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Sloan's Inbox: Struggling to focus, any advice?

Hey friends! Sloan, DEV Moderator and mascot, coming back at ya with another question submitted by a DEV community member. πŸ¦₯

For those unfamiliar with the series, this is another installment of Sloan's Inbox. You all send in your questions, I ask them on your behalf anonymously, and the community leaves comments to offer advice. Whether it's career development, office politics, industry trends, or improving technical skills, we cover all sorts of topics here. If you want to send in a question or talking point to be shared anonymously via Sloan, that'd be great; just scroll down to the bottom of the post for details on how.

Let's see what we have for this week...

Today's question is:

Recently, I've been struggling to get into a good flow state... I go to work, try to get into what I'm doing, and keep getting distracted which in turn makes me feel anxious and it becomes harder to concentrate. I don't feel like I used to have this problem. Any advice for improving focus would be much appreciated!

Share your thoughts and let's help a fellow DEV member out! Remember to keep kind and stay classy. πŸ’š

Want to submit a question for discussion or ask for advice?Β Visit Sloan's Inbox! You can choose to remain anonymous.

Top comments (4)

raddevus profile image
raddevus • Edited

Thomas Carlyle said, "Nothing is more terrible than activity without insight."
Generally when you have work that you have to do that doesn't seem to have a point, you will experience feelings of being overwhelmed and uninterested.

Recent Work Experiment

There was a famous experiment (relatively recent) where a group of people were told to show up for work and they would be paid.

When they arrived they were told they would be paid $15 / hour for digging a trench (each worked on their own to be a specific size).
At the end of the day, the project manager came back and:

  1. told each person to fill their own hole in
  2. told each person, "if you return tomorrow we will double your pay" Next day, only half of the people reported back. This continued (digging hole, filling in, doubling pay) for 3 or 4 days until finally no one returned the next day.

The Point

Even being paid an exorbitant amount of money to do things that are meaningless does not overcome the terrible feeling that doing useless work creates.
So, humans need meaning. Without meaning very few people can continue to do work of any type.
But, most people don't understand meaning.

Most Important Thing About Meaning

Are you ready, because it's real simple:
Meaning is not discovered or found, it is created.
You create your own meaning.

Nothing really has any meaning. Things, work, events, etc. only has meaning that you ascribe to it.

Viktor Frankl: Man's Search For Meaning

In the classic book of philosophy, Man's Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl writes about how he and others survived concentration camps. Frankl's parents, brother and pregnant wife all died while imprisoned but he survived. He discovered that there were basically two types of prisoners:

  • hopeless
  • survivors

They were all controlled by their tormentors but for some reason the survivors were different.
But, what was different about the survivors?
The ones that survived (including himself) had one thought that helped them continue on:
Even though their captors exercised all power over them to control them in every way, they discovered that they still controlled their own thought processes and in turn were really the ones who would determine their own outcomes.
They knew that even though their captors warned them that if they didn't obey they'd be killed, they were the ones who actually decided to obey -- they had self-will. if they really chose, they could choose to disobey and try to run away and be killed. But instead they chose and found strength in that ability to choose their own outcomes.

Frankl discovered that this in turn made them kinder to the other prisoners. They would then take their self-will and help other prisoners by giving them a crumb of their bread or helping someone do their work.
In this way, they were actually the controllers of their own destiny and they were making their own meaning.

The ultimate power is the ability to determine what events and circumstances mean to you.

How Does Knowing That Help

It is likely you are bored & unmotivated because you've lost the meaning of the work you do.
When we do the same work over and over we often become jaded.
Have you ever really looked up the definition of jaded?

Image description

Most people think of the 3rd definition (cynical) but the real meaning of the word is more like "dulled by surfeit". What does surfeit mean?

Image description

It is likely that overindulgence is a big part of losing meaning.

For one thing you've probably done the same work so much it all just seems the same.
But, also, modern times mean that you've seen everything.
Seeing everything makes us become jaded.

At times nothing seems to have any freshness or novelty.
That in turn makes things seem like they have no meaning.
And, they don't! Why?

No One Gets Meaning, You Have To Make Meaning

Because you have to make meaning.

Is There A Way Out?

Yes, there is certainly a way out. But it is not as most people think.
It is not by running away from the thing you dislike.
Instead it is to look again and with new eyes that see the good parts and the reasons that you are doing what you are doing.
I've worked in IT for over 30 years and I still love it.
At times I've been abused at work by monster managers.
In those times I chose to see that my meaning was that I was earning income and supporting my family and I purposely enjoyed every moment of my two sons growing up.

I determined to live a mindful life where I decided what each thing meant to me.

Do Not Allow Others Decide For You

Determine to be mindful over as much as you can so that you know you are in control of the meaning of your own life and you'll find that things again begin to have the value they are supposed to have: neither too much or too little.

Decide To Look At Things Closely

It is not when we choose to escape by ignoring all the terrible work that we get better. Instead it is when we look at things extremely closely and put all our energy into doing them that they get better. Whatever work you're doing, do it with all your strength and concentration and you'll learn how to hack your way back into completing things and actually enjoying the high level of production that you achieve.

Go out and make meaning out of what you are doing. If you decide you'd rather do something else, that is fine. But don't just run away in order to "find meaning somewhere else". There is neither more or less meaning anywhere else, because meaning is made by you.

Consider what you're really trying to achieve and see how the work you are doing is helping you achieve that. Make your own meaning.
Good luck 😊

wraith profile image
Jake Lundberg • Edited

Before offering suggestions, could you share a bit more about what kinds of things are causing the distractions? Are you thinking about all the other stuff you have to do? Is it because you are being interrupted by others? Do you find you just don't have the motivation so you are jumping onto social media or games instead of doing the work?

There are lots of ways to help alleviate distractions, but those solutions will differ based on what what is actually distracting you.

thatcomputerguy profile image
Griff Polk

This would probably be hard for the person as these usually stay anonymous, so I don’t know if that would work. Probably send that question to (@sloan) so you can get an answer.

jodoesgit profile image
Jo • Edited

While there are a sea of people who could answer this a thousand times better than me - as I've never had an office job - I can say you might find some good nuggets searching around. Everyone seems burnt out right now, so looking around and seeing what others are saying might help. It might be a sign to find a new position. It might be a sign that you're not giving yourself enough fun on the side. It might just be a natural occurrence that you monitor and slide through. It might be something to do with your general knowledge, in which case you might need to do some more learning. It might be a case with your personal health, in which case you've got to do some exploring.

I think this might be some time for some soul searching. Because while I've never had an office job, life seems to tell you one way or another when it's time to move on. But I've equally heard now is the time to hold on to positions like your life depends on it. So maybe just pick up a new hobby (pay for a class - got an instrument you've always wanted to learn?) and just get into it. If we seek novelty, maybe you're not getting enough of it. So reinvigorating that, will reinvigorate the rest. Also if you're depressed, you won't find much that sparks joy regardless of what you're doing. A little therapy never hurt nobody, never. Find something/somebody/some folks that agree(s) with your morals and values and reinvigorate your soul =)


(p.s. - Don't chug the toxic positivity, it can kill.)

*(p.p.s. - If you tell yourself you'll do a little and then you can have a break - you'll probably do a lot more than you think.)