Higher efficiency comes with focus on single task

Yes, it’s that time of the year folks! It’s… midterms week!

‘What? Already?’ is the commonly experienced reaction everyone has; it seems like school just started, but all of a sudden all those packets of readings, problem sets, exams and lengthy papers decide to launch a massive attack on you.

The all too familiar circumstance occurs where you think, “I WILL GET THROUGH THIS. I WILL SURVIVE.”, but your mind starts wandering, and you end up going to bed much later than you expected, or even not at all.

The stress level suddenly spikes up and you feel it radiate throughout campus. Half of the students start looking like zombies from their lack of sleep and nutrition. Last semester, I remember a student asking me if I got punched in the face, because the bags under my eyes were so severe.

Even when you’re procrastinating, you can’t help but think about the daunting amount of work you have to complete and thus start stressing even more. This brings me to my next point: either stop procrastinating or only focus on the activity you are doing to procrastinate.

According to psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert at Harvard (“A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind,” 05.18.2010), researchers found that a wandering mind is linked to unhappiness.

In order to test the relationship between happiness and focus, researchers created an iPhone application, TrackYourHappiness, which asks people about their thoughts, activities and mental state at different times of the day to get a picture of how their moods and mind fluctuate throughout the day. Data were collected from participants between the ages 18 to 88.

Out of the 2,250 participants, “People are less happy when they’re mind-wandering no matter what they’re doing. For example, people don’t really like commuting to work very much; it’s one of their least enjoyable activities.

Yet people are substantially happier when they’re focused only on their commute than when their mind is wandering off to something else. This pattern holds for every single activity we measured,” Killngsworth reported.

I guess we should adopt some Confucianist principles and really focus solely on that one thing we’re doing at that moment. If we’re writing our essays or studying for our exams, we should really only focus on a single activity instead of thinking about  what could’ve been or would’ve been with that jerk or thinking about what dinner is going to be.

If you’re out partying, stop stressing about your homework and other obligations; just focus all of your attention on having a good time when you’re out. But this is certainly easier said than done.

So, how can we improve on solely focusing our attention to the activity we’re doing at the present moment? Meditation is one solution. It may look easy, but it’s actually very difficult. Last year, I had a lot on my mind and so tried out a meditation session in the quiet room at the library.

I had read the basics about meditation in my Neoconfucianism and Buddhism class and thought I would be able to handle it. Halfway through, my legs began to fall asleep and started cramping up.

I felt so restless and couldn’t help but start thinking, “Oh geez, what am I going to write about for that political science paper?” By the end of the half hour, my legs felt half beaten and my mind was definitely not where it was supposed to be. Clearly, I have a long way to go.

Even as I’m writing this article, my mind is slowly starting to wander off, and eventually I go on Facebook. But while on Facebook I am thinking that I should really get back to work, and it starts to become a cycle. We should learn to break out of this cycle and focus only on that paper or whatever it is that you’re doing.

Whether it is meditation or some alternative way of focusing, learning to hone in on one task is really quite important. It would be a lot more efficient and you’d probably get that paper done faster. Maybe then, midterms won’t be as stressful.


—Laura Song ’16 is a prospective political science and media studies double major.

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