I need a clone of myself that slaps me on the wrist.—On a serious note: How to actually notice attention shifts?

Hello brains,

I’ve day-dreamed ever since that I would need a clone of myself that 24/7 reads my mind and continuously checks on whether my attention is drifting or shifting to something irrelevant at that moment and then slaps me on the wrist. Like a drill instructor or watchdog.

But seriously, how do I learn to notice those exact moments during the day before it is too late? How do I get mental awareness in the moment.

I’ve tried tools of two approaches:

  1. Interrupting
    • I had an app that made a bell noise every 15 minutes to remind me.
    • I programmed full-screen popups with a 10s countdown to give me time to reflect what I was doing.
  2. Reminding
    • I had apps with floating timers on my desktop.
    • Or timers running on a tablet to the side.
    • I had a kitchen timer as physical token to remind me to keep working on the most urgent task.

It turns out that the interruptors cause more distraction and make the situation worse.
And the alleged reminders just get unseen. Just like the running shoes that I’ve placed in the middle of the corridor as such a reminder over which I was able to lope daily, multiple times for over 1.5 years now (true story).

Having myself write a daily diary or log as a retrospective also sounded promising. But despite me following through for over a month daily, it just became a chore that I did mindlessly, which made it miss the point. (Oh, the irony!)
Scheduling a calendar appointment with reminders to do those reviews also simply doesn’t work. Those reminders also just get unseen, inattentively dismissed and at some point deleted.

What are your strategies?

Thanks :slight_smile:


now this wont be helpful, but you got me thinking, if i could clone myself and each clone could work on just one of the multiple ideas i had running through my head all the time, then it would be easy to focus on just one task, i think this is the problem for me a lot of the time, my mind is running faster than what I can physically achieve.

other times it is just like you siad, the day dreaming, just one sight, sound or smell can send me into ny own little world (just like your clone comment) playing out events in my head that feel so real sometimes, which i actually really enjoy and can be a very iseful skill but not always of course and it can get in the way, but many times it has helped me solve real world problems.

so i don’t know how to solve the negative side of it, but it has given me more appreciation of the positive side and for me that more than makes up for it, so thanks for bringing it up. :+1:


This is a tough one. We are creatures of habit. I am not sure noticing the attention drifts as they are happening will be easy or possible. I think the approach I would take is similar to your interruptions and reminders, but use them as a tool to reflect on if your attention did change since the last event, and if so, try to identify what those triggers are.

For example, if you start doing this and notice that you are working in a room that has a window, and some movements outside the window keep getting your attention – a squirrel running up a tree, a bird flying, and then you start daydreaming of how cool it would be to fly, etc… Well clearly the window is a distraction and maybe you need to turn your back to the window.

Basically, are the attention shifts being triggered by an outside influence, and if so, how can they be minimized.

The other end of that would be to try and avoid the distractions from happening to begin with. I know for me, music puts me into the “zone”. It helps me to focus, and I have it playing almost all the time. Maybe there is something that works for you. Meditation? Avoiding certain foods? Eating certain foods?

Is this a 24/7 issue for you, or does it happen at certain times of the day, or randomly? Anywhere you are at, or just at home, work, and/or school? Just wondering if there is a pattern to it or correlated with other events…

Sadly, it’s a 24/7 issue. My mind feels jumpy like a squirrel on an overdose of Red Bull.

The problem is: I am a student and due to covid all our classes are online since 1.5 years. I am not from the US so high tuition fees and the pressure that comes with itare not an issue. Many students take longer to study, but work on the side to finance themselves entirely over here. However, my work also requires me to spend more time in front of my laptop and, who would have thought, a lot of my hobbies also revolve around that.

I’ve tried various approaches to mitigate the risk, but you can’t entirely silo off all digital information required for the task in each bucket.
The file browser will show many projects, mails will also not easily be filterable for just the one task at hand, but more so on a inbox basis. The same goes for a to-do app, which often offers projects to group tasks, but in suggestions or daily overviews and due date lists all tasks will be visible. The calendar, messenger showing chats with fellow students, colleagues, flat mates, family and friends, notes in note taking apps and on top of it all there is the risk of the browser window(s) with countless tabs.

My devices are mainly in “Do Not Disturb” mode for years now. Distractions in my room are also already minimized (noise cancelling headphones, window points towards greenery and nothing too enticing).

Digitally, I have tried a lot:

  • Extensions and apps that block access to certain websites if a time budget is used up blocks a group of sites for a set duration
  • Apps that dimm everything on screen but the active window
  • Apps that minimize or quit apps after a few minutes of missing interaction
  • Scripts that automatically clean up my desktop and move everything into a folder
  • Having different user accounts for different contexts
  • and much, much more …

Some of those artificially created obstacles will get in the way at some point and once I subconsciously learn that I can that easily get around them the flood gates are open.
Say you have to reference multiple PDFs and your windows keep minimizing or the apps quitting just because you took 5 minutes to write out a paragraph. Or you need to actually watch a video tutorial on YouTube, which was added to the blacklist, just to get something done for work or Google spits out a promising result with a solution posted by a redditor.

Micro-managing temporary exemptions seems like the wrong approach.
Setting up those complex tools and systems to force you is a dangerous distraction in itself.

The problem is my mind and the lack of awareness to not lose control of the extension of it (computer). All I’d wish for was a way to become aware of the moment when my focus drifts.

I don’t know for all of us, but if my clones were tasked with a single thing for each one, eventually every single thing would be abandoned half-done because of boredom, and all the Ivans would have probably bingewatching something together :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

@leon , honestly i’m just awaken, so couldn’t properly wrap my head around all the stuff you are mentioned, so i may be mistaken, but it really seems to me that you are trying to kinda overclock your memory, and it resists. Maybe you need to give it some rest here and there? One task at a time?

If everything in your life is in that computer, maybe you could try setting up different accounts in it, so the work and life stuff was hard separated? Oh, i saw that you tried it already just now, sorry.

Well, can’t tell a solution off the bat, but i feel for your trouble. I solved that problem by lifestyle change, and that is probably not acceptable for everyone.

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