up simultaneously in the top-right corner of his screen. One was an email; the other was a tweet. Behind his dozens of browser windows sat a pending music download and a handful of blinking IM’s.

Mike made a shift about every thirty seconds between all of the above. He’d write a little bit for his history paper, check his pending download, reply to his IM’s, and then start all over.

Do you know a person like this? I do. Those were my concentration habits at one point in my life. Yet, I made a series of decisions that resulted in a 180 degree turn. This book is about how to make that 180 degree turn. And this chapter centers on understanding a core component for getting focused: short-term focus (or concentration). We’ll first outline what science teaches us about concentration, and then we’ll dive into how you can concentrate when you feel overwhelmed through 8 steps.

The Science Behind Concentration

In the above account, Mike’s obviously stuck in a routine that many of us may have found ourselves in, yet in the moment we feel it’s almost an impossible routine to get out of. Many fall into this pattern because constantly shifting attention and multitasking eases the pain of doing something you hate in the first place. We mitigate essays and projects with blasts of dopamine delivered through tweets, music and gossip.What science tells us, though, is that not only does multitasking make our work 50% less valuable; it takes 50% longer to finish. Plus, it’s physiologically impossible for the brain to multitask.

When we constantly multitask to get things done, we’re not multitasking, we’re rapidly shifting our attention. And this rapid shifting kills the mind, it waters its effectiveness down significantly. When we follow Mike’s pattern above, the mind shifts through three phases:

Phase 1: Blood Rush Alert

When Mike decides to start writing his History essay, blood rushes to his anterior prefrontal cortex. Within this part of the brain, sits a neurological switchboard. The switchboard alerts the brain that it’s about to shift concentration.

Phase 2: Find and Execute

The alert carries an electrical charge that’s composed of two parts: first, a search query (which is needed to find the correct neurons for executing the task of writing), and second, a command (which tells the appropriate neuron what to do). This process propels Mike into a mental state of writing for his History essay. Your mind literally puts a writing cap on.

Phase 3: Disengagement

While in this state, Mike then hears an email notification. His mind rapidly disengages his current writing state, and then sends blood-flow back to Phase 1, which then leads him to phase 2, and then when he gets distracted again, he’ll find himself at phase 3.

The process repeats itself sequentially. It doesn’t work simultaneously (i.e. multitasking). The mind shifts rapidly through this phase at a rate of one-tenth of a second. This tells us two important things: it reinforces the case that we must only focus on one thing at a time, and second, it’s critical to master selective attention, which we’ll explore below.

Concentration drives intelligence

Research surfaced recently that revealed the true drivers of intelligence. They asked, “Is intelligence simply the ability to assimilate information and recall upon it whenever needed?” Is intelligence really a measure of memory? If not, than what makes a person intelligent? Amazingly, they found that intelligence is not founded on one’s memory. Instead, intelligence emanates from one’s ability to control their selective attention. It’s their ability to control the three phases above, and where they route their blood-flow to within the prefrontal cortex.

As you improve in the ability to strategically allocate your attention, your brain also improves. In fact, it rewires itself. As you exercise concentration and selective attention, your mind rewires itself to support your new habits. You get better and better at concentrating when you concentrate. That’s the good news. The bad news is that as you age, your mind’s flexibility slows down slightly. Meaning, you can’t rapidly jump out of habits and processes as well as you could in your earlier days. Yet, by practicing the small steps and exercises today within your mind, you can establish solid mental faculties for your older years. By practicing brain exercises through mental games you can significantly sharpen your mind. For brain exercises, I highly recommend Lumosity’s brain training games. They’re fun, effective and you can sign up for free. Click here and sign up for a free account. (free brain game training)

Now that you know a bit about the science and background of your mind, we’ll explore 8 things that will help you build short-term focus (concentration).

8 Things Everybody Ought to Know About Concentrating

1. You can’t start concentrating until you’ve stopped getting distracted

The phrase above is self-explanatory. Yet, it’s amazing how most people look for some crazy, obtuse solution for the reason why they can’t concentrate. They reason, “I just have ADD. I can’t concentrate.” In reality, their situation likens itself to Mike’s situation above.

In the late 80′s, two researchers asked themselves a chicken-egg question. (“What came first the chicken or the egg?”). Their version centers on distraction and boredom. They asked themselves, “What came first, distraction or boredom.” What they found is rather subtle, yet it’s profoundly significant. They found that distraction leads to boredom (not the other way around). This displays that we must cut out distraction in order to get focused; or else, we’ll get bored.

2. Just do one important thing per day

Scientists also found that we can only focus on one thing at once. Nobody does that. We’ve always got something going on in the background of whatever we’re doing. We’ve always got two-dozen tasks on our to-do list. On top of this, we’ve got a handful of projects that we try and finish simultaneously.

When you’ve got a mountain of paperwork on your desk, the best thing to do is clear it all off. Pick it all up and place it in a drawer. Do anything required to get it out of your sight. After this, kick your feet up and daydream. Yes, I’m serious. Daydream and ask yourself the following question: “What’s the most important thing I can do right now?” Once you’ve identified the item that will actually make a difference, do it.

Try and make it a goal to do just one critical thing per day. This habit proves much more effective than living the routine everyone else lives: doing many insignificant things a day. They live on fooling themselves into thinking they’ve added value.

The quote below by John Wooden summarizes this quite nicely. Recall upon this daily if you’re having a difficult time breaking away from the ineffective lifestyle.

“Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” – John Wooden

3. Chunk into three’s

Most of the time your one important thing that you can do per day takes more than just one action. Oftentimes it takes a series of smaller steps to accomplish. For this reason, it’s very helpful to chunk activities into sets of three. If you set out to accomplish one important item without a plan, you’ll be just as ineffective as the crack-berry work-a-holic running around the office making copies.

Outline your three-step to-do list using an offline to-do planner (which we outline in another chapter); or if you’re working online, use a three-item FocusList to keep you focused on the task at hand. Click here for a simple, effective, downloadable To-Do List.

4. Questions that kill procrastination

The brain processes meaning before detail. This is where procrastination stems from. Your boss, professor or co-worker tells you that the task on your desk is important, but your brain doesn’t yet agree. If you push forth anyways, and embark on the task before understanding its meaning, you’ll end up frustrating yourself and wasting time because you may have to do it all over.

For this reason, whenever you find yourself procrastinating, ask yourself the following questions:

Question one: Does this really need to be done?

  • If you’re in the business world, term it as, “Will this increase revenue, and/or reduce cost?”
  • If you’re in school, ask “Will this impact my grade?” Note: In school, it’s not necessarily about preparing you for the real-world, it’s about assimilating information, regurgitating it on a test, and then hopefully remembering some of it in the future, which gives you more context for the real world. This is why, the question isn’t, “Will this prepare me for the real world?”

Whatever your environment, if you can’t come up with a compelling reason for doing something, ask why the task needs to be done. If it’s not your choice, and it’s your boss’ choice, have him or her step into your office and explain the situation. Tell them, “So, I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out how to best approach this project, yet I everytime I advance further, I keep coming back to why this is meaningful in the first place. Can you help me understand the big picture and value this actually adds to our business?”

The result will be one of four things:

  1. The person will realize that this is just busy work. Thus, you won’t have to do it,
  2. The person will try and convince you that it’s important. In this case, assign yourself an insanely fast deadline to finish the project, and finish it. This type of boss values people that look like they’ve done something; he or she doesn’t actually care about its effectiveness, thus they won’t care about results.
  3. The person will come up with a compelling reason for why it’s important, and thus you’ll be able to finish the project with grace and effectiveness because you understand its meaning and purpose.
  4. The person will get angry at you for questioning the process. This indicates that you’re at a bureaucratic organization that devalues innovation and purpose. If you’re OK with this, enjoy a work-life of hell. If you’re not OK with this, sprint to the exit as quickly as possible.

Question two: Can I delegate this?

If you find yourself with a task that has meaning (with or without a lie from a boss), and you don’t want to do it, delegate it. Doing something you hate is a lose-lose. It’s bad for you, as well as your organization because you’ll likely turn in sub-par work.

5. Be Smart With Your Time

The Pareto principle is founded on a theory that 80% of effectiveness is driven by 20% of our activity (or causes). I argue that it’s more like 99%:1%. It’s amazing how many insignificant tasks we’re constantly filling our lives with. Don’t make it your goal to involve yourself with 20% of meaningful items during the day. It gets too confusing, and your untrained mind will still end up taking-on too much. As state above, just do one important task per day. Say no to everything else–even your boss. Be humble, but be logical.
There’s three types of people in corporations:

Type 1: Busy People

This is the person who constantly stresses themselves out by running around with paper, working on vacations and constantly checking email. They look like work-a-holics, but they get very little work done. They end up burning themselves out. They can even end up lashing out at others.

