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Not So Trivial: Things That Can Kill Your Focus

Published 3/3/2017

In today's episode, we talk about how even seemingly trivial things can be incredibly important for your focus.

Today's episode is brought to you by Linode. Linode Provides superfast SSD based Linux servers in the cloud starting at $10 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 temperature is it in the room that you're currently sitting? Is your desk cluttered or is it clean? What did you eat for breakfast this morning or have you had breakfast this morning? How much sunlight are you getting today? These may sound like trivial things, but in today's episode we're going to talk about how the trivial can actually be more important than we expected it to be. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and you're listening to Developer Tea. Thank you for joining me today. I want to take just a moment and give a little bit of credit to a book that I've been reading for some of the thoughts that have been on Developer Tea recently and will continue to be on Developer Tea. The book is incredibly rich. It's called Thinking Fast and Slow. It's by Daniel Coniman. If you've never read this book, by the way, it's very good and it will make you feel both much more enlightened and also much more aware of your shortcomings. A lot of what I'm going to be talking about today, you can find some kind of reference to in Daniel's book, The Thinking Fast and Slow. Daniel Coniman is a Nobel Prize-winning economist, by the way. The book is a lengthy read, but it is certainly worth every minute. I've been incredibly engaged by the book. I highly recommend that book if you haven't read it yet. If you haven't checked the temperature in your room yet, you may be surprised to find out that the optimum temperature for a given room for the highest productivity is around 77 degrees Fahrenheit. How did we come up with that number? It wasn't by studying the human body. It was actually done through a behavioral study. It found that people who were in colder environments tended to make more mistakes. This was published as secondary research by Buffer. I read the article on it. Very interesting thing here is that people also report that even adding temperature modification, such as the heating pad or an ice pack, can greatly increase the morale of your team. What is it about temperature that matters so much? Or a better question, let's zoom out a little bit from this picture. Why is the trivial so important? Or when is the trivial so important? We like to think that we have a good mechanism for understanding the importance of a given thing. That our brain can sort through what is and what is not important. When we've done that sorting, when our brain is done finding the most important things, that we can then subsequently focus on those things. The problem is we're ignoring a large part of the way our brain works when we think this way. In particular, we're ignoring the physical nature of our brains. Our brains are wired to be as efficient as possible. This is what we've talked about in the past on the show. We are wired to take shortcuts with our brains to immediately take for granted, for example, our route to work each and every day. If you want a more dynamic day, then it's possible that simply taking a new route to work will fire up your brain. What do I mean by fire up your brain? Well, quite simply, you're going to have to think a little bit more on that new route to work. Our brains also have the unique ability to be connected to the rest of our body. The rest of our body is sending signals to our brain. Those signals have to be processed. So if you're hungry or if you're cold, or maybe you ate something that doesn't agree with your stomach this morning, or maybe there's some kind of thing that's happening in a relationship that you haven't resolved, or maybe your desk is simply cluttered. All of these things enter your brain in one way or another. It's all through physical means, your senses, your sensing the things around you, and as those things enter your brain, your brain is processing them. Now, on the flip side, the side of us that thinks we can prioritize well. We don't like to think of our brain as something as physical as it is. And this is where we get the label of trivial. How do we actually get a hold of this? Or at least how can we become a little bit more aware and try to make space for focus? That's what we're going to talk about right after today's quick sponsor break for Lin-Od. One of the ways that you can increase focus in your life is to simplify things. There's nothing more simple when it comes to server processes than Linux. Linux does one thing at a time, and it does one thing at a time very well. That's exactly what Lin-Od provides. Lin-Od provides Linux in the cloud. Not only do they provide Linux in the cloud, but they do so at an incredible rate. Specifically, Lin-Od is offering basically double what most competitors are offering in terms of RAM per dollar. This is really the common bottleneck for most servers unless you have a ton of stuff that you need to put on the server. If you have a simple application, most of the time your bottleneck is going to be in the RAM. Lin-Od's base plan. This is for $5 a month. This is their base plan. For $5 a month, you get a gigabyte of memory. This is double what most people offer on their low end plans. Their high-mary