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Finding Resonance

Published 6/2/2021

What specific components of your situation have an outsized effect on you? What resonates in a given scenario? This mental model will help us understand and come to accept why sometimes things just "click."

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The way we work has changed forever. In each episode of Remote Works, Host Melanie Green, tells an insightful story about how people and companies are adapting.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Most software engineers have an intuitive understanding of the value of focus. You have probably experienced this yourself working on a complex problem. Maybe you were trying to understand a complicated sequence of events. Or maybe you're trying to implement something that you've never implemented before. Work with the tool that you've never worked with before. The list goes on. And focus was critical in that moment. And you have probably felt the pain of that focus being broken. In today's episode, we're going to talk about a model that kind of explains why focus can be so much more important than simply the time that it takes and how breaking focus is not just taking a moment off. And it doesn't just apply to focus. We're not going to only hone in on this one subject. We're going to talk about this as a more general concept so that you can recognize when this pattern emerges again. 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. So this model that we're talking about, the idea is very simple. Focus as a software engineer doesn't just increase our productivity linearly. In other words, let's say that you had three hours. And for the first two hours, you focused and the last hour you were distracted. Maybe you were distracted for the full hour. In fact, you could even say that you work for two hours and then the last hour, you do almost nothing. And if you were instead to say that you're going to work for three hours, but you're going to be interrupted every 10 minutes or even every 25 minutes. The first example where you have two hours of pure focus time is almost certainly drastically more productive. We're not talking about twice as productive. We're talking about on the order of 10 fold more productive. Now, we're not going to rehash probably the things that you've already heard about the importance of focus in deep detail. We'll kind of gloss over that for a moment. The simple idea is, of course, being that once you have all that information in mind, if you were to be interrupted, you would have to kind of spin the time to get back into the context. And the context switching takes a lot of that energy. Instead, I want to focus on this pattern that emerges. The idea that when you are focused, you're not just slightly more productive. You're not incrementally more productive. You are exponentially more productive. If you were to chart this out on a graph, you would see a very sharp curve that goes, depending on how you are graphing it, maybe down if you add interruption or up if you remove interruption. So what exactly is happening here? Well, there is a mental model that we can draw on from physics, specifically the physics of sound waves. And that model is resonance. You're likely familiar with this idea that there is a frequency that a person can sing and a particular note at a particular volume that will break a wine glass, let's say. And this is actually true. There is a frequency that the wine glass will resonate at and as it resonates, the vibrations produced by that resonance will break the glass. But here's the critical point and how this model emerges. If you were to change the frequency, even if you were to change it slightly, if you change the frequency of the note that's being played or sung, then that wine glass will no longer resonate. And the kind of variance here can be very tight, depending on how perfectly made the glass is, it might be resonating at one or two very close frequencies. But generally speaking, it has to be very, very close. And the fall off on either side of that is drastic. This kind of reminds us of the idea of focus. There are situations that we put ourselves in that can drastically improve our productivity. Not just stepwise, not adding a little bit to it, but instead multiplying it. You might call this finding your groove, you might call it flow states in sports who might say that somebody is hot, what's common in all of these is that the productivity, the performance is significantly better. It's not just a little bit better, it's not just a few steps ahead, it's, you know, leaps and bounds beyond. We're going to take a quick break and then we're going to come back and talk a little bit more about how resonance might show up and what you can do about it, what can you be aware of and watch for to use resonance both for you and to avoid it hurting you. Today's episode is sponsored by RemoteWorks, a podcast that tells extraordinary stories of teams that made the shift to flexible working. The way that we work has changed forever, then not just because of the pandemic. In each episode of RemoteWorks, host Melanie Green tells an insightful story about how people and companies are adapting. Last season, an episode called Preventing Burnout outlined the challenges and rewards of working remotely during the pandemic. In fact, a recent study found that 75% of workers have experienced burnout and 40% said that their burnout was a direct result of the pandemic. But what if we can't see the signs of impending burnout? Burnout is not gone. Now that we are coming out on the other side of this, burnout is still going to happen. What if we don't recognize it when it's happening? We