What ends up happening is that others perceive them as being able to get the most done, thus people assign more work to them. The work results in being half-assed because the busy person doesn’t have the appropriate time needed for the task. People end up giving the most work to those who are least effective. This is why busy people and work-a-holics are bad for organizations. They eventually end up hurting companies.

Type 2: Lazy People

Lazy people are those that put the blame on their external environment for a lot of things. In the back of their minds sits hope that they’ll one day succeed and hit that million-dollar home-run. Yet in the meantime, they fill their lives with activities that release dopamine.

Activities such as T.V., potato chips, video games, researching whether or not Tupac faked his death and conspiring over whether our government is run by free masons. I was this person once. These were my habits. I occupied my time with message-boards, reading hours of sports articles, and more. I wanted to achieve my dreams, but my mind craved dopamine derived from reading sports blogs. Getting out of this state and into the state below is what this book is about.

Type 3: A Sage

A Sage is one that doesn’t involve themselves in dopamine-driven activities; instead, he or she is very selective about what they do. They have a habit of asking themselves questions that most people are too busy to ask. They pre-occupy themselves with the unspoken, yet meaningful assumptions that others fail to address. Sages ask questions about the meaning behind any activity that they embark on. They view turning down work as a logical decision, not an emotional one. They even say no to their bosses in a strategic way. In order to become a Sage, you must become indispensable to your organization, which is accomplished through practicing Wu Wei (which we will cover soon in the chapter on Flow). Of course, when it comes to business, nobody is indispensable, even the CEO and Founder can be replaced (e.g. Yahoo’s CEO/Founder, Jerry Yang). By becoming indispensable, I mean you must be economically indispensable. Meaning, to the economy, you must be indispensable. In other words, you, yourself, can generate monetary value wherever you go–even if you work for yourself. The most empowering feeling is knowing you can land a job at any time, or just make money for yourself whenever you want to.

A true sign of being indispensable is not a pat on the ass from a boss. It’s not a bonus or a raise. A true sign of being indispensable comes from making money on your own and getting job offers when you’re not looking for a job.

In summary, in order to be a Sage, you must earn it. You must earn it by being economically indispensable, and we’ll learn shortly that this falls into place naturally.

6. Mind Maps

Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s critical to allow the mind to disentangle itself by mapping out your thoughts on paper.

There’s two types of maps: (i) PS Map, and (ii) Fear Map

I. PS Map:

A PS Map is short for a problem-solution mind map. This becomes a helpful tool when you’re trying to get something done, yet your mind keeps wandering towards a problem you think you have. A PS Map is also critical for when you feel restless–when your mind won’t stop racing. You tend to pace around the house contemplating a problem. Whenever you’re in this state, pull out a piece of paper and at the top write: “Problem.” Then map out every single detail and nature of the problem. Halfway down, on the same piece of paper, write out “Solution” And then map out possible solutions to this problem. This simple exercise slows down the mind, puts things into perspective and makes the solution shockingly clear.

II. A Fear Map

Sometimes, thoughts and ideas creep into our mind that are intrinsically negative in nature. These thoughts generate fear. In this situation, it’s best to outline the consequences of your fear. Through outlining the results of your fear, you can oftentimes find how insignificant the fear really is. And even in the case of where the fear still seems significant, at least you know what the worst thing could happen is. Oftentimes you’ll find that the worst thing that could happen, really isn’t that bad.

A fear map forces you to apply simple logic to the source of your fear. It’s founded on ‘If X, then Y.

On paper map out the following formula “if x, then y.” Where “x” is the fear, and “y” is your estimate of the fear’s result.

Through mapping out your thoughts, you can calm the racing mind, which will free your mind to focus on the task at hand.

7. Blame something

Other times, sitting down to concentrate is as simple as blaming a simple object for your inability to concentrate. As we discussed above, lazy people are those that blame almost everything on their environment. You don’t want to do this, as it’s not a long-term, sustainable solution. However, in instances where you can’t get excited to actually pump blood to your prefrontal cortex (phase 1 of concentrating), a simple object can help you out. Such an object would be coffee, a drink, a Bonsai tree or a walk. You can reward your mind for concentrating by saying, “OK, mind, here’s the deal–it’s hard to concentrate on this right now, but I’ll pick up a bonsai tree, which will create a more compelling environment to concentrate.” You’ll find that this object-based motivator actually works.

8. Interest

Researchers found that concentration is not a gift. It’s not about intelligence. It’s not about being a prodigy with a gifted memory. It’s not about possessing the ability to recall an insane amount of facts (That’s what Google’s for). Researchers found that concentration is driven by interest, and interest is driven by attitude. If your attitude towards a specific project swells with interest, intrigue and passion, concentration is astonishingly easy.

Conclusion

A core component of concentrating is building up a repertoire of purpose-driven habits that enables you to seamlessly step into “flow.” It’s my thesis that “flow” is the combination of mastering short-term focus and long-term focus. This book is about building this repertoire through goals, habits, exercises, philosophies and practices which will result in you becoming a more focused person.

What’s Next

As we covered, the key to proper concentration is creating your own purpose-driven habits that enable you to step into “flow.”

It’s my thesis that “flow” is the mastery of both short-term focus and long-term focus. In this chapter, we’ve outlined the science behind short-term focus, and the 8 actions you can do to improve concentration.

Remember – intelligence comes from focused concentration. Beware of the distractions around you. We’re all human and prone to laziness or becoming an inefficient work-a-holic, but we can choose to be strategically lazy, and thus, becoming effective.

More About ‘How to Get Focused’

This book is about building the habits of focus through goal-setting, exercises, philosophies and practices that result in an increased ability to focus for success.

In the next chapter, we’ll explore the concept of flow.

As always, please let me know how you liked this chapter and what can be improved in the comments section below.

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{ 199 comments… read them below or add one }

googya April 18, 2010 at 8:13 pm

It’s easy to understand,but hard to act that way!

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Scott April 20, 2010 at 9:11 am

Googya — Yep, you’re right. That’s the reason I outlined the concept of hard work in the Forward of this book ;-)

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Angel_Downunder April 18, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Scott, i found this chapter immensely helpful! Nice, bite-sized chunks that get help us get our minds around the topic of being focused.
I certainly could relate with the ‘busy-people’ syndrome and have experienced that ‘over-workload’! I had feelings of guilt and incompetence surface for a moment there, and then checked myself to realise that is exactly why i’m reading your material – to change these ineffective habits! Thank you.
May i add – point 3 regarding strategically lazy people: i was a little confused by dispensable vs indispensable. Perhaps it’s just i haven’t understood it properly? I would like to see a further example or explanation? Funny how i am having trouble with perhaps the very point at which will change my perspective! Yikes!
Can you elaborate?
Apart from that, i really enjoyed the following:
1. the brain processes meaning before detail (I will certainly make use of this at work!)
2. Concentration = driven by interest = driven by attitude!
I am often feeling the ‘odd one out’ at work when i display my enthusiasm, energy – amongst the ‘mediocre’ attitudes – but i will no longer feel embarrassed by that! Thank you!

I hope my comments assist you,
Kind regards,
QLD, Aust.

“Carpe Diem!”

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Scott April 20, 2010 at 9:08 am

Hey Angel — Thanks for the feedback. I’ll be sure to make point 3 clearer. Thanks!

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Vie March 4, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Wow, I found a lot of the stuff here really applicable to me.

It’s probably a bad thing that I was reading this while multitasking/procrastinating…

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Huy Zing April 19, 2010 at 3:17 am

Great chapter, insights, and research.

Instead of Lumosity, I would suggest people do Dual N-Back training using the free http://brainworkshop.sourceforge.net/
I’ve done both and I don’t think that Lumosity has much advantage when it comes to working memory and concentration. With Dual N-Back, you can immediately tell when your concentration drops.

I would also of course recommend meditation for improving concentration.

Where did you get the “one-tenth of a second” figure for task switching?

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Scott April 20, 2010 at 9:09 am

Huy — I’ll be dedicating an entire chapter to meditation soon. Stay tuned for that. Also, thanks for sharing BrainWorkshop that looks really interesting. I like that it’s open source.

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steve April 19, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Lots of brilliant tips and bookmarked for later reference as well.

