June 5, 2022•895 words
I've always wondered whether my attention span is normal. Like, probably since my high school years. Right before I entered high school, I first became interested, and more importantly, engaged, in the Android community, both as an open-source app developer and a third-party ROM developer, which was basically my introduction into the world of systems and mobile development. That interest of course carried over into high school, where the course workload was significantly higher than before. This was the reason why I started noticing maybe my attention span is not as long as others -- I simply could not, say, do my homework, in one go without being distracted onto other tasks. And that distraction is often programming and developing for my Android phone, but again, as interesting as it was to me at that time, I could not keep doing it for longer than half an hour or so at a time. The pattern that I end up falling into is basically interlacing everything I had to do -- 10 - 20 minutes of homework, then 10 - 20 minutes of coding, and then doing nothing or goofing around in a few chat groups, etc.
This was not a problem for me, because although I might be a bit slower than others, I still got all of my tasks done, for both my study and development. However, context-switching between tasks so frequently does cause some issues for me, such as being confused about what I was doing just 20 minutes ago, or forgetting very important things that need to be done after switching to another task and back. As time went on, I continued doing the exact same sort of "multiplexing" throughout my undergraduate study. Because CS undergraduate curriculum was not exactly hard for me with such a background, this was even less of an issue, and I basically stopped even worrying about any of it as I went through 4 years of being an undergraduate student.
Things got worse nearing and after graduation, when most of the course workload came to an end. I opted for a gap year before going to graduate study -- not exactly a great choice, as COVID came right after that, but that was the best choice I could have done nevertheless. As there was nothing better to do, I decided I should spend the time on my own personal projects, but then quickly realized that I was simply not able to keep working on the same project without being distracted. This manifests in two ways, actually: firstly, on a short time scale, I could not keep developing code without being distracted by a YouTube video, and then start to wander around on Reddit or in a Wikipedia / Google rabbit hole, completely forgetting what I was supposed to do; on a slightly longer time scale, I quickly lose interest in projects I started myself, even though I was full of passion when I started said project. Throughout that year, I had five or more "things" to work on, none of which actually came to any sort of completion.
Going into graduate school did not help in this regard. In fact, the same thing is happening right now, both with my open source projects and with my actual study. For the first part, I am still doing the same interlacing while doing basically anything -- in fact, I am stopping to write this article as I am trying to finish a Minecraft YouTube video. It has gotten even worse, I think, because now I could not even watch an episode of anime without pausing a lot in the middle, not being able to hold back the urge to check or do something else. On the other hand, my projects have not been going exactly well. I was to play with PinePhone Pro earlier this year, with the intention to contribute something, but then it has just been sitting there collecting dust after an initial week of obsession. I started the OpenEUICC project quite recently, but now I am already losing the motivation to work on it. Same with my research, which I proposed to my supervisor with a lot of passion, and now the progress has become very slow.
Is this necessarily a bad thing overall? Maybe not, because actually, a lot of my projects were started while I was distracted or unmotivated from another one, and many of these have been at least somewhat influential in my circle. It is a problem, though, when I need to get something done quickly. But throughout the years, I have learned to cope with it, as otherwise I would not be able to manage to do a lot of things. For example, I'd always start working on something long before the deadline, knowing that I will be distracted in the process and calculating that into the time I need for said task. I also learned to remember what my main task for the time is, even if I get distracted to something else. As curious as I could be sometimes about whether this is normal, I do not really feel the need to completely change how I behave, since it does actually help sometimes. It is just among the things I wonder from time to time that all boil down to the same topic -- am I the weird one?