As I move into the final stages of my PhD, I find procrastination one of my biggest enemies, even more because it is one that emerges from myself. Focusing on a single topic for more than fifteen minutes is often a really hard challenge, and the effort alone wastes a lot of energy every single day. So I can’t but become interested in techniques for being able to focus on my job for extended spans of time.
Just today I found a really interesting article about the experience professor of the History of Art and Architecture at Harvard Jennifer Roberts, proposes to her students: To stare uninterruptedly at piece of art for three hours. No mobile phones, no internet access. Just the student, the picture, and the clock ticking for 180 minutes. At first sight it may seem boring, but the results say otherwise.
Roberts, herself, has seen the payoffs of strategic patience after her own close analysis of John Singleton Copley’s 1765 painting Boy with a Squirrel (shown above). After spending an hour with the painting, she noticed echoing patterns in the shapes of the boy’s ear and the squirrel’s ruff. After two hours, she got a different insight that Copley likely thought about the impact that his work would have on the London art world when he was painting it.
On this behalf, neuroscientists and psychologists believe that our own brains suffer subtle but dramatic changes when we practice the habit of sustained attention, or when we skip it completely and try to multitask constantly. And that the changes due to being used to maintain attention and concentration for long periods of time are beneficial.
While you may not have time to stare at a painting for three hours every day—you should try it at least once—you can probably find 10 to 15 minutes to study an object of beauty.
All of this fits completely with my previous concerns about how much the overpowering flow of information available on the internet at all times is causing us an attention deficit, and that all the notifications, chimes and pop-ups from our browser plug-ins are becoming, more and more, weapons of mass distraction. That is why I’m beginning to consider the idea of creating isolated workspaces (maybe with the creation of several user accounts on the same computer) for the different working profiles I cand need through time. Menawhile, I will fighting procrastination best I can. Wish me luck.