Do like interest, at the moment got a few projects to finish that don’t really interest me, I keep on putting them back, then putting them back again. I will do try to approach these ones with “interest, intrigue and passion”

Thank you

I personally have a few methods that get me to hit flow:
1. I set myself an artificial deadline to finish the project in, after the deadline passes I tend to have either finished it or nearly finished it, but I’ve ended up putting myself into flow so a little push after normally gets it finished.
2. Music and headphones. Find dance music or music which is at a constant speed is useful for me, I get into the rhythm of the music and that transfers into the rhythm of flow for work.
3. Just start on it for a minute, then for 5 minutes, then for 10 etc and at some point tend to hit flow

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Scott April 20, 2010 at 9:10 am

Hey Steve — Thanks for the insight and comment. I like your last point. It’s amazing how the first step is the hardest, but once you get going, it’s easy to get on a roll (if you enjoy what you do).

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Eslam April 19, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Hello i have read the 8 things everybody ought to know.Its really amazing facts and its so true.I will make sure to read the whole chapters because those information are really valuable and important to build a good organized mind and personality.

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Scott April 20, 2010 at 9:11 am

Thanks for stopping by, Eslam. Hope you enjoy!

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Nathaniel Broughton April 20, 2010 at 11:33 am

Hey Scott,
Got a few suggestions on the writing in this chapter.

1. Saw a typo “yet I every time I advance further”.

2. I think adding the little sketches you have here on HTGF to the middle of this chapter under the PS and Fear maps would help illustrate them more effectively. Throw them up side-by-side right there in the text as an example, “here’s a fear map I made before writing this book”.

3. This passage confused me: “A fear map is a science. Literally. It’s founded in logic. Logic games are based on, as well as the basis of programming, are built on this principle. It’s founded on If x, then y.”

Maybe try: “A fear map forces you to apply simple logic to the source of your fear. It’s founded on ‘If X, then Y’.

4. This is just my opinion, but here’s another look at how you could arrange the conclusion. It felt a little rushed as I got down there, whereas as the reader I’m looking for a clear, tidy ending reminding me what we just learned.

“The key to proper concentration is creating your own purpose-driven habits that enable you to step into “flow.”

It’s my thesis that “flow” is the mastery of both short-term focus and long-term focus. In this chapter, we’ve outlined the science behind short-term focus, and the 8 actions you can do to improve concentration.

Remember – intelligence comes from focused concentration. Beware the distractions around you. We’re all human and prone to laziness, but we can choose to be strategically lazy.

More About ‘How to Get Focused’
This book is about building the habits of focus through goal-setting, exercises, philosophies and practices that result in an increased ability to focus for success.

In the next chapter, we’ll explore the “how-to’s” and benefits of long-term focus. Long-term focus is a quality shared by the most focused, and most successful ___________ (*insert something here)

As always, please let me know how you liked this chapter and what can be improved in the comments section below.”

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Scott April 22, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Thanks, Nate. As always; very much appreciated. I’ll update it shortly with your suggestions.

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Scott April 25, 2010 at 8:29 am

Just updated it, and credited you, Nate. Thanks again!

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David April 22, 2010 at 3:56 pm

I think my main problem is the interest part. I have absolutely 0 interest in what I’m studying now. It’s just something I have to do in order to actually study something I do have interest in. Feels like I’m wasting 2 years of my life when it should be spent studying the thing I love. This education system blows (UK).

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Scott April 22, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Hey David — Sorry to hear about it. Is there any creative way that you can spin what you’re studying now into what you plan on doing? For instance, if you were studying neuroscience and wanted to move into finance, you could show how irrational behavior and decision-making drives financial trading. Just throwing it out there. Sorry to hear about it, again!

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fil April 22, 2010 at 4:11 pm

What sets this piece apart from the universal bunch of be-better-texts, is how it’s not marketing, but it is honest, because it feels like a real person is writing it, and not someone trying to sell self-improvement via re-labeling stuff that we’ve heard many times.
So the specific hints are nice but not miraculous in themselves. Also you may put it into tags and numbers or don’t, well it’s catchy.
What counts is that it is curious and imaginative.
I can say this, explain that – bottom line: My guts agree with you.

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Scott April 22, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Hey Fil — Thanks a lot. I really like hearing that. I try and speak from the heart; instead of reading what everyone else says, and then adding my spin to it. Again, I appreciate your words very much.

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Rodrigo April 22, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Hi, I stumbled upon this post from Lifehacker; a great one, might I add :)
This is the only part of your book that I’ve read, and I haven’t noticed any mention of managing work time vs. free time. By free time I mean quality time, such as playing an instrument, being with the one you love, with your friends, etc. We cannot just live as drones dedicated to maximize our efficiency in completing tasks; free time is a must. It’s reasonable to find strategies related to getting focused on “howtogetfocused.com”, but still, I do believe well spent free time is an integral part of our lives that might even have an impact on how we work every day.

Regards from Argentina,
Rodrigo

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Scott April 22, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Hey Rodrigo — Thanks a lot! I absolutely agree with you. I believe a focused person gets what he or she needs to at work; thus, freeing up time for family. The chapter I’m working on now actually addresses this. Stay tuned, I’ll likely be releasing it within the next couple days.
-scott

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Lya Santoso April 22, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Thanks for great article. I’ll try your tips.

One sentence concerns me : Under the fear map part, I found this sentence “And even in the case of where the fear still seems insignificant, …”. I think this should be ‘significant’, not ‘insignificant’. Isn’t it?

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Scott April 25, 2010 at 8:34 am

Thanks for pointing that out, Lyla. Just updated it. Thanks!

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Jim S. April 23, 2010 at 8:51 am

I must begin by saying that I found this article while being distracted by facebook. That said, I typically find that I get distracted from my work, which takes a good amount of concentration, by the phone, emails that are meaningless to me, and IMs about tasks that I have already completed or will not work on for weeks. Once I am off task, I begin to wonder through all of the media by which I may need to communicate during the day.
The best way that I have found to remain on task is to turn off notifications for email, mark my IM status as busy or out of the office, and check for all notifications at specific intervals. I find that I need a break hourly from any given task, so that I can spend 15 minutes on distractions every hour or two (sometimes I just put my head back and try to clear my head of random thoughts that have popped up).

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Scott April 25, 2010 at 8:33 am

Hey Jim — Yep, that’s the carrot-stick approach. I do the same thing using my FocusList (http://faction3.com/buy-now/). I put two items that I’d like to do in the next hour, followed by a 15-minute break for reading or for just getting up to walk around.

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Marlon April 23, 2010 at 9:08 am

I like the relationship of ;concentration’ to ‘flow’. I think most dopamine seeking behavior is just a poor substitute for the endorphin rush we get through finding ‘flow’. I’ll stick around and check out your other articles.

Note: minor mistake in the following passage — “Through outlining the results of your fear, you can oftentimes find how insignificant the fear really is. And even in the case of where the fear still seems insignificant”

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Scott April 25, 2010 at 8:19 am

Hi Marlon — Glad you liked it! I’ll update the typo now. Thanks.

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Michelle April 24, 2010 at 8:05 am

I thought that this whole article was interesting, and although I’ve heard a lot of this advice before I like how you have it all organized here. You did a good job of explaining how these different tips are part of a larger strategy as a whole.

You started to lose me when you talked about being strategically lazy because I thought, “Surely, this is how you get fired.” But you immediately grabbed me again when you described being economically indispensable. As a Translation/Fine Arts student, this is my greatest long-term goal at the moment, and I am very interested in reading some more on that in particular. I think that networking will be very important for me to reach this goal and yet this is the area where I procrastinate the most, although I really enjoy it. I just don’t understand why I don’t do it more.

Also, my biggest distraction is my computer and yet all the work I do is computer-based. I’ll definitely be reading more of this site as it seems that everything I’ve read flows together seamlessly and hopefully it will help me figure out how to concentrate better on my language studies. From my own research I have learned that language acquisition is less about problem-solving and book-study and more about practice. Hopefully this site will have some information to come up with a plan in that area as well.

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Scott April 25, 2010 at 8:17 am

Hey Michelle — Thanks for stopping by. The next series I’ll be working on centers on how to become economically indispensable.

Also, I suggest you check out Lukas Mathis’ interview here. He works on a computer, but has a pretty fascinating system for getting things done: disconnecting.

http://howtogetfocused.com/chapters/how-software-engineers-and-designers-can-increase-their-focus/

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Dave Everitt April 25, 2010 at 6:18 am

I keep a guitar next to my home office desk. Works on the prefrontal every time.

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Scott April 25, 2010 at 8:11 am

Haha. Cool, Dave.

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Uzoma Walter E. April 25, 2010 at 11:47 pm

The chapter is impacting knowladge. But it is too long.

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Scott April 26, 2010 at 7:09 am

@Uzoma Thanks! Yea, Hopefully the book will be a more pleasant reading environment for you ;-)

P.S. To everyone: I just upgraded my site, and my comments (which were nested and threaded), no longer show up. I’ll get it fixed soon.

