What can you do to improve your concentration?

Last week, I explained how you need to increase your attention span by having a goal, trusting your timer, removing unnecessary distractions, making progress, taking a break, and repeating. Make sure to listen to that episode if you haven’t already done so.

When you want to focus more on something, what about the other stuff? You can either decide to not do those other things or trust somebody else to complete them. It’s a great way to improve your concentration by eliminating extra nagging tasks. Letting somebody else help allows you to concentrate more. Just be careful that you don’t end up micro-managing or you won’t get the full benefits of improved concentration.

Let’s move on to another loss of concentration and that’s wandering thoughts. Have you ever tried to think really hard about some problem only to constantly struggle to bring your thoughts back to the problem you’re trying to solve? It’s like those thoughts won’t leave you alone for a moment, right?

What you need is a system. Someplace where you can record these thoughts. Someplace that you can trust will be safe and that you’ll come back to later. Someplace that you know you’ll be able to find those recorded thoughts easily.

You might be trying to design some new game feature when you remember you need to make your car payment tomorrow. It might not seem like a big deal and maybe you’re used to these kinds of thoughts. But they will ruin your concentration. Especially, if you stop what you’re doing, get up, write a check, and put it next to your car keys so you don’t forget. Don’t get me wrong. Taking action is great and a lot better than forgetting to make the payment. But look what it just did to your programming. At least this was a productive example. What about if you have the TV on and look up as your show comes back from commercial break each and every time. You think you’re programming during the commercial breaks but it doesn’t work like that.

A major break to your concentration can easily require 15 minutes or more just to get back to where you left off. If all you’re doing is washing dishes during commercial breaks, no problem. Just pick up the next bowl and start scrubbing. But programming requires you to hold a lot of related thoughts in your mind and it takes while to get them just right. You can’t just start typing again like it was a dirty bowl.

Listen to the full episode for more suggestions to improve your concentration. Or you can also read the full transcript below.

Transcript

Last week, I explained how you need to increase your attention span by having a goal, trusting your timer, removing unnecessary distractions, making progress, taking a break, and repeating. Make sure to listen to that episode if you haven’t already done so.

I’m also going to make this the last QA Friday episode for a while so I can focus more on the regular programming episode each week. I’ve been busy creating a game for the live classes and game workshop and, well, need to concentrate more on that. So I’m going to take my own advice here and focus more.

When you want to focus more on something, what about the other stuff? You can either decide to not do those other things or trust somebody else to complete them. It’s a great way to improve your concentration by eliminating extra nagging tasks. Letting somebody else help allows you to concentrate more. Just be careful that you don’t end up micro-managing or you won’t get the full benefits of improved concentration.

Let’s move on to another loss of concentration and that’s wandering thoughts. Have you ever tried to think really hard about some problem only to constantly struggle to bring your thoughts back to the problem you’re trying to solve? It’s like those thoughts won’t leave you alone for a moment, right?

What you need is a system. Someplace where you can record these thoughts. Someplace that you can trust will be safe and that you’ll come back to later. Someplace that you know you’ll be able to find those recorded thoughts easily.

You might be trying to design some new game feature when you remember you need to make your car payment tomorrow. It might not seem like a big deal and maybe you’re used to these kinds of thoughts. But they will ruin your concentration. Especially, if you stop what you’re doing, get up, write a check, and put it next to your car keys so you don’t forget. Don’t get me wrong. Taking action is great and a lot better than forgetting to make the payment. But look what it just did to your programming. At least this was a productive example. What about if you have the TV on and look up as your show comes back from commercial break each and every time. You think you’re programming during the commercial breaks but it doesn’t work like that.

A major break to your concentration can easily require 15 minutes or more just to get back to where you left off. If all you’re doing is washing dishes during commercial breaks, no problem. Just pick up the next bowl and start scrubbing. But programming requires you to hold a lot of related thoughts in your mind and it takes while to get them just right. You can’t just start typing again like it was a dirty bowl.

So the next time you remember something urgent, take a quick note on paper and then go back to programming. Trust that you’ll write that car payment check after you finish. And don’t even try to multitask when programming. The time needed to get back in your flow is usually longer than you’ll have for each task that you’re switching between.

What about daydreaming? You’re busy programming an adventure game and realize you just spent the last hour imagining yourself traveling through your world fighting the monsters. My advice for this is first, don’t beat yourself up for this. Acknowledge it and let it guide your goal. Make your goal stronger by picturing yourself actually playing your completed game. Just don’t let that turn into another hour long daydream. Then take a break. Actually get up and do something different for a moment. This will help you concentrate better when you return instead of just slipping right back into your daydream if you try to just keep going.

What other kinds of interruptions are there and what can you do about them?

First of all, there’s interruptions from other people. You can’t stop somebody from interrupting you but you can politely let them know that you’ll get back to them after you finish your current task and then get back to work before you fall completely out of your flow.

Then explain later to that person that even a small and simple question is a big distraction when you’re trying to concentrate. Ask the person to wait for your next break and explain that you do have regular breaks.

We also get interruptions from our own bodies. I’m talking about sneezing, urges to use the bathroom, nagging pains, and dozing. I actually keep a box of tissue within easy reach at all times to help with sneezing. I try to use the bathroom during my breaks even if I think I can hold it for another 30 minutes. It’s better to do all these things during your regular breaks.

I hope you’re seeing the importance of these regular breaks by now.

As for pains, yep, they happen. Especially for those of us a bit older. The best thing here is to stop fighting the pain and find a more comfortable position. You may need a reclining chair like I described in one of the earlier episodes. I use a small lower back pillow almost all the time when I’m at home. And I have a foot stool to keep my legs elevated. I recently bought a wrist rest to put in front of my keyboard and I lean back in my chair with my keyboard in my lap and a large monitor about 3 feet away.

Dozing off can be a problem especially after lunch. This is actually easy to solve by finding the times when you’re most alert and making sure to do your most intense work during those times. Then do lighter work during sleepy times and maybe find something healthy to snack on. I find eating something crunchy helps keep me awake. Oh, and make sure you’re actually getting enough real sleep each night.

I guess, most of my advice comes down to this. Be prepared. Identify the things that distract you and interrupt your concentration and actually eliminate them. Don’t just handle them in the moment because they’ll happen again. Guard your attention and when you identify a source of distraction, then think of ways to solve it and maybe check online to see if anybody has suggestions for similar problems.

Recognize that some things we really can do at the same time. We can program and breathe. But we can’t program and watch football.

Thank you for listening. Make sure to check out the other episodes and if you get value, please give the Take Up Code podcast a rating on iTunes (hopefully 5 stars) and a review. Your support goes a long way to helping this podcast thrive and help others learn how to program.

If you have any questions about this episode or even other programming questions, please ask. Just go to takeupcode.com/contact and submit your question. You can also comment on any episode at takeupcode.com.

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