« All Episodes

The Focus IS the Work

Published 12/1/2021

The focus is the work.

When anyone asks how they can be more productive, I give them the exercise I talk about in this episode. It's extremely simple, but not easy.

What are you focused on, right now? If you can answer this question at all times, you will be productive.

🙏 Today's Episode is Brought To you by: Square

Square has APIs for almost every aspect of running a business from employee management, to order creation and tracking, to inventory synchronization. Square’s APIs also integrate with software business owners already use like tax and bookings. so business owners can have an integrated software stack that empowers them to achieve their goals. To get started building remarkable business applications, visit developer.squareup.com to learn more and create an account.

📮 Ask a Question

If you enjoyed this episode and would like me to discuss a question that you have on the show, drop it over at: developertea.com.

📮 Join the Discord

If you want to be a part of a supportive community of engineers (non-engineers welcome!) working to improve their lives and careers, join us on the Developer Tea Discord community by visiting https://developertea.com/discord today!

🧡 Leave a Review

If you're enjoying the show and want to support the content head over to iTunes and leave a review! It helps other developers discover the show and keep us focused on what matters to you.

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
The themes that we discuss on this show tend to recur. We tend to talk about the same things on a regular basis. We will talk about something that has come up in a past episode. In fact, today's episode, the topic we're going to be talking about, was the number two episode of Developer Tea, not in terms of popularity, but in terms of the second episode we ever created. The topic is focus. My name is Jonathan Cutrell. You're listening to Developer Tea. My goal on this show is to help driven developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. Focus is a part of clarity. It is a part of perspective, and it is certainly a part of purpose. I want to talk to you specifically today about framing focus in the right light, in your work, in your life. Specifically, we very often allow focus to be dictated by our feelings. My goal for this episode is to help you separate feelings and focus. Or at least give you the motivation to know why you should. Separating feelings and focus. First, you need to decide what you will focus on using all of your decision-making tools. Since that second episode of this show, we've talked about decision-making in one capacity or another for years. We've talked about many of these different decision-making tools. We're not going to rehash all of that in one episode that would be impossible. Decision-making happens before. It happens before you are in focused modes. If you want to have emotion be a part of your decision-making, this is completely reasonable. I want to dispel a rumor, maybe not a rumor, but dispel the false notion that you might get from listening to this podcast or from other podcasts that talk about decision-making, that talk about rationalizing your decisions in one way or another. That decision-making can and very often should incorporate emotion. But so often we allow emotion to play the primary or perhaps even the solitary role in our decision-making. It's completely reasonable to take into account our emotions when we make a decision, but it is unreasonable to allow our emotions to dictate everything about that decision. So before you begin the process of focus, which we'll talk a little bit about more after we discuss this separation of concern here, when should you bring emotion into this process? It is at the decision-making phase, but it shouldn't be done at hawk. What often happens is we allow our emotions to run the show in both our decision-making and in our focus phases. Not only do we let it run it in those two phases, but we allow our decision-making, our emotion to merge those two processes, to make our decision-making and our focus processes intertwined. What ends up happening is a lack of focus and uncertain, you know, ungrounded decision-making, decisions that get unmade very easily. So I want you to focus on separating your feelings and your focus, right? Separate these two things by making a decision and then activating that decision into your focus, right? Bringing that decision into your space of focus. We need to make focus a discipline. We have plenty of disciplines we care about as engineers, testing, writing clear code, planning, performance, analyses, whatever. There is a laundry list of these various disciplines that we know both intuitively and because we've been told over and over that we've read it in books, these are disciplines that we should keep at the forefront of our practice and discipline, the discipline of focus should be on that list. We often treat focus as a principle or perhaps a mood, even, an emotion that we have. We're able to focus today, but not able to focus tomorrow that something is distracting us and therefore our focus falls apart. Skillful focus, however, involves making a clear choice, that clear decision and then executing on that choice without wavering. Skillful focus is about executing on your choices. This is a discipline because it requires being present to your feelings along the way. We talked about mindfulness on the show about a thousand times and in order to execute on focus, you need to be mindful of the feelings that arise when you are in that kind of intentional focused space that you create, right? You've chosen to focus and when feelings come up that might break your focus otherwise, being mindful of those feelings and letting them go so you can continue focusing is the skill that we're talking about here. That's why focusing is the work. You're not focusing on the work. You are focusing as a function of your work. Disciplines require some kind of practice of control and when our focus