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Uzoma walter Emenike. April 27, 2010 at 7:59 am

Am currently writing on a topic captioned the “integrity of a mam” sir can you contribute to that and i shall acknowledge you in the atticle for so doing. Thanks.

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Scott April 27, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Uzoma — Sure, I’d be interested in hearing more and helping you out. Shoot me an email: me@scottscheper.com

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Andrea April 27, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Hey Scott, I am a student and I was wondering if you have any suggestions for balancing multiple assignments when you have to do multiple assignments in a day to be able to keep up and complete them on time? I like to switch between tasks when they are making me drowsy or I’m not focused and that sometimes helps me. Then I feel like I’m made some progress in everything. If I only study for one class, I’ve neglected the three others and have to make up for that with less than ample time the following day.

For a super specific example I need to read 200 pages of Spanish literature in the next two days for one class, prepare for another class tomorrow night, and start a comprehensive review for another class that can’t be done in one sitting.

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Scott April 27, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Hey Andrea —

I used to alternate subjects. It would keep me awake. Usually, I’d tackle two subject chunks. For instance, I’d hit Finance and Marketing with a 15-30 minute break between each. After I finished this two part chunk, I’d usually have a longer break for lunch or something; I’d then study two different subjects. Or, if there was a deadline coming up, I’d go back to the same two subjects.

I had a system for this that’s kind of fuzzy right now because I haven’t studied like that in a couple years. The good news, though, is that I have my planners saved. So I can read through them and re-discover the strategy I used!

Also, how many units are you taking, and are the scrunched within only a couple days, or are the spread out?

Let me try and break down your specific example.

- Today is Tuesday.
- Spanish Literature reading is due Thursday.
- Tomorrow night you need to prepare for one class (I don’t get what you mean by this. You need to do reading for a lecture or class? Or are you presenting? Or something else)
- Start a comprehensive review for another class.

Here’s what I’d do in that situation:

- Tuesday:
Read 100 Pages of Spanish literature
Do a light preparation for the class tomorrow
Do a light outline and plan for the comprehensive review

- Wednesday:
Read another 100 pages of Spanish literature
Do a heavier preparation for the class tomorrow
Do a light comprehensive review session

As you can see, I’d do all three in the day; however, I’d weight my time and effort towards the one with the most priority. I think doing all three is good for the brain, so that you won’t get burnt out by pulling all-day intensive study sessions for just one per day.

Studying is a different game than the real world. In the real world, productivity is much more weighted towards doing just one important thing per day than managing your time. Both are critical, though. And I’m definitely a bigger fan of college than high school–because at least college puts the burden of getting work done on your shoulders, not on some other person’s shoulders.

… Anyways, hope that helps

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Andrea May 11, 2010 at 7:03 am

Hey Scott,

Thanks for the reply.

I’m in a unique situation right now… I am studying in Spain and I have 4 classes – 2 of which have a final exam and a final paper that make up 100% of your grade.

So right now I’m struggling with managing my time between these core assignments:

– Studying/preparing/re-learning for each of the 4 finals through notes
- Finishing a 500 page Literature book
- Writing paper for Literature Class
- Reading book for History Class for a paper
- Writing the paper for History Class

I’m also in a rough spot here because there is no place to study after 7pm and on weekends. All of the universities and libraries close. So finding times and places is also a huge stress. Doing hw and studying in your room, with a roommate who has 1/4 of the work that you do, is hard. haha

I’m hoping to just be motivated enough to work on each thing a little bit each day.

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Beng Hui April 30, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Hi Scott
just a few comments i think many people listen to music and work at the same time (i used to)I sort of did an experiment for my recent exams – i went to a quiet room, took the corner seat facing the wall and just studied. No computer. No music. i realized that if i actually stopped listening to music altogether while studying my concentration improves.
Another thing i realized is that sometimes when i totally lost concentration it’s better to take a nap/relax then to keep “attacking”. Continuing just makes it worse.
Thanks for writing =D i’ll keep reading

Cheers
Beng Hui (Singapore)

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Scott May 2, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Beng — Thanks for the great insight. I, too, agree that I got my best studying done without music. It’s interesting, though, that music helps some people. Stephen King, for example, starts his day by listening to Metallica when writing!

Anyways, thanks for stopping by, Beng. I really appreciate the insight.

-scott

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Uzoma walter E. May 1, 2010 at 4:14 am

To be candid, person who fails to plan has planned to fail. It takes only for us to programme ourselfs and all the eight tids you lamented about above will be actualised.

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Scott May 2, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Uzoma — I really like your quote. But what I like most about it is… it’s true!

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joe May 3, 2010 at 3:45 am

Over the last months I was looking for a way to get more things done on my list. I have tasks that are assigned to certain days and a long list of tasks that need to be done soon but not on specific dates (~ 200, randing from simple like hanging a picture to longer ones like learning to cook or doing more sports incl. bying helmet and shoes for biking). My biggest problem is that I e.g. assign 5 tasks to each day, tick off 2, then something else happens (e.g. no motivation, unexpected work, or a “problem” like I bought the wrong tools to do a certain task, etc.) and so the next day I end up with 3 old, 1 unexpected, and 5 new (= 9) tasks, etc. etc. After a while this is really overwhelming and I didn’t even start with my long list of undated tasks.
For a while I tried assigning all tasks to dates which is pure chaos and I also tried assigning no tasks at all which created “oh, nothing to do” in my mind

Any ideas or help? Thanks a lot!

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Scott May 3, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Joe — Here’s an idea that I write about: Outline just one critical thing to do per day, and do it.

Dont’ do 5 average things. Just do one important thing per day.

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Cassio May 11, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Hi Scott, i’m reading the whole book and keep finding every text more insightfull then the other.
I was thinking about your tip of doing one important thing at a day. Suppose i finish all the tasks for an important thing in, say, four hours. What do you suggest we do on the other work hours on that day? Try to do another important task? Read? Study?

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Scott August 17, 2010 at 8:34 am

Thanks, Cassio! I’m glad you like it!

With the other four hours, it really depends on your objective or your goal. I suggest carrying out a purposeful, meaningful activity. Whether that be working on a project, spending time with the significant other, or whatever, do something meaningful!

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Fred Bennett July 8, 2010 at 9:12 am

2 Minor edits:
Section: Question 1: para 3
Tell them, “So, I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out how to best approach this project, yet I everytime I advance further, I keep coming back to why this is meaningful in the first place.

should be
Tell them, “So, I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out how to best approach this project, yet every time I advance further, I keep coming back to why this is meaningful in the first place.

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Scott August 17, 2010 at 8:37 am

Thanks for the edits Fred!

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Dante July 22, 2010 at 8:25 pm

Hi, Scott.

You have a typo in section 5–Be Smart With Your Time. You say “There’s three types of people in corporations:”

Should be “There are three types…”. Sorry, it’s the editor in me. ;-}~

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peace August 16, 2010 at 10:31 pm

wat if you cant get your butt off a chair or your face off the computer screen? ‘cuz thats what i’m going through right now…

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Scott August 17, 2010 at 8:36 am

Couple tips:

1) Quarantine your computer by putting it in a separate working room (not your living room).
2) Unplug the internet
3) Start the day with a jog
4) Get this application:

http://getconcentrating.com/affiliate.php?id=12

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Karen November 8, 2010 at 2:22 pm

I love this. More people need to read this.

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Dana December 7, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Loved every single line of this, great writing, great subject and really wonderful use of the craft of keeping me reading! Excellent!

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eric December 12, 2010 at 10:05 am

I came here through stumbleupon while avoiding homework.

oh the irony…

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Just Wodering December 30, 2010 at 8:40 pm

I’m curious as to hear more about that study that was mentioned, the one about distraction leading to boredom. Is there some sort of link where I can read that?

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Gail Keith January 15, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Not that I am surprised, but it is amazing how everything boils down to a process and even a science. I have been self employed for 6 years and everyone once in a while I go through a month or so of total lack of focus – I get into crisis management mode. I am glad I looked up this topic and found this blog and book. Now when that happens, I just need to understand what my mind is doing in order to get back on track.

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Matthew Larson February 15, 2011 at 9:39 am

Really interesting stuff Scott. Just reading this first page put me in a total zen state. Looking forward to reading the eBook!

-Matt

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Billy The Blogging Poet February 16, 2011 at 7:03 pm

I’ve known these things for years– now if only I could convince my boss.

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kal February 21, 2011 at 7:30 pm

This’ll be a pretty long rant:

Lazy People is spot on for me (it’s how I got to this site in the first place).

Back in college I used to do everything head on without delay and without a break in concentration. Some friends actually said I kind of reminded them of the energizer bunny/robot. And then at some point in the middle it’s like I fell into a funk, and while I soldiered on (graduated, passed the board exam, got a job), I could never quite get back to the way I was.

