Thoughts on Focus and Deep Work
Ironically as soon as I began writing this, I immediately got up and began doing everything else on my mind - run the vacuum, move laundry to the dryer, clean dishes, etc. Why? I was not ready to focus. I had too many things going on at once, and even then the idea of writing this post was an impulsive action.
I, like many others, struggle with focus. It can be a blessing, but mostly a curse. I'm never bored, but at the same time I feel the burden of never completing projects or tasks at times depending on how involved they can be.
I feel like talking about this subject is like beating a dead horse, so I will try to keep this brief. I was recommended Deep Work by Cal Newport from several coworkers, going so far as to having bi-weekly reading discussion sessions with my team lead about it.
This post isn't a review of that book, I do mention some bits of it, but I would say if you are looking for something to help get your bearings about focus and achieving deep work - give this a read.
Deep Work #
Deep work is a pretty good name to identify the kind of work we do when we are our undivided attention to the task at hand. I feel like everyone is capable of doing it, for some it comes easier than others.
I have a very bad habit of letting my thoughts run rampant, pulling me into rabbit holes and causing me to achieve what is referred to in Deep Work as "being distracted." Not a very technical term, but you get what I'm saying.
This is something I have been combating for years, sometimes I am amazed I was able to graduate college or keep a job.
Often times, I would find myself able to engage in deep work only after procrastinating for an endless amount of hours and engaging in everyone's favorite pasttime - crunch.
How I Focus #
One of the take aways I got from this book was to schedule distraction time for myself during my work week. I spend time in the morning before work either doing hobby projects or playing video games just to get it out of my system before I need to put my nose to the grindstone.
I have found that doing this, in addition to some other tools to curb keyboard muscle memory, has helped quite a lot.
And to help with random itches to wander off into the bowels of the web I use a Pomodoro timer + website blocker extension.
You may wonder, "Well you're able to ackowledge it is a problem, don't you have the willpower to just focus?".
But I know enough to commit to taking steps to breaking a bad habit that started as simple as reading novels in class instead of paying attention to having access to a limitless font of knowledge and distraction taunt me into wandering off when I should be working.
It was disturbing at the start how often I would be met with the blue screen of "YOU SHOULD BE WORKING" without realizing it.
I do allow myself 10m of distraction for every hour of work using this tool, it helps, and even if I forget to focus it will help me because it kills the network requests going in and out from the list of blocked domains.
For me, I stopped myself from going to anything that can result in a "death scroll" or just mindlessly scrolling til you hit something to go "heh" and then continue on. This includes Twitter, Facebook, Discord, Reddit, Instagram, and many miscellaneous news blogs I frequent.
I found this so useful, I set it up on my personal machine as well so I can focus on non-work activities as well when I need to.
Finding Focus #
One of the things that helps me focus, is part ritual. I get distractions out of the way so my brain has nothing else to wonder about for now.
I then begin making checklists. I am an avid user of Todoist and would recommend that or a similar tool to people as well (paper works pretty well here). A checklist can help get things out of your head and into something better at remembering than you are. And then there is such great satisfaction when you're able to check things off as you go.
Personally, I don't like to make things too granular otherwise you end up spending your time just managing a list rather than completing work. Try to keep them high level, and if there is potential to make subtasks - add those too.
Setting goals can help you timebox what you need to get done, otherwise it will never end and you can be led to distraction as it keeps spinning on and on.
Another thing I have found to be related to this as a different kind of distraction, is publicizing your goals. This has been the killer of many projects.
Often times we can find ourselves talking at length about our work and what we plan to acheive. When this is something that is a machination of your own mind, and you receive praise for it before it has even seen it's completion you can lose the motivation to do so.
I am not saying sharing your goals is a bad thing, but being mindful about how you do it and how much of it can be the difference of finding delight in your work and discouragement. This TED talk explains it better than I can.
Working Remotely #
Like many of us are, I have been working remotely from home since the beginning of March of this year.
To set the scene, I was made painfully aware weeks prior by many people I work with how much it had been noticed that I have a lack of focus seemingly through most of the day.
I had been aggressively working towards rectifying it, and then finding out I have to work from home (because a week later working from anywhere else wasn't an option) was almost a death sentence.
Day 0 of working remotely, I made it about 4 hours in and had to change everything up if I was to make it. I cannot sit at my desk to work on my professional work, it's a Maker's workbench surrounded by distraction.
I set up a space in another part of the apartment, a smaller desk right next to a wall acting almost like blinders. I have a small external monitor the size of an iPad I had used for game jams to act as an additional screen and that was it.
Given it is almost July at the time of writing, that in addition to other tools I have set in place have been working out pretty well. It has to given we don't exactly have a visible end in sight of this timeline.
I hope anything I have mentioned here can be of some help to you, especially knowing that your struggle to see things through to completion is not unique and that it's okay.