is out of control, it becomes a product of emotion, stress and influences that we can't predict. External influences, other people, people who need things from us. When our focus is disciplined, it is the practical application of our decisions. One kind of picture you can imagine someone who is trying to focus but they keep on getting distracted and not just because they have these feelings that are overwhelming but because they have chosen to make focus a product of their emotion and an emotional state and instead what we're talking about here is making focus a discipline, a choice that you make. As a moment of inspiration, I want you to ask yourself, what are you focused on right now while listening to this episode? What is your intent in listening to this episode of Developer Tea? You can't say that you're just focused on the words that I'm saying that's not really a focus. What are you focused on that led you to listen to this episode? While you think a little bit about that, we're going to take a quick break to talk about today's sponsor and then we're going to come back and talk about how you can practically apply this idea. What is the simplest and productivity advice that I can give you on this podcast? It's not simple, it's not a hack or I'm sorry, it's not easy. It is simple but it's not easy. This isn't a hack that you can follow to suddenly be more productive. Instead, we're going to talk about translating what we've been talking about here with treating focus as a discipline into action. What can you do as a software engineer on a daily basis or on an hourly basis and then scaling up? How does that apply to the bigger picture when you're focusing at the year level or at the five or ten year level? We're going to talk about all of that. We're going to have to talk about today's sponsor. This episode of Developer Tea is supported by Square. Developers worldwide use Square's APIs. You might be one of those developers. To build solutions for modern businesses, Square makes it simple to accept payments on the web, in mobile and in person, and build a steady revenue stream through subscription programs. Square is more than a payments platform though. They have APIs for almost every aspect of running a business, from employing management to order creation and tracking, to inventory synchronization. These APIs also integrate with software business owners already use, like tax and bookings. Business owners can have an integrated software stack that empowers them to achieve their goals. To get started, building remarkable business applications, visit developer.squareup.com to learn more in creating an account. Get access to these incredible business APIs and take your application to the next level beyond just payments. That's developer.squareup.com. Thanks so much to Square for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. The simplest productivity advice that I can give you. The simplest productivity advice I can give you on this podcast. If I had to boil it down to one thing that would improve, that would kind of move the needle in the right direction that would improve your productivity. It's to determine a single focus each day. Determine a single focus each day. Even if you don't have a process of carrying that out, the process of actually determining the focus does a lot of work for you. If you're smart, if you're paying attention, and especially if you've listened to this show in the past, you probably know there should also be something larger, a bigger thing that these each day focus, that all of those things are pointing towards. That's true. It is helpful to determine a larger direction that goes beyond your daily focus to give you some kind of steering mechanisms for that daily focus. But you start at this atomic level, determining your daily focus. What are some ways to do this? Every day, every single day, write your top priority down. Write it down or take a note on your computer. Whatever your method is of taking notes. I've found, even though it's cerebral, I can take notes on my computer. I've found that if I write it down for whatever reason, it seems to stick a little bit better for me. Not everybody's the same. Find something that works for you. Start here and do it right now for the remainder of your day to day. What is the one thing you cannot let the day end without doing? What is the one thing that you can't leave work without doing? What will you not compromise on? Now if it's possible, immediately proceed and go and do that thing or do it after the podcast, whatever is most appropriate, but as soon as possible, look at that focus and then execute on it. This seems obvious that I'm telling you this, but it's surprising whenever I tell people this how few are actually practicing this. It's something that all of us can do. It wouldn't take much time at all to determine our most important thing, the top priority. And perhaps the reason that we don't is because we think this is implicitly obvious. The priority is clear to us. We know what the number one thing is or we think that this exercise is silly because we have 10 things that we have to do. We have no way of moving on through our day without at least doing these 10 things and that might be true. It might be true that you have a lot of things. The critical thing here is not to focus on the obvious things. Like if you have to pick up your children from school, that wouldn't be the thing that you put on this list necessarily. Instead, you want to focus on the things that you would do with your disposable time. What are the things that you must use that time to complete? Now, if possible, once again, immediately go and do that thing and then tomorrow morning, write it down again. What is the top thing that you need to pay attention to today? What is your top priority? Something that you cannot let pass, let slide. Now, a couple of things that this requires. It requires that whatever that thing is is accomplishable in one day. These things can be very small. It could be as simple as you cannot let today