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Focus Week: Deconstructing Distractions

Published 11/13/2017

In today's episode, we kick off Focus Week by talking about ways you can better attack your distractions through destructuring.

Today's episode is brought to you by Linode.

Linode provides superfast SSD based Linux servers in the cloud starting at $5 a month. Linode is offering Developer Tea listeners $20 worth of credit if you use the code DEVELOPERTEA2017 at checkout. Head over to spec.fm/linode to learn more about what Linode has to offer to Developer Tea listeners!

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
What was the last thing that distracted you? That's what we're talking about on today's episode of Developer Tea, and more importantly, how to deal with distractions. My name is Jonathan Cutrell. My goal in this show is to help driven developers connect to their ultimate purpose and excel at the work that they do so that they can have an positive impact on the people they have influence over. And I hope that you consider yourself a driven developer. I hope you're in that group. By listening to this show and continuing to engage this content, we can all become that. We can all continue to progress towards wanting to be a better developer, not for the sake of programming skills, but rather for the sake of the impacts that we can have on humanity, on the people around us, and that starts with ourselves. So I want to discuss distractions with you today. But today's episode is the first in three episodes this week. We're going to call it Focus Week. This was actually the very first topic that we talked about on Developer Tea, and it's so important that I'm going to return to it. And we're going to have all three episodes of the show this week dedicated to focus. I'm really excited to talk about this topic because I think that focus is key to success. It's not just a part of success. If you don't have focus, then pretty much nothing else matters. We've talked about focus as it relates to focusing on a single task at a time, limiting your work and progress. We've talked about focus as it relates to what should you learn? What language or framework or whatever skill. What should you learn? We've talked about focus as it relates to multitasking. And we've certainly brought out that kind of popular statistic about distraction that we all like to use in our workplace to justify putting our headphones and telling everyone to go away. That distractions or more accurately interruptions take about 25, 15 to 25 minutes depending on which study you look at to recover from. So the typical reaction for most developers, once they've heard this fact, first of all, it seems to be kind of a resounding appreciation for this study because all of us as developers, we know that distraction kind of destroys our productivity. We feel that as we're trying to solve a difficult problem, someone comes in and distracts us and all of that working memory that we had kind of loaded up, it just goes poof. It goes away. That can be destructive. That can be really kind of detrimental to your work, to your business. So I want to talk a little bit more about distractions. Interruptions are a type of distraction, but I want to talk about distractions. First I want to cover a little bit of just very quick overview theory of focus. What kinds of focus do we have? We have two major types of focus. One is kind of the active chosen conscious focus. This is what you're doing when you choose to solve a problem, for example. The second type of focus is the sensory type of focus. If I stop talking for a second, that might get your attention. Or if you hear loud noise or perhaps the doorbell ringing or you see a flashing light, these are all sensory types of focus adjustment. The problem is that we can't actively control which type of focus our brain is engaging in. And perhaps a better way of putting it is it's easy for our brains to switch from that active or elective focus to that inactive or forced focus, that sensory focus. That's exactly what happens when someone comes up and taps you on the shoulder or when you get an alert notification on your phone. And it makes sense that we would have attention that can shift automatically. This is something that our brains have developed because it's important for us to be aware. And that focus shift has actually kept you alive probably in quite a few instances. If you have ever been driving and you see somebody slow down in front of you, then you may have an automatic reaction to step on the break. This is something that you've developed, but the underlying engine that allows you to respond to that input almost automatically, that came from years and years of development of the human brain. So this is so important to our survival and it's so important to our lives that we shouldn't despise that shifting focus. We shouldn't try to create an enemy out of that. Instead, we need to understand distraction because here's what often happens. As developers and really anybody who has studied this topic and wants to eliminate distractions, most of the time they do this is defensively. In other words, they respond by blocking distractions when they happen. One way to do this is by putting headphones in, as I mentioned earlier, there's obviously a lot of other ways that you can block distractions as they are occurring. In other words, responding to the distraction was some kind of defensive mechanism. But I think we can go a step further and I think we can actually deconstruct the distraction and dismantle it before it ever happens. That's what we're going to talk about in just a moment. After we talk about today's awesome sponsor, Linode, Linode is sponsoring every episode of the Focus Week and Linode actually can help you focus. Let me explain what I mean. The simplicity that Linode provides in spinning up a Linux server and the peace of mind that all of their services are hourly. This allows you to stop thinking about your service provider. This allows you to pay Linode their $5 a month, which is insanely cheap, by the way, for what you get. Or whatever service plan you're on, you pay that money to Linode for the time that you have used. All of their plans are hourly once again. You get a gigabyte of a ram for $5. You get two gigs of ram for $10. You get 16 gigs of ram for $60. I had to go and look this one up because I don't do anything that needs anything, this is powerful. But Linode's