It’s like lately, it’s been getting harder and harder to get out of my funk. I think too much, and my fears (very much unfounded) get the best of me. And I deal with it by looking for immediate gratification. And it’s getting in the way of work (i.e., there are days I’d skip work and spend the day in bed doing all sorts of random things).

I found that it’s not the job. It happens to me in any given situation. Doing things for my parents, meeting up with friends, etc. It’s why I haven’t left my job. I’m afraid that if I work somewhere else where the pay is better and the hours aren’t so crazy, I might just end up doing it again anyway, and my new bosses might not be as forgiving.

My main problem is sometimes I don’t have it in me to get out of bed. Once, I tried loaning my laptop to a friend for a few months to get rid of the temptation of surfing the net in the morning, but what happened was when I was hit again by that sinking feeling, I didn’t get out of my bed at all to do anything (I skipped meals, and didn’t even have the drive to go into the living room to watch TV).

I think this is kind of a cry for help.

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Vonda March 19, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Kal,
I highly recommend you get in to see a good doctor – one that specializes in both eastern and western medicine. You are valuable and this is the only life you have, as far as we know. I’d hate for you to miss it!

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izzy March 25, 2011 at 9:14 pm

kal, I too have read this article and found it very helpful. more people should read this. If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you? What you seem to be dealing with is not just a lack of concentration, but an actual state of depression that stems from your original point where you, for lack of a better term, “lost your edge.” Don’t take away from how real the ‘sinking feeling’ you mentioned is, i know what it is like, I see people (and help them cope) every day who are dealing with some sort of depression. It is ok to get some help, just start by talking to someone (i know i don’t know you, but you can start with me if it’s easier) You are not just unfocused, so don’t feel bad about not concentrating, you are dealing with something else entirely and thats ok. there are things you can do to get you back to your productive, focused, and most importantly, happy self!

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mia December 20, 2011 at 1:43 am

As a psych major in college, it seems to me that you’re displaying the symptoms of clinical depression. Lacking energy and losing interest and motivation are common symptoms of depression. You shouldn’t just take my word for it though- I’m not a doctor. But you should visit your doctor and he/she will be able to recommend someone who could give you a psych evaluation.

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Acacia March 1, 2011 at 8:27 pm

I was procrastinating writing a paper by using StumbleUpon because I couldn’t get myself to focus. Ironically, it brought me here! Thanks for the advice. I am off to write my paper now.

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Adam April 23, 2011 at 3:04 pm

StumbleUpon should probably take this off their sites… Ugh… Exiting StumbleUpon and now concentrating :)

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stardust March 3, 2011 at 5:04 pm
Zain March 4, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Hello there,
Thank you for this piece, I found it very helpful. However, it was amusing to see that within the text you had links to brain training and list-making websites that distracted me from reading the rest of your chapter in one go. ;-)

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Luna March 6, 2011 at 10:23 am

“4. The person will get angry at you for questioning the process. This indicates that you’re at a bureaucratic organization that devalues innovation and purpose. If you’re OK with this, enjoy a work-life of hell. If you’re not OK with this, sprint to the exit as quickly as possible.”

How do you do this when you’re stuck in high school? I’d love to escape, but as we all know, dropping out doesn’t exactly get you anywhere.

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Jill March 6, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Whoever wrote this understands like.. EXACTLY the way my brain works it crazy…

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Cecelia March 6, 2011 at 8:56 pm

I don’t think you backed a single fact with a source…. It’s an interesting article, but a bit hard to trust.

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John Wayne March 7, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Stumble Upon brought me here during a procrastination session. Let’s see if that paper finally gets done now. *Closes window.*

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Harish March 7, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Nicely written.. :)
But i think i wouldn’t have read this article if i didn’t do multi tasking.. :)

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Charliebird March 9, 2011 at 10:25 am

I love it, especially…

“This indicates that you’re at a bureaucratic organization that devalues innovation and purpose. If you’re OK with this, enjoy a work-life of hell. If you’re not OK with this, sprint to the exit as quickly as possible.”

I couldn’t stop laughing… mainly cause it’s so true…

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Andrew March 25, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Here are a couple notes for the next edition:

(Caveat: I’ve read only this page, and if the book already addresses these notes, you have my apologies.)

You clearly want the best for your readers, but some of them are almost certainly encountering difficulties in selective attention due to medical conditions. Brain injury, depression, & ADD are a few common examples where patients are sometimes unaware of their condition but seeking help for its symptoms. So it’s worth noting that while these ideas can help anyone, some readers will need help beyond the book’s scope and would benefit from seeing a physician. These folks are worth sprinkling a few caveats throughout the book.

The Fear Map as it’s articulated here is unsound. Fear & anxiety are governed by the accessibility heuristic, and making the worst case scenario more accessible is problematic.

The beliefs underlying fear are that the object will cause great harm and the anxious person is inadequate to deal with both the object & the harm. When your exercise works, it likely helps put both in context but its method will sometimes have the unintended consequence of priming the worst case scenario & increasing the fear it seeks to quell. Instead maybe suggest folks put their fear in perspective by articulating the two most likely outcomes and their two most likely consequences. And it’s probably a good idea here to explain something about how accessibility rather than a correct understanding of base rates rules our assessments of perceived threats.

The task I’m suggesting is not as elegant, but it’s less likely to have the opposite of its intended effect. For more on the science behind this check out at least the first couple chapters of “Keep Calm & Carry On” by Mark Reineke, a leading researcher in this area.

While I’m recommending researchers’ books written for the general population, let me suggest you check out “Mindset” by Carol Dweck. I suspect it’ll challenge your ideas about “intelligence” in a very productive way.

Hope that helps!

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Jon April 5, 2011 at 8:55 am

The article needs citations for evidence, otherwise it was very insightful. No matter how good something sounds, however, I always get uneasy when studies and evidence aren’t cited properly. Post your sources and good luck with your book!

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Johnny Boy April 6, 2011 at 6:35 pm

Just as an aside, dopamine-driven activities are whatever you are concentrating on. Concentration stems from the release of dopamine in the brain, hence why those with ADHD have less dopamine receptors. Any task that one is focused on is utilizing dopamine and is driven by dopamine. So what if one actually has ADHD, which you seem to think does not exist?

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Skay April 29, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Hello, it was an interesting read. The thing that struck me the most was how you talk about ADD… You believe that ADD is caused by overmultitasking which makes them unable to concentrate? Because I am one of those that hopes to blame some kind of disorder on this. ( I can’t read or write things I dont like literally… seriously problem I get distracted every 2 min usually and during these 2 min I cant seem to use my head its like its all clutter ).

If you aren’t sure then you can say it honestly i dont mind. I was just wondering…..

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Saba May 9, 2011 at 1:38 am

This is one the best article I have ever gone through. It has actually motivated and enabled me cultivate good and purpose-oriented habits. Thanks a lot. :)

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Jon July 20, 2011 at 10:33 am

Not all who wander are lost.

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kddslkajlfskaj July 26, 2011 at 4:46 pm

a couple of things: this whole thing is EXTREMELY black and white. For example, the part where you said “that’s not a job you want to be working at anyway so get the hell out” or whatever just seemed really idealist to me. You can’t just do things you want to do all the time. Unfortunately the job market is not that great right now, and some of us have to pay our bills and some of our bosses don’t have the time for questions like that. Many bosses, I imagine, would find a question like that pretty obnoxious. Maybe try throwing a couple of suggestions for concentrating on something I’ll never be interested in. I’m sure plenty of other people would appreciate them. Oh, and there was another part ADD is not “some crazy, obtuse” reason for not being able to concentrate…it’s an extremely real reward deficiency disorder that results in lack of focus and other things that can get in the way of living a productive life like addiction disorders. You seem like you’ve done a bit of research on the brain, why did you completely neglect to research that? Overall, I think that you put out some good tips, those were just my major gripes that I couldn’t really stay silent about.

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Lucas August 2, 2011 at 1:03 pm

lol, when your advice on concentrating is to focus.

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Matt August 9, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Is it ironic that I found this article via StumbleUpon?

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alyssa January 25, 2012 at 3:35 pm

is it ironic that after the first paragraph I skimmed through the rest of it because I can’t stumble and focus at the same time.

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michelle January 26, 2012 at 11:31 pm

Yes.

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tijs January 29, 2012 at 6:25 am

Me too :P

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Abhilash February 1, 2012 at 1:49 am

so did i :)

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Charlotte February 21, 2012 at 1:58 am

Ditto. Days of my life, lost.

I seriously had to remove the toolbar. I recommend it.

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J March 4, 2012 at 10:53 am

Exactly, it is the antithesis to this article.

