« All Episodes

Focus Week: 3 Focus Factors

Published 11/15/2017

In today's episode, we continue Focus Week by discussing factors that contribute to focus.

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 are the key factors to daily, consistent focus? That's what we're talking about in today's episode. This is the second episode in the focus week here on Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell. My goal is to help driven developers connect to their purpose so that they can excel at their work and positively impact those that they have influence over. What does that mean? That means that when you go into work or when you start your work from your home office, anytime that you engage the world in a way that is producing value, that's really what I mean by work. I don't necessarily mean your job. Maybe your work goes well beyond your job. Maybe some of your work is in open sourcing. You don't get paid for it at all. But when you're providing value to the world, my intention is to help you maximize that value. Maximizing that value not only for your own personal monetary game, but for the positive impacts on humanity. So that's the whole point of the show. And we're continuing to hone the focus of this show to maximize the value for those individuals who care about more than just the bottom line, who care about their work beyond their nine to five. So thank you for joining me. I hope you consider yourself a part of that group. And if you do, I encourage you while you're listening to this episode to go and subscribe so you don't miss out on future episodes. For example, in two days, we're going to have another episode on the topic of focus. So let's get back into the content for today. We're talking about key factors for consistent daily focus. This is not easy. Some days are going to seem easier for you to focus, right? Some days you're going to feel sick. Some days you're going to have more distractions than others. You're going to have more meetings than other days. Some days you're going to have more meaningful work. Work that energizes you more on that given day. So how can you consistently focus? I'm going to give you some advice on this subject right after we talk about today's sponsor Lynneau, Lynneau is sponsoring every episode of Focus Week. And I want to take a moment to thank them for being a consistent sponsor on Developer Tea. This has created the freedom for me to continue developing content that benefits the people who listen to the show. So thank you to Lynneau for sponsoring developers. It's not just sponsoring me, but sponsoring developers so that we can continue to have these good conversations about things like focus. So what can you get out of Lynneau? Why does Lynneau matter to you? If you are a developer and you don't have a server, you don't have a online available server for you to put pretty much any project you want to on, then you have the most to gain from Lynneau. There's so much that you learn about networking, about launching something to the public. There's so much that you can learn about managing a server, about what it means to have latency between you and that server, for example. There's so many things that you will learn by having a server and interacting with it. So if it's just for that reason, I recommend you go and check out Lynneau. They have a $5 a month plan. This is cheaper than pretty much any other monthly service you use, like Netflix, for example. And you're going to get way more value out of this as it relates to your career. So go and check it out, spec'd out of FEMS-LASH. Lynneau, that gets you a 1GB of RAM plan. You can actually launch your own personal website on that kind of plan, for example. But beyond this 1GB of RAM plan, Lynneau also offers 2GB of RAM per month for $10. You can even go up to 16 or more gigabytes of RAM, their high memory plans, for $60 a month and up. Go and check out what Lynneau has to offer. Once again, they provide everything on an hourly basis. So you're not going to pay for what you don't use. Spec'd out of FEMS-LASH. Lynneau, make sure you use the code Developer Tea2017. That'll get you $20 worth of credit. If you remember that $5 a month server, that's four months of a server, essentially for free. Spec'd out of FEMS-LASH. Lynneau, and use the code Developer Tea2017. Thanks again to Lynneau for sponsoring today's episode and this week of Developer Tea. So how do we create our lives in a way that ensures that we're focusing? How can we design our lives so that we're focusing consistently? There's a few things to note. And I'm going to go through three separate pieces of advice that I have for you today. But there's a few things to note about focus. Focus isn't just something that you turn on and off. As we discussed in that last episode, focus is something that you can actively participate in, but that you also very often involuntarily shift. And the factors that decide whether or not you will shift are still kind of up in the air. There's still a lot of research that has yet to be done in this area. But one thing is certain, there are ways to structure your life, but also to practice so that you can refine your ability to focus. And that's what we're going to be talking about today. So the first thing that I want to talk about is how do you focus when the work is boring? How do you focus when you're doing something that's mundane? Unfortunately, this is something that's going to happen to you a lot. And the problem is if you can't stay focused on the mundane task, then guess what? That mundane task is going to take longer, right? It's ultimately going to expand into a much more painful endeavor. And the mundane task is probably something that you don't want to be doing, and ultimately it's not keeping your attention. You're not actively engaged with it. And so it's basically impossible that you're going to achieve flow state. And this is the place where your brain is really kind of tuned for focus. This flow state concept, we talked a little bit about it on the show. I recommend you do a little bit of Google research on flow state, what it means and how to achieve it. But effectively, if something isn't really challenging, then you're not going to achieve flow state. And that focus is going to be interrupted. So how do we approach this problem? One way is to actually manufacture interest, right? Manufacture