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2: Focus

Published 1/5/2015

In this episode, I talk about focus, and why it's so important for developers to cultivate focus. We'll discuss some pretty amazing statistics about how we use technology, and I challenge you to not listen to this podcast.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hello everyone and welcome to Developer Tea episode two. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, I'm your host and today we're talking about focus. I'm going to open with a quote from Steve Jobs and I know that you're probably thinking right away. Oh no, here's another podcast where we talk about Steve Jobs all the time. But this particular quote from Steve Jobs, I don't think is a very highly publicized one. I promise you that I'm going to limit my Steve Jobs quotes in the future. But I think it really speaks to a lot of what I want to talk about today with reference to focus. And here's the quote. People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to one thousand things. I chose this quote because I think it outlines a really important part of focus that we tend to forget. And that is that when we choose one thing to focus on, it's not just about doing as much of that one thing as possible. It's also about choosing to protect ourselves from the other things that we could choose to do instead of that one thing. For example, if you are making a New Year's resolution this year and you say, I want to go to the gym three nights a week or four nights a week, you are choosing not to do something else for four nights a week. That requires a significant amount of focus. Focus is also about commitment and about dedication, but ultimately it's about protecting that decision and focus is absolutely about a decision. I chose focus as the very first thing to talk about on Developer Teabecause I think that focus is absolutely the most important skill for Developer To cultivate. I say that without reservation, focus is the thing that is necessary to make us efficient and productive developers. It's also necessary to make our work high quality. So without focus then you can assume that your work will be inefficient, your work will be of low quality. Specifically, if you try to multitask, your work quality is going to go into the drain. If you try to multitask, you are going to realize that you get less done per day than if you were to focus on one thing at a time. There is study after study after study that backs this up. The first thing that you have to be convinced of in order to seek focus in your life is that multitasking is completely out of the question. You are not going to be able to multitask. I am going to show you this with a very simple experiment. It's a pretty common one that you find online as well. What you will do is you will take out a piece of paper and think of three of your closest friends names or just three words. Write down those three words one after the other and time yourself while you are writing them down. After you have timed this task, what you will do is you will write those same three words but alternate between those words and write one letter at a time. So let's say that your three words were apple, orange and pear. You would write the a for apple, the o for orange and the p for pear. Then you go back up and continue down the line of the letters. What you will find, not surprisingly, is that it takes you a significantly longer amount of time to do the second way than it would to just simply write out the first way. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the main one is that you are not actually multitasking when you are writing all of these one letter at a time. You are spending most of your energy switching between each of these words. This is called task switching. This is actually a very well studied thing. Task switching is incredibly taxing on our brains. There is a Forbes article that quotes a study that says that when people try to multitask, their IQ drops by between five and fifteen points. That means you are literally going to be dumber when you are multitasking. So it's not just about speed, it's also about quality. There's also another study that talks about interruption. So if you're interrupted by, for instance, a text message or somebody coming up behind you and tapping you on the shoulder, or if you interrupt yourself by maybe procrastinating and hopping over to Twitter or something like that, it takes you at least fifteen minutes to return to where you were before the interruption. This alone is enough to make me reconsider whether or not I should try multitasking. So we know now that first of all, multitasking is a myth. It's nearly impossible to multitask. It certainly is impossible to multitask and be more productive than if we were to do one thing at a time. We also know that focus is about saying no to so many other things and saying yes to only one thing at a time. Focus is definitely one of the most important skills for Developer To cultivate. So I want to provide you with very simple piece of advice as you move forward and try to gain more focus in your day to day work. Pull over push. Just remember pull over push. What this means is that your consumption of media and your consumption of emails and tasks and even conversations, they should all be initiated by you. They shouldn't be initiated by a notification on your phone. They shouldn't be initiated by your calendar. They shouldn't be initiated by another person walking up to your desk. They should be initiated by you. The reason for this is because it creates a necessity for you to choose one thing at a time to do. This means that nothing can interrupt you. If you are choosing to do one thing at a time, then you are pulling. In other words, you can go and check your email. But only when you choose to go and check your email. Actionably, this means turning off your push notifications. It means maybe putting your phone on do not disturb mode and letting your coworkers know when you have office hours, when you are available to talk. If your boss or your coworkers don't understand this, then point them to this podcast. I guarantee you that once you've given them some data and once they've listened to some rationalization about why focus is so important, not only for you, but also for them. Hopefully, their perspective will change on why interruption and them coming up to your desk and stopping you from focusing is so detrimental to your work. This also comes with a bit of a higher sense of responsibility because now instead of you not being responsible for things being delivered to you, you have to go and pick them up. That means that you can't just sit around and not check your email for five days in row and expect to keep your job. There's going to be a little bit more intentional work on your part to be able to focus, but the payoff is definitely worth it. You may also find yourself deciding to leave some things behind that you previously thought were supposedly necessary for you. Like for instance, an email digest of the 100 most important articles in the development community over the last week. Of course, it makes sense to stay up and regular with emails that come in and I hope you would stay regular with this podcast, for instance. But if this podcast, I'll be daring and say, if this podcast is causing you a lack of focus, then put it down. It's not worth it. The podcast will be here when you come back and when you have time for it. But if you can't focus, put something to death. You have to say no to a thousand things to be able to innovate according to, once again, the late great Steve Jobs. So today we've been talking about focus. If you have any ideas and tips for the community, the development community in general, but also in anybody who might stumble across this podcast, please send them in to me. You can find my email as well as a Twitter account at Developer Tea and then developertea@gmail.com. I'm using Gmail until I decide to actually buy the Google app. So developertea@gmail.com. Send me your ideas, send me ideas for topics if you'd like or if you just absolutely hated this show and tell me why. I'd love to make it better and I'd love to make a show that the people who are listening actually enjoy and find value in until next time, enjoy your tea.