Curiosity & Focus

Attention is a tricky, slippery thing to study. Worse, at times, to mindfully direct. I have the unfortunate distinction of having many interests. In the academic world, this quickly becomes debilitating and paralyzing. It am not inattentive, but rather live in a state that is both hyper-attentive and all-encompassing. This state of continuous physiological arousal is wearing, and erodes the soul.

Energy–having physical and mental stamina enough to complete the task at hand–is a necessary but insufficient condition of completion. To this end, Robert Peters writes about scope in Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning a Master’s or a Ph.D. An incorrectly scoped project can quickly overwhelm both author and work, and sap energy away from both.

And this is an excellent point that Peters makes very clear. Contrasting with the approach books like Zinsser’s On Writing Well and Bolker’s Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis, which coach writers to touch the manuscript every day to increase its bulk (for later revision), Peters spends more time with the reader talking about scope and illustrates with his own nearly-derailed dissertation.

In short, filling pages with words are necessary, but dangerous if the project is over-scoped. In fact, the common traits of the very best faculty members with whom I have worked was knowing where to focus (and with which words), and when to stop (project scope).

I am trying to improve my focus via the Pomodoro technique. The mechanical actions prime me to the fact that I have a block of time within which I must attend almost exclusively to X, after which I may do Y (e.g. checking email). In short, it releases me from the worry of not doing Y by making time for it upon the completion of X. At least, it should release me from this worry. It is difficult for me not to find connections in and between everything, and I blame James Burke’s Connections (it’s a tremendous read well-worth the time) for this, but do not begrudge it him.

What techniques, if any, do you use to remove the guilt of not doing Y while trying to attend to X?


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