I have lately been thinking on focus. I’m a person hard to keep the focus on something. Since I started as a developer I always want to know about how things work, about new programming languages, libraries, … I wanted to keep up with everything and that led to points when I didn’t have the focus on anything. And that’s something really bad. You want to develop but your mind is thinking about the conference you have in one week. Or you try to solve a problem and Slack is pinging you with some notifications from your colleges.
Being a developer and keeping the focus is hard. Bytes of information flow in front of us day after day, second after second. We’re constantly connected and depending on our personality we might want to be even more connected. Does it happen to you as well?. I tried to understand the source of the problem several times before, tried to address them with some solutions but any of them worked: Meditation, todo lists, pomodoro… They didn’t work because they are not good practices but because I didn’t stick to them at all. I started doing meditation and after a few days I just stopped. With todo lists some days I’m a fully TODO guy and I write everything I have to do that day/week but later on I don’t check it. Can I prevent this somehow? This is the reflection I want to do on this post, maybe writing helps me to find a solution.
As any other problem the first thing I should do is trying to understand the source of the problem, answer the why. There are several reasons why I lose the focus very easily. The first one is due to what I call real time distractions. Some examples of real time distractions could be push notifications (those that you receive in your not silenced smartphone), notifications from your desktop applications (Slack mentions, Facebook new tag, a mention on Twitter, emails). These distractions are the worse since they move your focus out of your current one. If the frequency is very low you might continue with your work without major problem but as the frequency starts increasing, then you don’t have any focus. Time passes and you don’t do anything.
In the world of social networks frequency can quickly increase as you get involved in one thread of social interactions. Someone mentions you and then people starts commenting the thread. Bum! a bunch of notifications floating on your screen.
The second group of reasons includes these free-time projects. Because you want to keep growing, learning and experimenting out of your daily work. I tend to get involved in many projects, either if they come from outside or they come from my own ideas. Ideas are always floating around and I can’t control them. Whenever an idea comes up I just get the computer or any other thing I need to make that idea reality and start working on it. That’s something really bad since your focus move very quickly. As a developer it happens to me very often:
- Libraries that you implemented and you have to maintain because there are some projects depending on them or developers asking you for more features.
- Conferences that take place and you want to follow up. For example [WWDC].
- These conferences you applied some time ago and you have to prepare, and prepare some resources and examples so that you make it worth it for everyone attending.
- The language that you’re trying to learn. Or maybe that one that you already know but you’re trying to get better at.
- New patterns, libraries, articles that are published, shared by your friends,… These articles everyone is talking about but you don’t have time to read or spend some time trying to understand them.
- Articles you want to write, ideas you want to implement, … This is a never ending list whose limit is very hard to define (for me)
I’ve got to these points when I got overwhelmed. Not to get burnout at all but just enough to say: Ey Pedro! You need a rest. These happened to me not that often before but lately they are very hard to control. There are so many things to do, so many things to keep up with, that I’m not actually doing anything. Time passes and my motivations goes down. Has it happened to you before?
It’s impossible to keep up with all the things that surround us. There will always be a new pattern, programming language, library, and cool stuff that you can learn or work on. We live in the information era, more are more things come up everyday. Trying to ask our brain for keeping up with all of them is like asking for running a marathon, day after day. We’re killing our mental health.
In these moments we need something very simple and important, focus. No real-time distractions that get your thinking out of your current focus. Do only one thing at the same time, and if there’s no time it’s also fine. Think about your life quality.