Time to Buckle Down: The attention economy and thesis writing

So this PhD is taking longer than expected. Currently, I am contracted for 5 years on what was originally a 4 year degree programme. The blame on the delay is hard to place. Crappy results, crappy experiments, crappy plans, poor motivation as a result of the above...

Then things started "working" - and by that I mean I got some interesting results. Without boring everyone with the details, It could be 5 1/4 years before I finish now. I would like to finish in 2018 but it could be Q1 2019 before I actually defend if I look at things realistically.

Some things have to change to get done.

There have been a couple of media influences recently that have made me realise something I know I already knew. My attention span has been shot to shit by my bad internet practices. (those links are well worth checking out, even if the last is a long podcast)

tl;dr writing is hard because I can't focus on anything.

My solution for this is to try a few things - not as extreme as CGP Greys nuclear option of removing everything (yet)

  1. Facebook is deleted/deactivated (again).
  2. Block is installed on my phone to block reddit, twitter, instagram, during work hours.
  3. Many apps (BBC news) uninstalled off phone entirely.
  4. The big one. Cold Turkey installed on my work laptop. This is set up to block "time wasting" websites of my choosing.

Some things I have somewhat under control. Podcasts are strictly for when I'm doing brainless tasks like certain lab work, or walking/running. I can't work on tasks requiring concentration while hearing voices anyway (hence my penchant for instrumental music)

Cold Turkey (CT) is hard core. Literally can't trick or cheat it. I allow myself 30 min a day on those websites, which during a 10h work day isn't crazy in 5 min breaks. Yesterday, that wasn't a problem. Today that time was nearly gone by lunch. It makes me only guess at the hundreds of hours I may have wasted over the last 4-5 years.

I'm really doing this far too late if I'm honest with myself. I felt my attention slipping a couple years ago, being poisoned by the search for the next hit of novelty. Reading a book has become impossible, reading a scientific paper a drawn out torture. Even writing this post, I find myself having to hold back urges to check the news/twitter/whatever to keep myself entertained.

CGP Grey is doing 4 months locked away from highly addictive sources of media: never-ending scrolling feeds, sources of flicking between the same 2-3 apps for hours. I know I should do something similar. Going full Cold Turkey would be hard right now. I want to allow myself time for these things after work hours. If there was an app that only allowed me access if I had written a thousand words a day that might work...

Paul Mac Eoin

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