memory plans start at 16 gigabytes for $60 a month, and they've upgraded their storage from 24 to 30 gigabytes on their 2-gigabyte RAM plan for $10 a month. $10 a month will get you 30 gigs and 2 gigs of RAM. That's an incredible deal. You get full control on these servers. They run on native SSD storage on a 40 gigabyte internal network. These servers are built on top of Intel E5 processors. These are the things that if you listen to Developer Tea, you know this about Lin-Od, but if you have been listening and you've been holding out, now is a fantastic time to get your base server started. Lin-Od is offering you $20 of credit. When you check out and use the code Developer Tea2017, that's all one word Developer Tea2017. If you use that base plan, that's four months, an entire third of a year for free just for using the code Developer Tea2017. Go and check it out. Spec.fm slash Lin-Od. Thank you again to Lin-Od for sponsoring Developer Tea for quite a long time now, by the way. Lin-Od is a highly valued sponsored to Developer Tea. A huge part of the reason why Developer Teahas been able to continue doing what we do. We're very thankful for the people over at Lin-Od. We have this dissonance between what we think we're able to do with our brains. We think we're able to sort through what is important and direct our attention and our focus into what is important. We like to think that our brain is just as capable today as it was yesterday to solve problems. But there's amazing statistics and studies. They stack up, if you Google this stuff, the studies stack up and basically show that your environment and the things that are happening in your life have a massive impact on your ability to reason, on your ability to focus, and on your ability to do good work, specifically in that previous study about temperature, we're talking about error rates. Writing bugs happens when the room is colder. It sounds like an oversimplification, which is probably why our brains reject this idea. We want to live in an elevated state. We don't like to think that the temperature has an effect on something that we are writing, especially if the thing we are writing is in our brains non-trivial. The thing that we're writing is something that we are intentionally focusing on and we've forgotten about the temperature in the room or so we think. The problem is our brain is still processing the temperature in the room. So how do we get over this or at least how do we become more aware of it? Well, the first step is listening to today's episode. Luckily now you have at least engaged the idea that your brain is not only a product of what you have directed it to do, but also a product of the environment. There's a few other very practical things that you can do to best prepare yourself for a given day. One of the things I like to do, I like to spend some time, some introspective time whenever I feel overwhelmed in particular, and hopefully this is kind of when I'm at that massive limit, the high level limit of my cognitive ability. When I get super stressed out, when I feel anxiety, when I feel frustration, I like to take a moment and try to search my brain actively, search my brain for the things that I think are stressing me out. I write those things down and this simple process of writing this down takes it out of my brain and puts it on the paper. This is how I visualize it. I remove that thing from my brain and I put it onto paper in order to deal with it at the time that I decide to deal with it and this sends a signal to my brain to that it's okay to stop processing this idea. Now whether or not this is actually effective, this is mostly anecdotal from my position. I've heard of other people doing similar things. For example, Donna Miller talks about on his story brand podcast. He discusses the idea of writing down the things that you are looking forward to today. At the beginning of your day, it may be that you are procrastinating because you're waiting for something good to happen and you don't really want to be working and so you're waiting for something good to happen and you're giving yourself minor rewards throughout the day by procrastinating. And ultimately you don't get your work done. His idea is that if you write down what you're looking forward to, that gives you the ability to know that something good is going to happen that day or know that something enjoyable will happen that day. This is something that I've tried and it has been effective for me. This is kind of on the positive end of the spectrum. On the negative end of the spectrum, there are things that I can identify that are stressing me out. And sometimes if you've ever felt this way and this is kind of the source of anxiety for me and for a lot of other people, that somehow you've forgotten to do something or that somehow, you know, something has slipped through the cracks and it's going to come back and haunt you later. If you take a moment and actively engage the things that are in your brain that you are intending intending to do for the day and you search it and you can't find something, this is kind of a final sense of release. This is what I've found it to be for me. A final sense of release that I have actually dealt with what I needed to deal with today. So, practical tip number one is write down the things that are either stressing you out or that you can look forward to today. Preferably both both the positive and the negative end of the