Sometimes I cannot concentrate on a task that I am working on. There are a few techniques that I use to focus on the work.
It helps to use some variations of Pomodoro technique. Currently I use cycles of 45 minutes work and 15 minutes break with long breaks after 4 cycles. Quite often it is a good idea just to stop and take a break than to spend time sitting thinking that I work. While writing this, I stumbled upon a post in John Cook’s blog where he talks about the approach to work used by Henri Poincaré when he put in two hours of work in the morning and two in the evening. This technique seems to be rather common. I have experimented with my time intervals and certainly will do so in the future.
One of the most inspiring ideas that helps me to get into working mood is an idea to change perspective and start “playing” with ideas, data, thoughts. This trick comes from Feynman’s memoirs, where he talks about importance of “playing”.
And here is one psychological exercise I picked up from Igor Vagin’s book that helps to be focused. You have to imaging yourself sitting on sea shore, waves coming to it, snow starts falling and dissolves in water as your thoughts are dissolving. Night changes day. The Moon rises. One sees words “Attention concentration” on the moon walk. You turn around and see a white plain from which moonlight reflects and large words “Attention concentration” are written on it.
All techniques above address various reason of concentration lost. One of the important aspects for me is that I need to see meaning in my work and frequently it is a good idea not to just dig but also think where and why I am digging.