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Bernie March 4, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Me too!….and I’ll end up buying the book!

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Garrett March 5, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Yes and you are not alone.

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Sarah March 8, 2012 at 11:47 am

Eh, I did too.

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Reese Gallagher March 15, 2012 at 2:58 pm

lol, Indeed Matt, it’s also ironic that they give you so many links throughout the article. I’m thinking “oh, that’s interesting I might try out brain games bec–wait a second”.

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Anita March 19, 2012 at 1:13 pm

I was thinking the same thing! LOL!

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B. Bailey March 23, 2012 at 2:51 pm

haha so did i

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Millissa March 26, 2012 at 9:33 am

I did too….. during class…. very ironic….

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Ggreta March 27, 2012 at 4:46 am

Haha me too. The Internet used to be a
Non judgmental place to procrastinate!

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Jennifer April 3, 2012 at 8:05 am

I did too

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tiens April 3, 2012 at 1:42 pm

me too… bad brain!

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Maham April 8, 2012 at 6:40 am

I also found it from stumbleupon :)

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Luke April 9, 2012 at 8:25 pm

It is, though I did as well… Stumble upon is just so god dammed useful if you want to find things such as this as it allows you to just go off and find stuff. Also an incredibly useful research component if you use it right as it brings up sites with loads of information rather quickly.

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Rachel April 19, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Heh, I agree, I found this on StumbleUpon as well.

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Timothy May 22, 2012 at 8:57 pm

It sure is!

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derek October 2, 2012 at 11:19 pm

yea it is im on it too

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fuad August 24, 2011 at 2:39 pm

i have read it …..hope it will help me….it’s really a good article….

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sapna August 31, 2011 at 9:39 am

heya..
im a student who is constantly getting worried about not being able to study well..because of my deviating concentration.. your article is very inspirational..
thank you so much.. hope i will come out of it very soon.

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Anna September 26, 2012 at 9:49 pm

I’m a student too, with such a poor attention span i didn’t finish reading the article. I think I am beyond help :(

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baidu456 September 8, 2011 at 6:37 am

I think you have vision. This is awesome content. Im impressed with how you presented it. I plan to return in hopes to read more.

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sam October 15, 2011 at 5:57 pm

I was procrastinating doing my World History homework and then stumbleupon took me here.. I think it’s a sign.. haha.

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heather March 7, 2012 at 4:58 pm

1. I procrastinate my world history homework
2. I go on Stumbleupon
3. I find this article
4. I read this comment
5. My face: o.0

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Trevor October 17, 2011 at 10:40 am

That’s bullshit! Music totally helps me focus!

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Tom April 20, 2012 at 9:56 am

Some music can be that object that may help you out as said in the 7th thing: blame something. Or that’s what I think.

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Grubenstier October 18, 2011 at 8:50 am

You’ve written a book and cannot write proper and gramatically correct English:

E.g.

“There’s two types of maps: (i) PS Map, and (ii) Fear Map”

Learn the difference between singular and plural and try again.

Good luck! ;-)

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daniel January 30, 2012 at 11:46 am

I think that if you were looking to an internet article for grammar correctness than you have way too much time on your hands and you really do need to read this article about concentration. If you got distracted by his use of singularity and plurality then you need to focus more on the article and less on the grammar.

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Frost March 7, 2012 at 8:16 pm

editors would be out of a job

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David March 10, 2012 at 6:42 am

So you discount the advice of this article based on one grammatical mistake? I wonder how life has been going for you since October 2011.

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suzie April 6, 2012 at 9:06 pm

jerk

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Slow October 18, 2011 at 11:08 am

I wanted to finish reading this article but I got distracted.

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Dick Biggins October 18, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Paragraph 2, cord*

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David P. October 22, 2011 at 11:43 am

What about playing guitar and singing, or maybe playing a poly rhythm with drums? (multiple time signatures simultaneously.) That’s too completely different processes, so does the mind switch back and forth, or does it learn it as being one process after a lot of practice?

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brad March 25, 2012 at 1:04 pm

As a percussionist, part of my practice sessions and warm ups involve poly-rhythms. After reading your comment and considering it, I realize most of these are learned as a coherent whole usually phonetically associated with a phrase. For example, playing a 4/4 time with my right hand along with a 3/4 time on my left is one rhythm my mind associates with a phrase I learned in my instruction years ago. “Pass the fat free butter” I know its silly, but the syllables match the beats. “Pass” is both hands, “the” is right, “fat” is left, “free” is right, “but-” is left, and “-ter” is right. This is a very common way these complicated rhythms are taught, and it seems to point to the author being correct. Hope that answered your question :D

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Chloe September 2, 2012 at 4:13 pm

When you’re able to master something, to the point where the brain doesn’t have to think about it, then you’re able to, as you said, sing and play guitar. For some people, it can become as easy as walking and talking to someone.

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george October 26, 2011 at 3:46 pm

so are you trying to say people with adhd are all idiots? because that would make you an idiot

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Eli April 4, 2012 at 8:41 am

I’d say people with ADHD had the unfortunate circumstance of drug abusing parents, or more likely one just prefers to not force concentration. Why is it the Western world termed an inability to focus as ADHD and prescribes pills, when many other countries send you to a technical school after 8th grade if you haven’t figured out how to ‘man-up’ yet? It’s legally preferable to have a ‘valid’ excuse to be less-capable.

I have not known a single child/adult tested for ADD or ADHD that came back as negative. Strange odds, if you ask me.

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Matthew October 30, 2011 at 11:57 am

What do I do if reading stuff like this article is getting in the way of productivity?

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trololol October 30, 2011 at 1:12 pm

too long. didn’t read.

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jamie April 18, 2012 at 9:02 pm

That’s a shame.

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Red October 30, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Question one: Does this really need to be done?

If you’re in the business world, term it as, “Will this increase revenue, and/or reduce cost?”
If you’re in school, ask “Will this impact my grade?” Note: In school, it’s not necessarily about preparing you for the real-world, it’s about assimilating information, regurgitating it on a test, and then hopefully remembering some of it in the future, which gives you more context for the real world. This is why, the question isn’t, “Will this prepare me for the real world?”

So the only two relevant things are “will this impact my grade” and “will this increase revenue or reduce cost?”

If either of those wimpy external motivators are what compels you to do what you do, you need to seriously look at the way you live your life. How will x corporations half a percent stock point jump make you any more fulfilled or happy? I can’t imagine living my life according to those values. What a sad, trite existence you must lead.

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jamie April 18, 2012 at 9:04 pm

I see you value mindless busy work.

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ratatouille October 30, 2011 at 6:44 pm

The irony kills me.

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Shbz October 31, 2011 at 11:03 am

Great article! One thing though… anyone who’s easily distracted will NEVER finish reading this.. It’s afawl long for people with ADD.

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michael October 31, 2011 at 2:37 pm

This is bullshit.

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Don November 1, 2011 at 9:30 am

While I’m experiencing some source confusion on what I’m about to say, I recently read that online brain exercises are rather ineffective. I’ve done them myself for about four consecutive months, and found the entire experience to be so subjective, with so many variables involved, that it is nearly impossible to know if they are truly boosting your mental state…loved the article though, and your honesty about subscribing to the lazy mentality in the past.

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Leke November 2, 2011 at 3:09 am

Very enlightening article. I immediately identified myself with the lazy person. I’m very tempted to buy the ebook, but wasn’t too impressed with the price. I would pay $20 for something I can hold in my hand, and maybe half that for something I would download.

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Louis November 6, 2011 at 4:40 am

I am just finishing Brain Bugs; How The Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives by Dean Buonomano, your book is next! I don’t mind puttering around the house but, in my work there must be a linear flow; A, B, C… not B, W, D…

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Adriana November 8, 2011 at 9:12 am

I wish you had addressed the situations that confront many women who are not in the “workforce.”

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Samantha November 8, 2011 at 7:26 pm

“The thing to remember about dopamine is that it’s not at all the same thing as pleasure,” says Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, who looks at dopamine in a cultural context in his book, Satisfaction.

“Dopamine is not the reward; it’s what lets you go out and explore in the first place. Without dopamine, you wouldn’t be able to learn properly.”

It’s not a bad thing and video games deserve a lot more credit for actually helping the brain preform it’s functions.

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Karl Schulmeisters November 18, 2011 at 8:11 am

I’m not sure I buy all of Scotts claims, particularly since the bits I know something about(Pareto Principle) twists the underlying principle to match the thesis (80/20 rule is NOT Pareto Principle – Pareto Principle is an equilibrium point from which any action will result in tradeoffs between losses and gains) and I’m fairly certain that cognitive processing theory isn’t yet fully settled on “Search/Command” as a principle.

