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How I Find Focus

I’ve never formally been diagnosed – but I’m pretty sure I’m an ADHD spider monkey.

From your perspective, it may or may not seem so, but I’m naturally bad at all sorts of things.  One of these things is focusing on a task for any extended length of time.

You know this is bad inherently, because everybody needs to get things done in their daily lives.  My perspective on it, though, is infinitely worse.  To do anything of consequence that I really want to get done (write a book, make software, do a good job at the office) I really need to focus.

I even have the talent to double down on this exceptional trait (my ADHD spider monkey-ism) when it comes to personal projects.  Literally every day (I’m not kidding) I find something I want to do, make, or learn.  I have a long list of books I would like to read, courses I would like to take, and projects I want to make with my hands.  Any given moment can seem like the perfect opportunity to start something new!

The big problem is, the new thing will prevent me from completing the current (now old) thing.

So I have a double issue, micro focus (just getting the task at hand done when I want to check Twitter instead) and macro focus (completing whole projects).

See?  ADHD spider monkey.  I bet you have horrific visions of an obnoxious monkey jumping around trees and screeching at people with my face on it now.  I’m sorry, don’t think of me like that, please!

Stumbling on my Superpower

The effects of my lack of focus have recently become rather bothersome.  It was only a few months ago when I took a new opportunity to work with an incredible team, and I also (obviously) regularly work on my own projects solo.  It’s one thing when I feel like my flow and focus outside of regular work hours wanes – it’s another entirely when I feel like my primary client (my job) has the possibility of suffering.

There’s a lot built into this besides what I’m about to share with you – sleeping better, getting rest both mentally and physically, getting beyond wintertime sickness.  But I still felt like I could do better than what I know I can give daily when I’m performing well, and that bothered me.

So when driving home, listening to an interview with one of my mentors – he presented a thought that floored me regarding managing your energy.

Most people are distracted by technology, their smart phones, time, etc.  I am no different, certainly.  But take that away and you’re still simply distracted by your thoughts.  You might daydream, feel like you’re tired, drift off, have “brain fog”, whatever you want to call it.

If you don’t realize it – this is a tremendous energy suck.  You might be deep in anxiety about your self-status (money, abilities, health and happiness) or you could simply be frustrated that you don’t know what to eat for dinner tonight.  Regardless, it’s difficult if not impossible to get the crap out of your head so you can have a little space, rest, and mental peace.

What if you could – just for a moment – stop thinking.  What would that look like?  When this concept was brought up, I was so stunned I didn’t quite know what to do.

Turn off my thoughts?  Wow – it hit me like a ton of bricks.  I would have relief.

I’m not quite sure where the exact connection came from in my mind, but I know that I have an uncanny ability to focus on certain things subconsciously if it’s something I’m listening to.  If I’m doing the dishes and listening to a podcast, I can track right along and tune everything else out.

The thought occurred to me – what if I do this a bit in reverse?  What if I use gentle noise to remove every other distraction around me, and if I’m listening to it then it will probably take the focus of my thoughts as well.

The next day, I put pink noise on in my headphones at work – and so much time passed uninterrupted that I forgot to stand up and take a break.  It was so surprising to me that it felt like I’d discovered some sort of superpower.

Certainly I’ve done the “listen to music without lyrics while studying” thing – but nothing’s ever come quite close to this.  I’m able to literally tune everything else out, both in the world and in my thoughts, and just get done exactly what I need to get done.  It’s a bit unreal.

What I Use

If you want to try this yourself, it’s super-duper easy.  I don’t create a custom pink noise track or pull up noise on YouTube.  I’ve found an app and a website that works super well for me.  The app is available on both major mobile platforms and doesn’t cost a thing.

myNoise on the web

myNoise for iOS

myNoise for Android

It’s easy and simple, loops well, and I haven’t had any issues with it yet.  The apps also provide a way to try out other sounds – such as if you’d rather use running water, rain, or other tones.

Obviously, if you’re working on audio editing or sound creation – this won’t work.  But I’d suggest you give it a try for your other tasks that don’t require active listening.

Additional Suggestions

I’ve had some people inquire about other concerns with long-term use.

While I’m not an audiologist – and you should not treat my thoughts as medical advice – I can give you some somewhat educated thoughts from being an audio professional.

Will this cause hearing damage?

If you’re listening loud enough to anything, you can induce hearing damage over time.  I only listen loud enough to pull my brain away from exterior distraction.  Usually I can still hear a bit of what’s going on around me, but not a lot.  Do not listen so loud that you can’t hear anything else, especially in headphones, and take regular breaks.

What about listening fatigue?

I imagine this will cause you fatigue, just like listening to any other audio sources for an extended period of time.  I feel like it will differ slightly – as when you’re listening to mixes you’re also inducing a mental aspect to listening fatigue.  When you hear the same loop over and over, you’re bound to stop hearing it accurately fairly quickly.  So long as I felt my ears were pretty fresh, I would take a break after listening to any noise, and then attempt to work on any active listening work.  It will take a bit of experimentation on your part to figure out your own personal threshold.

Isn’t this a bit of pseudo-science quackery?

I received some interesting feedback on this, actually.  Check out these conversations that spawned on Twitter:

So that’s it!  Try it out – put on some pink noise for yourself – or other noise – and see if it helps you get focused incredibly quickly.

I’d love to hear about if and how it works for you – tweet me!  @adamtcroft


Copyright 2016-2017, Adam T. Croft, all rights reserved.