As a Turbulent Debater, I’m well acquainted with lack of focus. For those who aren’t too familiar with personality traits, I am Extraverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Prospecting, and Turbulent (ENTP-T). The combination of the Extraversion, Intuitive, and the Prospecting traits make for people who have the attention span of a squirrel.
If someone were to ask me what my greatest weaknesses are, I’d probably say, 1) “Nothing,” and 2) “Just kidding. I’m deeply insecure, and I have a very hard time focusing on things, please help me.”
We’re gonna home in on point two here. Not the part about my insecurity (if you wanna know more about that, I’d be more than happy to tell you my life story) but about my seeming inability to sit still and focus.
Throughout my life, I’ve found different ways to cope with this inability. As a child, I skated by on my precociousness. As a student in university, I mastered the 24-hour, 10,000-word thesis paper.
As an adult, I procrastinate until it all feels impossible.
Then I cry.
But crying gets so exhausting and, sometimes, you just gotta do the damn thing.
So, for anyone who’s wondering, here’s how I manage my life even when focusing feels impossible for most days.
On a Good Day
4:30–6:00 AM: Wake up. I really don’t remember what happens during this time; it’s usually a toss-up between reading the news, instantly starting work for the day*, or annoying my partner until they leave for work.
*When I instantly start my work for the day, I don’t have any time to think about what I don’t/can’t do. Usually, I’m still groggy, and it’s easier to force myself into action when I’m not thinking about it too much.
On these days, I easily get two to three hours of work done before breakfast. It’s usually because there’s nothing else to focus on in the world. Just me, my work, and the dark sky outside my window.
Before I know it, the sun has risen, and I’ve gotten the hardest stuff of my day out of the way.
This is called the Eating the Frog method.
On a Bad Day
Some days are much harder than that.
If I don’t get to work instantly, I’m likely to do the following.
7:00–9:00 AM: Have an existential crisis about my life and everything as I know it.
Usually, if I’m in this mode, my brain is buzzing. Because you see, a Debater’s brain is hardly ever silent. Even when we’re not thinking of anything, it’s still loud. Like TV static noise, grainy and always moving. It’s a gray feeling that makes my chest tight and my breathing shallow. My Turbulent nature is starting to rear its head.
I want to start on my work, but for some reason, I just can’t.
And, in place of doing my work, I feel guilt, self-loathing, and anxiety. Then there’s that thought that maybe I’m just not working hard enough, maybe there’s something fundamentally wrong with me, or I would be amazing if only I could just focus.
9:00–10:00 AM: Whew! Worrying is exhausting. Time for a nap.
10:30–11:30 AM: I Google “how to focus,” and, most of the time, motivation is renewed either through Tony Robbins or Dave Ramsey calling me a loser.
My #1 motivator, however, is the thought that my whole entire life will careen down a mountainside if I don’t get my act together right now.
I force myself to leave my house to work in a public space or work with a colleague.
11:30 AM–4:00 PM and beyond: Good solid work time.
I block all distractions from my computer and phone using apps, and I tell myself, “Whatever it is you’re working on, just tell yourself you’re going to write one paragraph. That’s it. Just one paragraph, then you can procrastinate all you like. It’s hard, but try to force yourself to just do that one paragraph.”
So, I do it. And before I know it, I’ve written three pages when not even an hour ago, a sentence seemed impossible.
Advice for the Bad Days
My problem with focus is something that most Extraverted and Prospecting (E__P-_) personalities are likely to share. Our types are wired to gather information, after all. And while gathering and sharing information is amazing, it seems that many of us judge our self-worth by our productivity. We question if we’re valuable human beings if we cannot contribute to society in some tangible way.
It’s that fear that maybe, just maybe, we could be doing more.
But there are two things I’ve learned from my frazzled, chaotic years:
- There’s no point in trying to fit myself into a certain mold. As much as I want to be a Judging personality type sometimes, I can’t concentrate for five hours at a time, and I’ve found that trying to is just a waste of my most productive hours.
- That all I can ever do is try my best.