spectrum kind of emptying your brain out. This has actually been studied for a few other types of efforts. The get things done practice, the GTD, if you've ever heard of it, they are a big proponent of this, getting everything out and into a manageable state. So, that would be step number one. Take some time, write it down or use, I actually use Quip for this. Quip is not a sponsor of the show, but it's worked out really well for me. So, I'd recommend Quip or any other note application that you have access to writing things down also tends to help me because I can draw on the margins and point things out and underline them very easily. So, I connect well with drawings, not everyone does. So, try things, see what works for you to get things out of your mind. And that's kind of the active engagement of those either subconscious thoughts or things that are stressing you out that you don't want to really deal with or actively engage. Perhaps take those out of your mind, put them on paper, even if you tear that paper up, the process of getting those things out of your head and articulated is kind of a healthy process. Tip number two to deal with this incongruence between our processing side, the side of our brains that we believe is kind of our ourselves, our thinking, brain, and dealing with how our brain is actually physically engaging the world. Tip number two is to quite simply clean up the area around you. There's a significant amount of study that shows that clutter that it actually affects our ability to focus. There's not a lot of expounding I want to do on that other than to say, even if you feel like you are okay with the clutter. The statistics and the studies effectively show that your brain is not okay with the clutter, that it's actually having to process those things. So try cleaning up. There's very very little bad that can happen from tidying up the area, at least actively engaging the things and putting them in a place that was meant for those things. If you want to read a little bit more on actively engaging and cleaning up your space and the benefits of cleaning up your space, and it goes into more depth about owning too many things and materialism and that kind of stuff. Go read the book, Essentialism. This has been recommended to me by quite a few people. I actually haven't read the whole thing. I have read snippets and summaries of the book, but it deals with the subject of eliminating clutter and removing the extra things that we have in our life. So tip number one, write everything, get it out of your brain, write it down, put it on paper or in your computer, make sure that it's in some tangible format where you have created a visible representation of these things. Sometimes these things will end up being converted into actionable tasks, by the way. But that process of getting it out of your brain, stuff number two, quite simply clean up the area around you. And tip number three, make sure you are getting enough water and exercise. All this seems obvious, but once again, we put this stuff into a bucket. We put water into a bucket of triviality where it wouldn't affect our mental state. We don't think at least intuitively, we don't believe that having slightly less water than we really need, that that's going to affect our ability to focus or that not exercising for a couple of weeks isn't really going to affect our ability to focus. The statistics once again greatly disagree with this. A very simple proof of this idea is that if you were to go without water for multiple days, then eventually you would actually die. And it's also true, on the other hand, that if you drink too much water that you would die, but the basic concept here is that the amount of water you take in does affect your well-being and your well-being affects your ability to think. And this is really, this comes down to our fundamental physical needs. And if we aren't meeting our fundamental physical needs, the things that we often like to, once again, sequester into this bucket of trivial, if we aren't meeting those things, then we are unable to think clearly when we are unable to do our best work. Water and exercise, pretty much everyone can agree on those two things, but really those are standing for meeting your physical health needs. That's incredibly important to your ability to focus on a regular basis. There are so many other things we could have talked about today. We could have talked about issues of mental health. We could have talked about other environmental factors. We could have talked about monetary factors. There's no way we're going to cover it all in today's episode, but I wanted to give you kind of an idea of what direction you can be thinking in order to deal with some of these problems. Thank you so much for listening to Developer Tea. Thank you again to Linode for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. Once again, it's a great time to jump in if you've been holding out on buying into Linode. Go and check it out, Spectat FM Slash Linode. They have a one gigabyte plan for $5 a month. They're giving you $20 worth of credit, which means you get four months, effectively, for free on that one gigabyte plan. Once again, Spectat FM Slash Linode. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. You can find everything related to Developer Tea and other awesome shows on Spectat FM. Do something today to level up in your career. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.