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All the books and advice on focusing essentially boil down to: practice focusing and you'll learn how to focus more effectively. However, the level of expertise we have in focusing can only be measured indirectly, say, through the quality of work we produce.

This means there is no direct feedback as to how well we focus and this IMO impedes our ability to learn how to focus.

How to best measure our ability to focus?

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Let me give my 5 cents to my own question. We can't measure focus exactly, so all the advice we get depends on our own honesty in order to work. Are we doing what the advice tells us to do? Are we honestly evaluating ourselves, even though, by necessity, the methods of evaluation are not exact? –  user1095108 Aug 1 at 7:58
    
Amount of time that has disappeared ("didn't notice n hours passed!") per 8 hours? :) –  Juha Untinen Aug 18 at 9:43
    
@JuhaUntinen A "pomodoro" is just a unit of time (~30 min). I like the idea of counting timeboxed time in the usual units of time much more than counting pomodori. –  user1095108 Aug 23 at 15:03

4 Answers 4

Focus can be quantified with an attention test.

They come in many different forms, for instance questionaires (example) or "computer games" where you are instructed to perform simple tasks as rapidly as possible.

Attention tests are sometimes used by scientists, wanting to study the effects of focus enhancing routines, such as Mindfulness meditation.

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Best measures are those that are simple, objective and easy to capture. Counting the number of Pomodoros per day is very effective in measuring how well we focus all through the day. You can also use it to measure focus for a specific type of tasks.

Pomodoro is Italian for Tomato and is a well known technique for time management and focus.

  • In the Pomodoro Technique, you set a specific amount of time for a task, say 25 minutes.
  • You focus only on those 25 minutes and only on one task for the entire duration of that session (called a Pomodoro) as compared to multitasking or being distracted.
  • After each Pomodoro, you take a break of 5 minutes.
  • After each 3 (or 4) Pomodoros, you take a break of 30 minutes.

At the end of the day, you can count the number of Pomodoros you successfully completed. i.e. where you only focused on one task at a time for that Pomodoro.

You are thus measuring how well you focus and also visualize a trend over time.

I use the iOS app Pomotodo that helps me collect statistics as well. There are many other apps on nearly all platforms and devices you can imagine.

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Yeah, but what to do during the breaks? –  user1095108 Aug 12 at 8:28
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relax, take a walk, chit chat at the water cooler, prepare your mind for the next Pomodoro :) –  Atif Abdul-Rahman Aug 12 at 8:32

You can think about it from your side and see if you have been concentrated. Think about the time perception and your skill to change a task.

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If you are free to choose which task you work on, you can time the periods that you work on one task. When you are focused you tend to work longer periods on one task.

Just write down what time it is when you start doing something else. If you see a lot of small time blocks getting replaced by larger blocks, you know that your focus increases.

This method may seem to have one drawback: it needs you to register/realize that you are changing tasks, which requires attention, and you need to write down the time, which is a distraction. But hey, realizing that you are changing tasks may be enough to remind you to go back to your previous task!

You can do this by hand or use a computer application. If that is running in your system tray and you can just double click it and enter a new task name/description), it's only a small interruption. I don't know of any one such app (you could ask on Software Recommendations Stack Exchange), I've always used an custom program.

The advantage of also recording a task name, is that you can afterwards distinguish external interruptions from 'just losing focus yourself' - so if necessary, you can do something about those external interruptions.

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So you've written a custom program for that as well? Me too. But I have since switched to a plain old diary, that I can stick into my pocket and carry around. It does not need electricity to work either. The problem is both approaches don't seem to be working :( –  user1095108 Aug 1 at 7:51

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