For me the work of Csikzenthmihalyi seems more complete http://www.wishfulthinking.co.uk/2006/04/24/creative-flow/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mihaly_Csikszentmihalyi
http://www.amazon.com/Flow-Psychology-Experience-Mihaly-Csikszentmihalyi/dp/0061339202/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1321632593&sr=8-1

Setting things up so that
1. There are clear goals every step of the way.
2. There is immediate feedback to your actions.
3. There is a balance between challenges and skills.
Results in
4. There is no worry of failure
5. Action and awareness are merged..
6. Distractions are excluded from consciousness
7. Self-consciousness disappears..
8. The sense of time becomes distorted.
9. The activity becomes ‘autotelic’ – meaning it is an end in itself.
#3 particularly argues for the idea that “all students can excel” – because if you set things up so that it’s a challenge, but the goals and steps are clear along the way – then the energy of “lurking fears” goes away. Its all fine for Scott Scheper to argue that we need to leave your “fear map” behind – but that’s no help to the person who is having trouble sleeping because bills are looming or there are layoffs announced at work.

Both of these violate the “clear goals” and “balance of challenges and skills” principle and basically eviscerate the ability to stop worrying about failure. If you are walking along a cliff-edge, being completely inured to the risk of slipping and falling is no more functional (and possibly more deadly) than being so paralyzed by fright that you cannot move. Courage then is to be able to move and act in the face of reasonable fear of failure. And that requires going back to #1-3

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james November 23, 2011 at 1:10 pm

The irony is that i ended up reading this article, presented to me by stumble, when i was supposed to be studying for my CFA exam.

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Sergio February 21, 2012 at 12:15 am

LOL The same here…

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Lars L November 24, 2011 at 2:49 pm

This is really useful information on how to manage your life short term (and I recognize a lot of this from experience,) but it’s a drawback that you don’t mention what studies you base your article on. I’d like to check the science my self, so if the author or anyone else who might read my comment could tell me which research papers this text is based on it would be much appreciated!

Lars L

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Nick December 2, 2011 at 11:38 pm

I think the bedrock of my concentration problems is the interest factor. It’s quite difficult to narrow your interest and solve only small narrow problems one at a time (though more effectively) than it is to say all of this stuff is cool. lol. That is my problem. I am majoring in Environmental Science and Policy with a minor in Biology but sometimes I question what I am doing because other areas (especially scientific areas) interest me, and I say all of these things are cool with no idea really what I want to do. Now I realize I would have the same problem with other majors – I have to hunker down and focus on just a few things. ES&P and solving the problems that go along with it interest me but a lot of other things do, too. I guess sacrifice is just a name of the game when it comes to life, and we all have to make sacrifices hunker down and IF we find free time, pursue other ambitions. Thanks tons for this article, though, seriously! You rock!

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Jen December 9, 2011 at 6:06 pm

I found this article in the knick of time! I’m about to start finals week and my brain is literally all over the place. I used to study in my room, music on, different tabs open, and a huge pile of assignments on my desk. But earlier in the year, after I realized how much more work I would receive from my classes, I decided to change my habits and get my work done early and study in the library. This change may have been attributed to the fact that I’ve begun taking more major classes instead of random g.e. classes and have been extremely interested in everything I’ve learned.
I’ve also found myself making mental lists of things I needed to get done (ie. First do this assignment, then lunch, then study for such and such). This method is extremely helpful!
All in all, I enjoyed reading your article and will definitely take in to consideration the a few of your suggestions (ie. brain training, doing one important thing a day, etc.). Great job!

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far2busy December 14, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Well thought out and executed article. To add to the discussion, take a look at the research in learning theory that addresses how our circadian rhythms have an effect on when our focus changes. Nothing new, just additional to your main idea. So, in the afternoon, most people have a dip in focus. That’s a good time to take care of the mundane. Also, if you are trying to work out a solution to a problem, review & summarize where you are at with the problem right before sleep. Then let it go, and your mind will organize more while you sleep. Pick it up right upon awakening and you will have retained more in memory (for school etc), and, more importantly, the “background” processing of the brain will have worked on the puzzle overnight.

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Top Tip 120 - Racing Tips December 15, 2011 at 3:46 am

fantastic blog, thanks for all the information
I didn’t think there was so much behind just concentrating!

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Ashleigh Ashley December 19, 2011 at 4:56 am

Amazing analysis! Just the boost I need to kick off the new year in efficient ‘take over the world’ style *giggles*! Gona turn off my TV right now lol…and do some paperwork! Do you think starting late in the day will reduce you’re effectiveness??
Where can I get a copy of your book too dude?

@sh.x

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Christina December 20, 2011 at 6:42 am

Just what I needed. Its difficult to sort out your priorities when you are overwhelmed. I will keep your book in my toolkit for potential clients.

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Chris Diamond January 3, 2012 at 1:46 am

This stroke me man, “What science tells us, though, is that not only does multitasking make our work 50% less valuable; it takes 50% longer to finish.”

Absolutely correct. Most people consider themselves as good mulitaskers, as if they were a winner of a marathon. They seem to be proud of multitasking, but unfortunately very few realize the damaging temptation of it.

I think there were scientists from Stanford that discovered when one multitasks lose their ability to focus and distract themselves all the time. As you probably know, if we lack focus or concentration at whatever we are trying to accomplish gets either postponed or unfinished.

Here are more tips on how to get focused at your work: http://doubletimetoday.com/get-focused/

Thanks for sharing Scott!
Chris Diamond

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Tom January 23, 2012 at 6:51 am

Kinda cool. Thank you,
I also found this through stumbleupon, amazing site.

Listed under Psychology if anyone wants to know.

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seo January 31, 2012 at 9:24 am

This web page won’t display properly on my iphone 3gs – you might wanna try and repair that

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Adrian January 31, 2012 at 10:38 am

I’m just learning for an exam for tomorrow morning. I got distracted and I just found it via SU :D The mind map and the questions really helped me. Now I’m gonna learn. :D

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Piracetam February 6, 2012 at 7:48 pm

You had alot of great information in this post. But if I may make a suggestion about focus. Try using Piracetam. Piracetam is a supplement that has been around since the 80′s that has been proven to increase mental capacity, focus, and delay the on set of age associated mental impairment(AAMI). Ideal for someone who needs to retain more information and stay focused longer.

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Smith5000123 February 11, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Holy cow. This must be like, a sign from God or something. All day today, I was messing around, shoving my work aside, because I couldn’t get *focused*. Now here, 9:00 at night, Stumbleupon says “HERE IS HOW YOU FOCUS.” I’m going to have to ignore step 2 tomorrow, when I do my English essay AND French Project, but the rest were really helpful.

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SimonR February 20, 2012 at 6:10 am

Impressive post…except for the: ‘Amazingly, they found that intelligence is not founded on one’s memory’ claim which diluted its credibility a little for me. If you couldn’t recall stored information, I bet demonstrating intelligence would be near impossible. So, in that example, is recollection and memory the same thing?

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Diane Tran March 5, 2012 at 5:35 pm

This is a very great article. You have a tremendous talent in inspiring people. Keep it up!

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MrCocta March 13, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Cool, I hope I will be able to focus more. ^^

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chris March 13, 2012 at 10:28 pm

Really connected with this thank you Scott and SU

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ann March 14, 2012 at 2:40 am

Food for thought. I love the idea of strategic laziness. This year I am exploring the idea of being alert and making no effort as a way of life. I am also thinking about ways of getting creative at will. Your article gave me lots to think about and try. I love trying different things. Thank you.

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amb March 14, 2012 at 5:56 am

brain training is not free you liar liar pants on fire

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pauk960 March 18, 2012 at 8:29 pm

I can’t even concentrate enough to read this article. :D

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ivie March 19, 2012 at 12:04 am

Thank you :) Noted. Good bless :)

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christina March 19, 2012 at 12:19 am

i think intelligence should be measured by understanding

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Sreejith March 20, 2012 at 3:28 am

Thank you sage!

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fatima doyin March 20, 2012 at 9:00 am

thank you for sending this article, it really motivate me, b,cos i find it difficult of concentrate. but with what i have read now, i hope to see a great change in me.

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William Humes March 21, 2012 at 2:10 am

Great article! I particularly like what it said about procrastination. I was once in sales manager training and they said that we should consider ourselves “deadline motivated”, rather than a procrastinator. But it really makes sense that we must convince ourselves and our brain that the task in question is worthy of our efforts. Although this can prove to be a daunting task if your professor or boss wants you to do something you know is actually NOT worth your time.

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Sarah at Easyread March 21, 2012 at 4:30 am

Fascinating article – love the neurological analysis. We’re in the process of writing a book about how the brain learns to read…our brains are the most powerful piece of 3 pounds in the world!

