If you are a Real Life Friend as well as a Blog Friend, you have probably endured within the past two weeks whining about my steadily declining attention span. I began last May with the impressive focus of a just-defended PhD in Victorian literature. I read novels! Long ones! And spent marathon days huddled over my laptop, like Jenny Wren huddled in her dolls’ dressmaker’s workshop, writing about these long novels!
Since the defense, my focus has slowly eroded, and I now have the attention span of a fruit fly on Red Bull. Last year, I could be distracted from my work by hunger, loud noises signaling cat mischief, and the occasional salacious piece of celebrity gossip. Yesterday I found that distractions powerful enough to break my momentum include facebook photos of people I don’t even know, email advertisements selling me shoes I can’t afford, online Mahjong, the sudden desire to dust the apartment, the possibility of one leftover cookie, leaf-blowers, movie trailers for terrible romantic comedies, twirling in my desk chair, and shiny objects.
I woke up on Sunday with a sense of despair. The day stretched before me like a productivity desert. I wanted to work. I really did. I have a book to get published, after all. But it felt impossible. Champagne problems, I suppose, but problems nonetheless. And while many friends rightly suggest that this may be my brain’s way of telling me that I need a break, I don’t really have time for it until August and must instead find a way to soldier on. So instead of sludging through another day of constant distractions, I decided that Sunday was an infrastructure day. If revising isn’t happening, I decided, I need to take actions today to make sure it happens in the future. I took Two Measures To Avoid Fruit Fly Focus:
First, I downloaded a Google Chrome app to help me follow the Pomodoro Technique. For the uninitiated, I will explain. The Pomodoro Technique involves working intently on a task for 25 minutes. Once that 25-minutes period is up, you take a five-minute break. After about four 25-minute work sessions — each session is called a “pomodoro,” named after the tomato-shaped timer that measured the work of the the technique’s inventor — you take a longer break. The “official” technique requires you to begin a new task in each pomodoro (which I don’t do) and also comes with a lot of corporate-sounding language about time management and primary objectives. I don’t sign onto any of that ridiculousness.
All of this sounds very simple, but IT WORKS. Twenty-five minutes is a manageable block of time, and the app I downloaded — dubbed, cleverly, ChromoDoro — placed a wee cartoon tomato on my Chrome taskbar. This small tomato looks juicy and fresh, and it tells me how many minutes I have left in my current pomodoro. I find that, if tempted to check facebook while working, a small “18” or “14” or “7” near that adorable tomato keeps me focused. “I can handle 18 more minutes,” I say aloud. “Back to work! Thank you, fruit of great wisdom and focus! I will never call you a vegetable again.”
Measure Two to avoid Fruit Fly Focus took much longer: a desk reorganization. I’m currently without office on campus, and I don’t work well in the library, where I can’t go to the bathroom without fear of a laptop thief. So I often work from home. But Houston is already nearing the 90s, and my office gets a little stuffy in the afternoons. And the hutch over my desk was making me feel claustrophobic. A more zen workspace was in order — a more open space that didn’t make me feel surrounded by stress and office supplies. This is what the desk area looked like before:
Well, that’s sort of what it looked like. The above is an older photo, and there was a little less clutter in the desk area. But it still felt oppressive working there, especially as the Texas Heat and Humidity have already began their slow summer campaign to suck away my soul. So Sunday morning and afternoon I stored the hutch in the office closet, bought a new desk lamp, transported Boo Boo the Fearless Jade Plant to the desk for some green inspiration, and voila! New desk area, very conducive to some productive pomodoros:
The wall above the desk is a little barren, but I plan to hang a bulletin board there. And the productivity has already skyrocketed!