Focus

As I’ve embarked on this adventure in writing, I’ve noticed a few things about how I work, and how long it takes me to get things done. During my regular workday as the leader of a software development team I’m focused on communication. I have two screens out of three dedicated to email. instant messaging, and chat. I’m juggling multiple conversations at any given time and dealing with a variety of email throughout my day. By any definition of the word, I am not a doer. I don’t write code. I solve people problems, not code problems. To be fair, I do some technical things at work, but mostly I’m dealing in some kind of written communication.

When I decided to start this new side project, I quickly realized how long it has been since I’ve been in the Zone. You know, that flow state we all know and love as developers; “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

Recently, while working on the book, I experienced that feeling and tweeted about it:

I had all but forgotten what that feeling was like, so when it hit, it took me a few minutes to realize what had happend. Once I got over the realization of what occurred, I wanted more! Since that time, I’ve hit it a couple more times, but it hasn’t been consistent. I’ve been paying more attention to how I work and am slowly realizing that my habits from work have bled over into this project and are getting in the way of the Zone. I’m constantly flipping between screens and tabs (Twitter, FB, GMail), grabbing my phone to check for messages, etc. I even noticed today while I was reading that I’m only getting through a paragraph or two before I have this unshakeable desire to check my phone, or look at something on my laptop.

This makes sense since “the average knowledge worker ‘checks in’ on email and IM every 6 minutes.” Yup. It feels like it. Now that I’ve identified the problem, I’ve developed some strategies and tactics to help get into the flow state without those interruptions.

  1. Put the phone across the room, or better yet, in another room.
  2. Use the Pomodoro technique more frequently.
  3. Keep supplies (pencil, paper) close by for hand-writing notes and other things that come up. I use this to quickly jot things down so I don’t get sidetracked.
  4. Use tools that help reduce the clutter on my desktop. This means OneTab to close the 20'ish tabs I tend to have open at any give time. It means RescueTime Pro to block things that would be distracting.
  5. Always have headphones available to help shut out the world, even if I’m not listening to anything.

Will these things help? Only time will tell, but for now, I’m giving it my best shot.