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Alex March 21, 2012 at 4:58 pm

I could not concentrate on this article at all. Read about 6 words.

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Nick Williams March 22, 2012 at 5:32 pm

procrastinating on my huge science essay…. stumbleupon took me here…. well played… well played

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Stoya Kostov March 27, 2012 at 12:25 pm

I found this via StumbleUpon.Still great article.

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xabiso March 27, 2012 at 1:42 pm

So long couldn’t even get to the 4th paragraph.

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Ranjit March 27, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Superb article..

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Kellie April 3, 2012 at 5:00 pm

This really got me interested in reading the book, I’m intrigued from what I’ve read so far.

And as someone else said, is it ironic that I found this on StumbleUpon? lol

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Justin Elder April 3, 2012 at 8:16 pm

I stumbledupon this webpage. Awsome article, it compelled me to buy the book. Thanks!

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stuart paul livingston April 4, 2012 at 12:59 am

Crazy world we all live in! ! !

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Rak April 4, 2012 at 7:56 am

Love it, so thorough analysis. Sad I found it through StumbleUpon, too ;)

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masha April 6, 2012 at 9:54 pm

Hi to all, I think this is very good article ! you can still gain whatever you want if you put your heart in to it and i really experienced this in my own life. Many successful people are agree with me, there are no magic trick or special chemical formula, even though I think sometimes who you get advise from and who you are meeting is very much can be a reason for exterminating your success. Practice made it perfect doesn’t matter how many times you fall but get up and start over. Life is all about that you win or you loss any way you are doing the right thing whenever you have not been discourage.

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Ben April 7, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Your grammar is so bad i can’t take you seriously. How is that for concentration? LOL

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Frederico April 8, 2012 at 1:04 pm

I’m allways attracted to understand how people function, in particular in their minds, and I find myself reading on the matter frequently. This text is quite obviously one step ahead of what’s usual to see.
And it is very interesting to me to see it confirm something I often observe: many of the inefficiencies and difficult relations are due to physical facts we don’t know enough about (or at all) and so we can’t deal with them rationally. An example of this is the feeling of irritation when our concentration is broken; I can feel it quite clearly and your text explains the reason.
I started thinking about things like these when I had a slight problem in one of my eyes and read about ocular problems in general. I didn’t stop thinking about kids in school with learning problems that are not apparent being treated like lazy and dull.

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Kent online April 9, 2012 at 2:34 am

Yes Music also makes me concentrate. Without music I want to sleep but not working ;) http://www.cigs4girls.net/

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Cape Verde April 9, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Really nice article. I had to go back several times to to re-read as lost my concentration due to a good football game going on TV.

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water coolers April 9, 2012 at 11:51 pm

Good writing skills take more than just education. It’s passion that sets the good and great writers apart. I see you have passion and skills.

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Martine April 10, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Thank you so much for writing this book and sharing this article! You’re helping so many of us heal from years of multitasking. Thanks for giving us hope!!!

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@IamPrinceJ April 12, 2012 at 7:44 pm

A lot of behaviors I have were in this chapter and I found a good amount of helpful tips. The rest of the book should be interesting.

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Rachel April 17, 2012 at 7:03 am

Strange how I came across this article through trying to find out a usable and valid reason for why scientists cannot answer certain questions; What is the point in life? etc…
Very inspiring.

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Joshua April 18, 2012 at 11:01 am

Aaaaaannnnnnnd stumble.

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lis April 21, 2012 at 8:11 am

Though it took me a few days to finish reading this, I found it incredibly awesome. Thank you sir for helping me to realize some things about myself.

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kavya May 11, 2012 at 10:03 am

These are amazing fascinating,fabulous,and whatever good adjectivises you good describe about this website.and i would like to say thanks to this owner of the website..Actually i was having a problem whenever i read books and think the best tip is how to make focus is listen to music.U know what i tried playing brain games to improve my thinking ability and i wish to be an author when i grow up this website will help me do that.once more thanx.

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Randy May 21, 2012 at 12:27 pm

“As state above, ” should read “As stated above, “.

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Randy May 21, 2012 at 12:56 pm

So is background music a distraction or not? While you touched upon all things observed while “Mike was in his room writing a paper for his U.S. History class”, you did not clarify if all of these were truly distractions. Some are obvious but music is unclear. Often I have played music while working and been so focused on my task that the music is no longer even noticed. This is similar to having a severe headache and forgetting to take an aspirin, as you have become very focused on the immediate task. Once completed you realize, oh yeah, my head hurts.

Granted when a particularly good track is playing I may pay more attention to that particular song while continuing to work. As a matter of fact, I have been listening to music while reading this article and writing this comment. I even noticed that while listening to music and reading this article my leg starts jumping/rocking. I believe this is called restless leg syndrome. So am I not concentrating fully, is my mind bored, or is RLS a medical condition?

As to the mind multitasking, I believe more study is needed. I have had several co-workers and friends tell me that they do indeed multitask and tell me that I need to. Since the sub-conscious clearly works on tasks without us consciously directing it, the possibility of multitasking shouldn’t be ruled out.

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Randy May 21, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Often while working or reading, e.g. this article, I find my mind reveals situations and/or past conversations. Circumstances which are representative of what is being discussed. Then I have lost focus and must re-read the line or paragraph. I would elude that this is my sub-conscious providing this, useful, information. Not likely I can turn that off…

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Sam May 31, 2012 at 9:53 pm

There are many interesting points here, though the thought process was kind of hard to follow with the way it is written and there are a few spelling mistakes and extra words. Setting that aside, what about people who need to multitask for certain jobs? Such as being a server or a cook. The hospitality industry always calls for great multitasker’s since everything runs so fast…

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Sintu June 14, 2012 at 12:13 am

I have a problem, i haven’t go to school for a long time(8 years),so now I’m studying bcause things are not going well without degree or diploma..bt the problem i can’t concentrate at all cause i’m addicted to the social networks bt i wil try your advises i hope they wil help me…and most of the things you mentioned here are exactly what’s happening to me:)

Thank you so much;-)Reader from south Africa!

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nancy mallya June 23, 2012 at 5:14 am

that great i enjoyed it please can you help me to know how to keep time and also i have a problem in following my timetable what can i do,and i cant study my self until with someone or group so what can i do,and am about to join university on agust please help me

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Muso June 25, 2012 at 12:54 am

Useful article as it reminds of the things that amazing people did in order to succeed as I have been discovering at http://www.myamazingpeople.com

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Dennis Ndirangu June 29, 2012 at 6:57 pm

I am so glad I have read that article. I think its of value addition and I hope I improve on my mind habits but all in all rating your article is very helpful thank you so much

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Daisa July 3, 2012 at 5:34 pm

This was extremely interesting and Im going to use it to help and better myself (: thank you.

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Erin August 8, 2012 at 5:36 am

I’m not focused enough to read this. (lazy)
I can’t even finish my current book, how would I finish this? (fears)
In order to overcome something, interest is not enough. What is missing from this equation?

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tooba August 18, 2012 at 4:07 am

awesome i really enjoyed and learned alot

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oodain September 10, 2012 at 5:30 am

great article, there are some very well thought ut methods in there.

only one beef, your description of a sage is a joke, your conclusive personality descriptions are overall.

the answer as to why is in your own article, your mind doesnt function in a discrete way, it is very fuzzy, that means that only the proportion between the 3 will vary between people, they will all still be there.

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effimsuccess October 3, 2012 at 2:52 am

Want you people is quit an interesting because is pemits tounderstand the background of concentration and am sure that its going to help me on my academics and that may GOD help you people , and let it embark on our generation to come. amgreatful to be a partaker of it.

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alon staris October 9, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Excellent article. However the part about asking the boss to step in etc is elitist and unrealistic. There’s no point providing advice to young people which in the most cases mean self destruction. The fact is that most people do not work in Goldman Sachs or SAP. Most humans work for engineering companies in Ohio or municipalities in Yorkshire. Jobs today are extremely hard to find, so don’t head too fast for those exits. Sometimes the job just needs to be done, without the boss, who has his/her own pressures, having to justify why it’s useful, helpful or profitable. So take that part with a pinch of salt. Unless, of course, you work for Goldman Sachs or SAP. But then the chances are that you would never have stumbled upon this article anyway.

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D October 27, 2012 at 2:59 am

hi,i was struggling to have a focused mind.All the time i have millions of thoughts of anger and irritation to many people who came across my life.i can’t help thinking about them.as a result i cant focus and couldn’t have good sleep.so i was googling to find some ways to get focused and i happened to read this article.it was a good one,though it didnt helpme much.anyway i’ll continue to read the remaining articles mentioned here hoping it will benefit me in some way.

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