highest service offering is a 16-core 200 gigabytes of ram server with nine terabytes of transfer for $960 a month. Of course, most people are not going to need anywhere near that level of power. But you have the peace of mind of knowing that Linode has you covered if you do end up needing that level of power. What this means is you can stop focusing on whatever service provider that you're having trouble with. When you switch to Linode, you can shift your focus to something more important. Go and check out what Linode has to offer. You can ever head over to spec.fm slash Linode to get started today. If you use the code Developer Tea 2017, you'll get $20 worth of credit, which you can use on any of their hourly services. Again, go and check it out, spec.fm slash Linode. Thank you again, Linode for sponsoring today's episode and every episode in this focus week. Let's get started with destructuring our distractions. I want to understand my distractions. I want to figure out their anatomy. Why did I end up having someone come to my desk? Why is it that my phone is sending me notifications? Some of these are very simple. The answer for my phone is because I have notifications turned on. Another good example, why am I being interrupted by emails? Why is it that my attention has to shift in 20 different directions because I'm being interrupted by emails or even Slack messages? And very often, the reasons that we're interrupted is because of something that we have given permission to. A habit or a pattern that we've cultivated, a environment, this is a really big one, an environment that we've cultivated that has an open door for distraction. We may have even invited the distractions directly. That's true with notifications on your phone, for example. What you may find for some of your distractions is that they are truly unavoidable and also important. For me, one of those distractions is the fact that no matter what happens, every morning my son, Liam, are four-month-old, he must be fed. I have the choice of either viewing that as a negative or a positive distraction. I choose to view it as a positive distraction, and the important thing is to recognize which of your distractions are worthwhile. For me, feeding my son is one of the most precious and important parts of my day. I wouldn't trade it for anything else, and even though it may be distracting, because I can't exactly predict or plan around the exact moment where I'm going to need to feed him, whatever efficiency loss that results from that interruption is worth. Worth the gain. It's important to understand all of your distractions this way, because it's easy to demonize all of them wholesale. This leads you to, in the workplace, for example, be frustrated even when the most important people that you work with interrupt you. Your boss or your client very often, developers end up being despised by their coworkers because they so vehemently protect their focus that they end up being offensive or otherwise seeming closed off to conversation and basic human interaction. Destructuring your distractions. What led to this distraction? For example, if you get multiple clarifying emails after an initial email explaining something that you did to a piece of code, then perhaps you could have avoided those clarification emails if you had written the original email a little bit more clearly. If you spent an extra two minutes, then maybe you can recapture some of that time. Another great example of this is the fact that most people check their email more than any other activity they do during the day. This is insane because so much of what we do in our email could be handled in a very short window only a few times a day. The problem is we haven't created the correct boundaries. We haven't destructured that distraction to understand what is valuable and what is not about that distraction. This is a very common technique that is used for addictions. If you understand the environment and the triggers that lead to participating in a behavior and an addictive behavior, then you can try to avoid those environmental factors rather than trying to avoid the response to the environment. So let's say you're addicted to gambling and you don't want to be addicted to gambling. So it wouldn't really make much sense for you to drive by the casino or drive by the place where you normally buy your lottery tickets every single day after work. It would make sense for you to take the time to find a new route home from work. So it's important that you structure your environment, you structure your days around the important distractions and eliminate the ones that are unimportant. Take some time to design your days. Take some time to even design your physical space. If you have sensory input that you want to eliminate, perhaps you can create a quiet room or a quiet location that you can always trust that you can go to to eliminate some of that sensory input. Rather than trying to eliminate distractions when they occur, try to eliminate the source of the distraction. Treat the distraction as a symptom and find the underlying cause. De-structure the things that lead to those distractions. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. During Focus Week, this is one of three episodes that we'll do that is centered on the topic of Focus. Thank you again to Linode for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. Remember, you can get started with Linode for as little as $5 a month and they have every possible plan you can imagine needing for any service that you want to build. They have tons of other services that we haven't even covered on the show. Go and check it out, spec.fm slash Linode. They're going to give you $20 worth of credit if you use the code Developer Tea2017. Thanks again to Linode for sponsoring today's episode. Remember this show is intended for driven developers. If you're not a driven developer, then we're probably going to present opinions on this show that you may not agree with. So I encourage you, if you are a driven developer, if this episode resounded with you, then I encourage you to take a moment and subscribe in whatever podcasting app you use. This doesn't cost you anything. It's free. There'd be three episodes a week and they're always free. So if you enjoyed this episode and you look forward to more content, for example, this week's content on Focus, then go and subscribe so you don't miss out. Thanks so much for listening. Until next time, enjoy your tea.