Engineering the focus system to ace any projects
As a developer, sometimes I found myself lost in a big project that requires to build small projects. And sometimes, they turn into big as well. It is scary to look back and forth then see how many they are. I used to squeeze every drop of energy and burden to work on tasks. It’s not healthy.
In short, to maintain focus in the long run, I developed a system that adaptable to distractions, and burn out. Then reinvent it every time a new change happen. My productivity improved and I’m able to complete more works than ever before.
Being focused is often understood as only do one thing at one given moment. While it’s true, it is not efficient to get a ton of things completed. For the record, we have about 10 to 20 minutes each focus moment(*). And like it or not, we can not always “just get back to focus”.
I knew I needed a “system” that can maximize my focus to work on things. One that can help me to start and complete any projects in the most effectively way. And every good system has this one thing in common, they are adaptable to changes and disasters. In other words, they can scale.
How to create a scalable “focus system”?
Like any other system, when considering about scalability, we need to know how it operates. Also, think about changes and disasters that are likely to happen. Then based on current circumstances, design a scheduling system that can survive.
If you can’t avoid change or disaster, allow it into the system and design ways to solve it too.
In a Talks at Google show in 2017, Sam Altman — the president of Y Combinator incubator, shared a piece of advice. As we should think more about the right thing to work on. Besides, people haven’t figuring out their own personal rhythms of productivity (video).
Be able to adopt changes
Changes are events that will likely to corrupt your focus under normal circumstance. For instance, it can be distractions, procrastination, or you get tired.
To deal with distractions, I’ll decide whether is it worth the attention, or not. I ask myself a few questions: (1) Does it related to the project? (2) Does it help with what I was doing? (3) Would it still matter in (x) year time if I am not doing it now? It would definitely be worth the time if the answers are 3 yeses, or better to move on if there is only one. Otherwise, I’ll listen to my gut.
Don’t crash when disaster comes
Disasters are things that destroy and leave the focus system hardly be able to restore. For example, burn out — it is ugly, demotivated, and sometimes make us question about what we are doing.
Burn out is usually caused by using all the energy you have, and squeeze every last drop of it. Then you are left with a dull mind, and unmotivated to even walk out on the street.
I found that there is no better way to deal with burn out than to prevent it from happening in the first place. Before running out of energy, I need to drop everything and do something else to fill it back. For example, taking a break, go for a walk, even a short trip or any of my hobby activities. As soon as the energy level is filled up, I go back, picking things where they were left and continue.
Another important thing is your health and daily habits (eating, exercise, and sleep). Try to maintain them well. It will affect your mood, performance and also speed up your recover time (*).
To sum up, maintain focus like you maintain a system. Build it around your schedule and strictly follow it. For the long run, the system needs to be able to cope with distractions, procrastination, or burn out. By allow it to happen and then get back to being focused. Last but not least, be aware of unexpected things that break the cycle, and reinvent the system to adapt.
Over time, your system gets mature and there will hardly be anything that can stop you along the journey.
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