go by without paying this particular bill or without resolving this particular bug or reviewing this particular PR or sending this offer to a candidate. Now interestingly, if you do this every day and by the way, this extends beyond your work, you can go into your personal life. You can have these things on your weekends even. They can be something as profoundly simple and lacking in some business value. Maybe your thing on Saturday morning is to eat pancakes with your kids. That's your top priority for the day and you make that happen. Whatever your priority is, if you don't pay attention to it, if you don't give it space in your day, and you're very likely to let it slide, you're very likely to not practice focus. This is the decision making moment that we talked about earlier. The decision making moment is writing down this top priority and then executing on this, the focus is what happens next. Now if you find yourself constantly setting a top priority that is nearly always impeded by other stuff, you should probably ask yourself why. What is so important that you are almost never doing what you yourself say is the most important thing to you? There's a couple of things that could be happening here. One, the thing that you're saying is most important is not actually the most important thing to you. A spire to be the most important thing to you. Whatever your actions are is what shows your priorities, assuming that you are acting mindfully. If you can't align your top priority with what you say is your top priority. If you can't align your actions with what you say is your top priority, it's possible that you are kind of tricking yourself. You're trying to nail down a good priority, something that you aspire to being your priority. That's one possibility. Another possibility is that you're allowing other people's priorities to come in front of your own. What can you do to change your situation so that your priorities can actually make it to the top of that list? This is where we start using this very simple habit of determining this top priority for your day. It's a simple habit to make larger evaluations and larger behavioral changes. If you find yourself constantly not being able to meet that top priority. Again, the focus is the work. When you're doing this one most important thing, you are practicing that focus. You've made a decision about what is important and you're acting on it with discipline. That is what it means to focus. What that focus is something that happens at a moment to moment level. You cannot focus on big goals without that translating to the moments where you're focusing on small goals. Procrastination of the smallest kind will absolutely ruin those big goals in that broader focus. The focus is the work. Making decisions is meaningless until you can follow through with disciplined focus. I'm not saying this is easy. It requires mental and emotional fortitude. When you find yourself procrastinating, you shouldn't just beat yourself up about it. Just because it's difficult and you're not following through, you shouldn't say, oh, I'm just not good at this. I'm not practicing. I'm not disciplined enough. It's worth investigating why. Why am I procrastinating? Why am I not doing the thing? I know I need to be doing. Try to get to the root of it, which often is an emotional or a physical state. Am I tired? Maybe I'm afraid of something. Maybe I'm afraid of actually taking action on this thing because it means change or risk. Or maybe I'm burned out. Maybe I feel like doing absolutely nothing I need to rest in some way, whether that's literal physical rest or mental rest. Do I care about this particular priority? If not, why am I designating it as a priority to begin with? Maybe there's a bigger thing that I'm trying to get to and I can use that as motivation to do the smaller thing. Am I in need of some kind of physical or emotional care? All of these things are possible. There's plenty more that we can add to this list. Being in tune with why you're procrastinating can help you address it more than simply just trying to rely on willpower. Amazingly, something as simple as a solid lunch or a 15-minute walk can crack that procrastination behavior. But procrastination can be easier than doing whatever it is we need to break us out of that loop. To front load this problem of procrastination being the easiest route and us not being able to get out of that loop, it makes sense to schedule time to do the things that you know, recharge you, and help you mentally check in with yourself. This might mean that regular walk or it might mean having checkpoints throughout the day to look back at that singular focus and ask yourself, where am I at on this? What can I do to accomplish this sooner? Every time make sure you rest and recharge properly, don't treat your priorities as your dictator. Instead, set your priorities that give you a sense of fulfillment and excitement for the long term. Focus is the work because it happens on a moment-to-moment basis. If you're unfocused and you're scattered and you're not going to get anything done, the only way to get meaningful work done to make a meaningful progress towards your bigger goals is to focus on your smaller ones, day in and day out, hour in, hour out, minute in, minute out. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. Thank you again to Square for their support of this show. Square is more than just payments. You can find out more about their business APIs at developer.squareup.com. Every day I'm finding new and exciting conversations where other engineers are supporting and answering questions from engineers in this community. That's happening. All that is happening on the Developer Tea Discord community. You can join that community for free. We'll never charge you anything for it. It's there literally just to connect people who listen to this show and give you a forum to ask questions and help each other out. At over to developer.com slash discord to join today. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.