hear firsthand from someone who has been through burnout, as well as expert advice on how to recognize it and what can be done to prevent it from happening again? This season, RemoteWorks explores a lot of new ground. For example, in episode 1, we pull back the curtain at Major League Baseball for a glimpse of how America's most beloved pastime is working remotely. So here, how the MLB has had to adjust just about everything they do from new rules about how we gather to virtual fans and stadiums. We'll look at how they've embraced this new world of flexible work. I also listened to an episode recently of RemoteWorks about your desk. I really love this episode because it was so nuanced. We'd like to talk about the specific details and psychology on this show. This was right in line with that. If you've ever looked at your desk and you're wondering, what does my desk say about me? If you've ever looked at somebody else's desk and wondering, why do they have a desk that is so different from mine? This episode might give you some insight into that. Go and check it out. There are so many good episodes with lots of ground covered on this incredible podcast. Search for RemoteWorks. Anywhere you listen to podcasts and we will include a link in the show notes. Thanks to RemoteWorks for their support. So we talked about ways that resonance kind of reflects our ability to focus. That if we can avoid distraction, if we can get into some kind of flow state, then we are modeling that idea of resonance, where we are resonating with our work or our productivity is kind of going through the roof relative to if things were even just slightly different, slightly off from that focused state. But resonance can also model things that we want to avoid. As an example in the real world of resonance, when you're manufacturing an object, particularly let's say a heavy machinery, and you have one component of that machinery that produces some vibration, some consistent vibration at some frequency. Well, anything that touches that component will have that frequency kind of forced onto it. Now you want to avoid these two components having resonance. And it should become pretty clear why. Remember the glass breaking before, when the tone, the resonance is forced onto the glass, the glass begins to oscillate and eventually it oscillates enough that it kind of breaks apart. Well, if you have a component of a machine that is pressed up against another component, then the second component has resonance with a frequency that the first component is producing. Well, it's possible that the second component will rip itself apart as well. One example of what this model kind of mirrors in our focus lives is the idea of a trigger. If your anxiety, for example, is triggered by a particular thought or a particular image maybe, then it's possible that your negative resonance here is totally destroying your productivity. I do want to be clear that we are talking about metaphorical frequencies here, not literal frequencies. The concept, the concept is that there are some things that have outsized effects on our functioning everyday lives. And this is true, not just about productivity, but it's also true about other areas that we might care very much about. For example, there is pretty good research. And if you haven't read it yet, I certainly encourage you to read James Clears book, Atomic Habits. But there's good research to say that our habit triggers could fall in this category. And we have some particular element, some event, some kind of situation that has an outsized effect on our behavior. In the case of a trigger for a habit, you might start a whole chain of other behaviors just from that one trigger. So here's what I want you to do. I want you to imagine the different scenarios where things go to the extremes. This is both in the positive direction and in the negative direction. Try to recount two or three of these on each side of that, the positive and the negative. And if you can deduce what factors you believe either led up to or contributed in the moment to those extreme states and then play it out in your mind. And as you're simulating this again, as you're kind of reliving the events, remove some of those factors. Imagine the event with one or two of those factors changed or removed. And try to figure out which of these factors seems to be that thing that hasn't outsized effect. Which of these factors has that resonance? Some factors seem to be close to universal, for example, focus. Other factors may be very personal. Whatever these factors are for you, it makes sense to pay attention to them both as they are today and how they evolve over time. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. Huge thank you to Remote Works. You can find Remote Works season three. Anywhere you listen to podcasts, of course, we will include a link to Remote Works. Thanks again to Remote Works for their support of Developer Tea. Thank you for listening to this show. This episode is one of three that will come out this week. So I encourage you to subscribe and whatever podcasting app you currently use. If you want to discuss this episode and other ideas that you've heard on this show or other podcasts or books or in your daily lives, any of that is game. It's all welcome in the Developer Tea Discord head over to developertea.com slash discord and contribute to that community. Thank you so much to those of you who are already contributing. It's very exciting to be a part of that. And it's way more chill than the average community, I think. So I think that if you enjoy this podcast, you will probably enjoy participating in that discord community as well. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.