Posts Tagged ‘Long periods of uninterrupted focus’

To be productive you need long periods of uninterrupted concentration

August 10, 2019

My full-time writing schedule means that I have to be pretty much a hermit. The only way to gain enough efficiency to complete The Art of Computer Programming is to operate in batch mode, concentrating intensively and uninterruptedly on one subject at a time, rather than swapping a number of topics in and out of my head.

  • Donald Knuth, computer scientist

To do real good physics, you do need absolute solid lengths of time … it needs a lot of concentration.

  • Richard Feynman, physicist

Within a semester dedicated to research, he alternates between periods where his door is open to students and colleagues, and periods where he isolates himself to focus completely and without distraction on a single research task. During these periods, which can last up to three or four days, he’ll often put an out-of-office auto-responder on his email so correspondents will know not to expect a response soon. To Grant, it’s important to enforce strict isolation until he completes the task at hand.

  • Adam Grant, youngest professor to be awarded tenure at the Wharton School of Business

Writing novels is hard, and requires vast, unbroken slabs of time. Four quiet hours is a resource that I can put to good use. Two slabs of time, each two hours long, might add up to the same four hours, but are not nearly as productive as an unbroken four. If I know that I am going to be interrupted, I can’t concentrate, and if I suspect that I might be interrupted, I can’t do anything at all. Likewise, several consecutive days with four-hour time-slabs in them give me a stretch of time in which I can write a decent book chapter, but the same number of hours spread out across a few weeks, with interruptions in between them, are nearly useless.

  • Neal Stephenson, writer

The beauty and clarity that arises from being totally immersed in something

January 17, 2016

I’ve discovered that something magical occurs when I am deeply immersed in a problem. I enter into a different state of consciousness. My brain opens up and I see things that were once hidden. Beauty is revealed to me. I long to have the experience again – it is addictive.

Recently I’ve heard other people express similar sentiments:

Last week I heard on NPR someone talk about freediving.  The person being interviewed said that once he became immersed in the sport, something clicked inside him and a whole new, beautiful world opened up for him:

So even for me, who’s really comfortable in the water, it took a lot – a long time. Maybe I’m more neurotic than most. But it took a long time for me to get comfy. But then I had this one moment where it clicked for me. And I was down at about 20 meters, about 66 feet. And I didn’t have any urge to breathe. And all around me was this beautiful blue world. And I came up, and I felt so relaxed. And for that whole day, like, I’d close my eyes and I would just see that blue world. It was just something that was in my head. And I woke up the next morning just wanting to do it again. And I eventually got to a hundred feet, or 30 meters, during that course. And – but that’s something that stays with you. And that’s just me, an entry-level – that’s a level 2 free diver. I think that the effects are even greater. I know that they are even greater for these athletes that go to 100 meters. I mean, I can’t even imagine that. But they get to a place – it’s like part athletic, part spiritual. And it’s definitely addictive ’cause it’s so beautiful.

One of my favorite TV shows is Elementary (Sherlock Holmes and Watson). I think the show’s writers are geniuses. In last week’s episode Sherlock listens to a short audio clip over and over (hundreds of time perhaps). At some point in listening, something clicked inside him and he was able to recognize a new meaning from the inflection in the voice of the person in the audio clip (this enabled him to solve the mystery).

Recently I have been writing a software program. For the first few days it was frustrating. But after looking at the problem, over and over, from every conceivable angle, something clicked inside me. The frustration lifted and a calmness settled in. Things became clear in my mind. The problem, my solution, became beautiful. I thought to myself, “I can see how programming can be addictive.”

Now I realize that this sense of clarity and beauty arises whenever one completely immerses oneself into a problem, whatever the problem might be. I’ve also realized that, to experience this altered/heightened state of consciousness requires long periods of uninterrupted focus.