School started last week, and in those first couple of days I was seeing everything differently. One change I decided to make was to only do school work at school; I don't even take my textbooks home, I leave them stashed away in the physics department computer lab. I'm really wandering from the herd on this one, because physics majors are notorious for never stopping. But I realized I study so much better at school than I do at home, and in order for me to be able to focus I need to have some time away from physics every day. Classical and Quantum Mechanics are serious classes, so I've been getting up early and working long days every day to get it all done. But when I come home for the night or come home for the weekend, work is over.
I can hardly believe the difference it's made. When I get to school in the morning, I feel like I've been away from it all for an eternity, and my mind is fresh and focused. I understand things quickly, I see the connections, and I move through my assignments quickly and fluidly. And when I leave campus at night I feel satisfied with what I've accomplished and I look forward to other pursuits. Basically when I work, I work hard, and when I rest, I rest hard. That separation has made everything clearer, and I have less anxiety and more satisfaction with everything that I do.
This has everything to do with exercise; you should focus on whatever system you are trying to work, and let the other ones rest as much as possible. A hundred years ago marathon runners would train by just going out and running as many miles as hard as they could every day. The problem with that is that you are pushing all of the systems simultaneously, and so you end up barely pushing each of them. Better to do a hard interval workout to push your lactic acid threshold one day, and another day do a long slow run to improve your aerobic efficiency.
As I've mulled this over on my long walks to and from campus, I've realized that this applies to every possible pursuit; the more exclusive your focus, the more complete and efficient will be your accomplishment. When you are talking with someone, really listen to them, tune out all of your other concerns and try to connect with them. If you are reading a book, do so in a quiet room with no distractions so you can really think about what is on the page. While watching TV, leave the computer off so you aren't tempted to simultaneously check your email and accidentally start working. It's about truly living in the moment.
I once saw the exact opposite of this; a girl sitting in a hot tub reading a textbook (in the history of higher education, I bet this has only happened at BYU.) When I saw that I thought, "Wow, she's missing the point of BOTH studying AND sitting in a hot tub." I totally get where she was coming from, she was busy and she wanted to do it all. You can have it all, but not simultaneously; you can have it all, in turn.