interest in this thing that is not really particularly interesting. And so how do you manufacture interest? Well, you give yourself a challenge. So takeaway number one for today is when you are doing something mundane that you still need to maintain focus on, create a challenge, manufacture, a challenge that will allow you to focus. A simple example of this is to give yourself a time limit, or perhaps a pace limit. This is finishing something at a particular pace. And that can be your goal. Now that creates a little bit of pressure, a sense of pressure, and a sense of achievement if you actually stay on pace. Of course, this has to be a realistic pace, but it also needs to be a challenging pace. If it's too easy, then it's the same problem that you have before. It's no longer engaging. It's going to be like a mundane thing. I do this with chores at home. I'm constantly giving myself the challenge of refining my efficiency when I'm doing chores. So how quickly can I get this particular thing done at the same quality level? Now that is something else to mention. If you're not careful with this kind of challenge, you allow the challenge to eclipse the important thing at hand. And that is to accomplish the thing you initially set out to accomplish. If you start cutting corners and you lose quality, for example, then your level of focus is now kind of wasted, right? That extra bit of focus that you manufactured for yourself was pointed in the wrong direction. You're optimizing for the wrong thing. So make sure that whatever it is, the huge manufacturer for yourself, whatever challenge you have, that you point it in a way that isn't going to undermine the underlying goal, the original goal of that thing that you were doing in the first place. The second issue that I have faced, and many others have faced very regularly in their day-to-day lives, is the problem of aimlessness, not knowing what to focus on when the time comes. And this happens in two or three different scenarios. The most important two scenarios are first when you have multiple tasks or multiple things on your plate, and you haven't really prioritized them yet, and they all seem to have similar levels of urgency. And then the second scenario is when you finish all of your tasks, but you still have energy, you still want to get something done, you still want to move in a positive direction. I have a piece of advice for you here. The takeaway is to always have a fallback. Always have a fallback. And it more specifically, always have a contextual fallback. So if you don't know what to do, for example, in the case of having a bunch of tasks and they aren't really prioritized yet, then the fallback in that scenario is always to prioritize the tasks. This is going to give you value immediately because you then have created a map that tells you what you should be doing. It gives you direction. In the case of having nothing on your plate, having no tasks on your plate, it's important for you to decide what things you need to have as fallbacks. For me, one of my fallbacks is to record an episode because I don't have a planned end to this show, there's always value to be had in recording an episode ahead of time. And the more episodes I record ahead of time, the more flexibility I have as time moves forward. It's important to have these fallbacks. Another good fallback might be exercise. If you, especially if you are trying to instill a habit of exercise, then having a good default, we've talked about this in a past episode called useful defaults, having a good default behavior, a good fallback rather than simply kind of aimlessly wandering around and choosing to do something just kind of haphazardly, instead tap into that list of things that are always going to be valuable. And the same concept can apply in your leisure time too. So if you ever catch yourself saying something like, oh, I need to do that one day, or I've been meaning to get to that, go ahead and write that down, capture it in some way, even better if you can capture it digitally so that you can have it anywhere you are. But make sure you're capturing these things because as it turns out, you probably have a list of things that you can't get done in that free time yet anyway. You probably have a ton of stuff that you actually want to do, but it's just not coming to mind. There's probably a lot of things that you could do, for example, for your business. If you're at work and it's work hours and you're kind of sitting there aimlessly wandering what to do next, then it's very possible that you just didn't take down notes. You have a whole laundry list of things that need to get done. You may have services that need to be canceled or upgraded, maybe you have platforms that are behind, they need security patches, really simple stuff like that. If you capture it, then you definitely have something you can always do to provide value in your job. This is true in every aspect of your life. Remember time is that common currency. It's the one thing that you're not going to get back. If there's anything that I recommend you become vigilant about, it's about time. If you take the time to recognize and create, design the way that you will respond when you have time that opens up. Design that response. Maybe it's learning. Maybe you fill that gap with learning. There's so many, so many options that you should never end up in a spot where you feel aimless. I'll give you the first one right now, this is the one that you can use. Create the list of things that you're going to use as fallbacks. That's your very first value generating default fallback when you have nothing else to do and you still have energy. That's the next thing you should do. Create that list of things that you can absolutely tap into. I mentioned earlier contextual fallbacks, contextual fallbacks. This means that sometimes there's stuff that you can only do at home. Sometimes there's stuff that you can only do at work. Sometimes there's stuff that you can only do when you're outriding errands. This is important to recognize because if you only have fallbacks that apply at home and you're still at work or vice versa, then you're going to end up still wasting that time. Make sure you create this list of fallback behaviors, contextual fallback behaviors. As a reference, you may want to check out the Get Things Done methods. These