Concentration. A fleeting and elusive thing. I know concentration is important because every time I have spent over three hours on YouTube, I feel slightly guilty. I could have made better use of my time if I had just concentrated on writing a new blog post, drawing or making an actual YouTube video.
A year ago, I was reading an article on Medium about the importance of reading. I cannot remember the exact statistic but research indicated that reading had steadily declined since the 80’s. I shared this article with my father who happens to be a Professor and he was quick to point out that in Africa, the numbers were far much worse because most people were unable to concentrate.
Our ability to focus and concentrate on various activities and not just reading, is declining and we seem not to be worried about it. I am part of this growing number of individuals that cannot concentrate. Since this is something that I want to change, I decided to look into how I can improve my concentration.
Why Can’t I Concentrate?
There is a wide array of reasons that our concentration is declining. Inadequate sleep and the rapid increase of information on the internet are just a few of the major ones.
Hustle culture is steadily on the rise in different parts of the world and Kenya’s millennials have not been left out. We are trying to make moves and make that money. We are up all night and sleeping all day. Burn out, especially amongst those in the cooperate and creative fields is on the rise. This is leading to poor sleep and definitely lower levels of concentration.
Time and again Social Media has been on the wrong side of this issue. You and I know the rabbit hole we get sucked into when going through Instagram. It is an endless scrolling experience. Whether you are on the feed or the Insta-stories, the content never stops coming. We are taken away from the things that we need to focus on and into a virtual endless world absent of thought and intention.
Is There A Practical Remedy?
There is a remedy! It is a simple and straight forward technique. It only requires your concentration and a timer. I am talking about The Pomodoro Technique. The word pomodoro translates to Tomato in Italian.
Let me explain.
I first came across this technique in 2018 while looking for ways to improve my productivity. The Pomodoro Technique was created in 1980 by Francesco Cirillo. Francesco invented the technique while in University as a way to help him concentrate on his studies for at least 10 minutes.
To do this, he used a tomato shaped timer that would count down to ten minutes. Within those ten minutes he would avoid all distractions and focus on studying as much as he could within that time. After the ten minutes were up. He would take a five-minute break then dive back into another ten-minute focused study session.
Francesco improved further on the Technique stretching the time to work on a task to twenty five minutes with five minute breaks in between each study session. He later on wrote a book about the technique and thus was born The Pomodoro Technique.
I have also asked this question many times. In as much as I have asked this, I only recently looked into it when I thought about writing this article. The reason the Pomodoro Technique recommends working in blocks of twenty-five minutes is because this is just the right amount of time to stay focused.
Twenty-five minutes is neither too long nor too short. Twenty five minutes does not create the energy drain of waiting for forty five minutes and it does not create the pressure of getting something done in ten minutes. When I think about writing part of my blog post in twenty-five minutes, it feels easy, comfortable and achievable.
How to Execute a Pomodoro.
The Pomodoro technique is a simple and straight forward procedure.
Let’s get into it below.
- Identify the tasks that you want to do.
- Set 25 minutes on a timer. This could be on your phone or an analogue timer.
- Work on your task until the time is up.
- Take a 5-minute break.
- After 4 Pomodoro’s take a 20-minute break.
Simple but not Easy…
This technique seems simple. This is what makes it one of the best ways to build focus and concentration into our work. However, this is not an easy technique to execute.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, we live in a world that is exposed to so much information. We are constantly being bombarded with numerous notifications on our devices. We have also adopted unproductive ways to work which is leading to massive amounts of burn out.
Since we are at the mercy of distractions and exhaustion, the Pomodoro Technique becomes difficult for us to adopt into our tasks. So, in order to get the most from this technique it is important that we avoid distractions at all costs and get some sleep.
It sometimes feels like distractions control our lives. If you took the time and tracked all the things that you spent your time on, you would be shocked. Distractions have become so bad lately that phone manufacturers have introduced apps to keep track of what we spend time on while on our phones.
Below are screen shots from ‘Screen Time’ on my phone from the past few weeks
I consider myself a rather productive person but even then, I spend most of my time on social media and entertainment. Very little time is spent engaging my creativity on my phone. This clearly indicates that my phone is a distraction.
Having activities tracked like this helps me identify what is a distraction and I can work on controlling it or kicking it out completely. If you are unable to keep track using your phone, try logging in a journal all the activities that you are doing in a day and approximately how long you have spent on each of these.
Tracking helps you become aware of what it is that you are doing. The reason that distractions seem to be taking over our lives is because we are not aware of what is happening around us. Awareness keeps us conscious of what we are doing.
Kicking out Distractions
When was the last time you left your phone in another room and found something else to do? Kicking out a distractions seems like an uphill task. Most of us are attached to our distractions. We love them like we love money. I am no different, you have seen my screen time screenshots.
As I have been practicing this technique for the past two weeks. I have come to the realization that if something is a distraction it is probably not important. I now put my phone on airplane mode and turn off all my notifications for twenty-five minutes while I work. The results have been great, I am getting things done.
Within this time, I have noticed that it is not always that I will receive a call or someone will look for me. If someone needs me, they will call me or show up to my office. Since my phone is on airplane mode when I turn it off during my break, I will see all the messages and notifications that need my attention anyway.
Kicking out distractions like the phone or music for twenty-five minutes at a time won’t be easy initially because these things are a habit. However, as you put away these items and focus on the work, overcoming the distractions becomes easier with time.
Move Forward Slowly but Never Backwards
I am sure that wherever Mr. Cirillo is he will be the first to tell you that this techniques’ effects are not immediate. With consistency the effects of this technique compound over time. Being able to focus for much longer requires small bits of regular practice. It’s a muscle that has to be trained in order to grow.
Start off with much shorter blocks of time just as Francesco initially did. Over time increase the blocks to twenty five minutes and keep track of the results. The more you practice concentrating on a task at a time you will notice a gradual improvement in your concentration. I currently can hold my concentration for about thirty minutes from about eight minutes when I started.
There are No Rules
Your blocks do not have to be a fixed twenty five minutes. Pomodoros will vary based on the nature of work that you are doing. Deep work activities may require up to forty five minute Pomodoros. There are no hard rules I believe when it comes to using this technique. The purpose of this method is to improve your ability to focus.
In this article I have scratched the surface on the topic of focus and concentration. There is so much more than I am able to cover in just one article. If you have been struggling with finding focus, try out The Pomodoro Technique and see the results.
I would like to know if the Pomodoro Technique has helped you find your focus. Let us talk more in the comments below. If you have used this technique before let me also know in the comments below.