are ways of getting all of that information out of your head, making sure that context is applied, that prioritization is applied. This is a really important thing that you can do that's going to give you that mental freedom and focus. We've covered two things that address when you seem to not be able to focus. The first one is having mundane tasks for things that you don't really want to focus on and creating a sense of focus for yourself. This is a bonus note. I didn't mention it earlier when we were talking about the first one and creating focus. One way to help this, one way to actually supercharge that effort is to remind yourself how that smaller piece fits into the bigger hole. How does it actually contribute to the bigger goals that you have? Because there are certainly tasks that you will take on because we have a lot of inefficiencies that we still deal with, especially in programming, those tasks are necessary and they ultimately support those larger goals that you have. Make sure that as you're going through that process of manufacturing away to focus, you also remind yourself why this thing is important in the first place. If you can't figure out why it's important, then it's possible that it's not important. It's possible that you can offload that. You can outsource it or you can give it to another person who it is important to. That was the first piece of advice. The second piece of advice was to make sure that you always have a default fallback, more specifically a contextual default fallback. This is having ways to create value. There are always available to you, always having the opportunity to create value. Another one that just came to mind in your relationships, if you are not certain what to do with your time, you can take a few moments to send your family member or your spouse maybe or even a friend and encouraging texts. This is a very simple thing that you can do with extra time. Obviously, this is not about productivity anymore when you do this kind of thing. It's about taking advantage of the time that you have. That's so important. I also have a third piece of advice. This one breaks from the previous two. You may believe, unfortunately, that focus is about getting the most out of every single minute that you have. While that's kind of the spirit of focus, that can also cause a really strong level of anxiety. What we try to do in response to this is optimize ourselves. We try to hack ourselves. We try to squeeze every little bit of time out of a day. We try to minimize the amount of time that we're sleeping, for example. We try to create these systems of efficiency that squeeze every minute out of every day. If you're like me, you can end the day feeling like you're still supposed to be sprinting even though you're tired. If you're like me, you can end the day feeling like you didn't get even a tenth of what you wanted to accomplish done. You can end the day feeling like everything still needs to be running, but you're slowing down. Here's what I encourage you to do. First of all, you need to affirm that focus is not something that you practice 24-7 in an active way. Focus is something that you create and you employ, but it is not a constant state of being. You cannot constantly be focused on creating value. There's a semantic difference that I want to point out. That's the difference between focus and mindfulness. Mindfulness is staying in the moment and recognizing and being aware of that moment and not wasting your time. Focus is about having your mind actively engaged towards a goal. That's how I'm using these terms for the sake of today's episode. I wanted to make sure to point out that semantic difference. See, focus is something that takes energy. It takes a lot of intention. If you run yourself totally ragged, then you're going to end up feeling totally ragged. You're not going to be able to maintain that level of focus and that level of urgency 24-7. You're going to have a mental breakdown most likely. It's not going to end well as the point. What I recommend that you do is at the end of each day and perhaps even at the beginning of each day, allow yourself. This shutdown mode, it's a way of emptying out your mind, right down all of the things that you feel are weighing on your shoulders. Once you've written it down, it gives you a chance to see it and understand it. You can also offload it. You can get it out of your mind and move on to a less focused period. A period of mindfulness that isn't so focused on getting something done, but rather on resting or on spending time with other people on being spontaneous. There are other ways to practice mindfulness than simply focusing on an outcome. The practical advice and kind of your homework for today's episode is to write down those things, those default modes where you have that energy and you have the ability to focus towards an outcome, write down those default contextual responses for each of those contexts that you have. For me, I have work and I have home and I have the gym. These are different contexts. Sometimes I even consider morning a different context from night, different types of activities that fit inside of those. Going right those down, that's going to help you immensely. I also want you to take time today to stop focusing on outcomes and instead, just be mindful. Then some time resting. Give your brain a chance to revive and recuperate from the heavy lifting that you did earlier in the day. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. Thank you to Linode for sponsoring this week of Developer Tea. You can get $20 of credit by using the code Developer Tea2017, head over to spec.fm slash Linode. Once again, if you consider yourself to be a driven developer, these are developers who care not only about tech, but how that tech affects people. You care not only about how good your code is, but why your code should be good. You care not only about how much you get paid, but what you get paid to do. These are things that kind of define driven developers. If you're a part of that group, first of all, thank you so much for choosing to spend your time listening to this show. Secondly, I invite you to continue listening in the best way to make sure you don't miss out on future episodes is to subscribe in whatever podcasting app you use. Thank you so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.