For the past few months I've been having more and more trouble focusing. Run
vagrant up, browse Imgur for 2 minutes. Hit
Cmd+R, read Twitter for 3 minutes. Compile assets, scroll up and down Facebook for 1 minute. Finish a pomodoro, read Hacker News for 10 minutes.
It was bad.
A normal Pomodoro cycle is supposed to follow 25 minutes of intense focus with 5 minutes of rest. Four times. After 1 hour and 55 minutes of work, you take a longer break. Away from the computer if possible.
My five minute breaks were always about farting around the internet. The longer breaks I would spend doing chores or more farting around the internet.
The system has been working great since I started using it in 2011. But for the last few months ... not so much.
Interneting during a Pomodoro because "But it takes so long to load, wah". No it doesn't, you're just an idiot, Swizec. A 30 second load time is rough, but you can wait it out. Yes it feels like a waste of time, yes it's annoying, yes having good and fast automated tests would be better. No, you can wait it out.
Better to wait than to spend five minutes on Imgur every time you have to look at a loading bar for 30 seconds.
Sure, I still got all my work done. In a reasonable time even. But that shit was not up to my standards.
Worse still, it was stressing me out because I always felt like I was running out of time, and created a huge mind-drain in terms of decision fatigue.
I'm not sure why I was doing this. Maybe I was tired, perhaps I had too much on my mind, or maybe I just didn't like what I was working on all that much, probably I was addicted to random rewards
All of the above.
But! I have found a solution! The Focus app.
The Focus app does just what you'd imagine - make sure you focus. You turn it on and, poof, focused. At least in theory.
In practice it just blocks all those addicting websites so you don't have to think about it. Blocks Twitter, blocks Facebook, blocks Hacker News, blocks many popular blog platforms.
Anything you might use to waste time is gone. Turned into an inspirational quote that gently reminds you that you're supposed to be working. After 25 minutes, it all comes back.
This ties nicely into Pomodoro. The moment my timer goes bing, my browser starts loading all those tabs that were blocked.
After a month, I feel much better. I don't know if I'm more creative or more productive, but I do feel less tired. No option to visit addictive websites, no drain on the decision pool. Perfect :)
John Cleese on Creativity gives another take on why this is so important. He explains that to be creative you not only need a distraction-free environment, you need a distraction-free mind.
Now creativity can happen, because play is possible when we are separate from everyday life.
So, you've arranged to take no calls, you've closed your door, you've sat down somewhere comfortable, take a couple of deep breaths and if you're anything like me, after you've pondered some problem that you want to turn into an opportunity for about 90 seconds, you find yourself thinking "Oh I forgot I've got to call Jim… oh, and I must tell Tina that I need the report
Because, as we all know, it's easier to do trivial things that are urgent than it is to do important things that are not urgent, like thinking.
And it's also easier to do little things we know we can do, than to start on big things that we're not so sure about.
So when I say create an oasis of quiet know that when you have, your mind will pretty soon start racing again. But you're not going to take that very seriously, you just sit there (for a bit) tolerating the racing and the slight anxiety that comes with that, and after a time your mind will quiet down again.
That is what Focus helps you with. It forces you to sit there and tolerate the anxiety while you wait for the mind to quiet down.
Since I started using Focus, I've written 10% less tweets. Well worth the $20 investment.
Learned something new?
Read more Software Engineering Lessons from Production
I write articles with real insight into the career and skills of a modern software engineer. "Raw and honest from the heart!" as one reader described them. Fueled by lessons learned over 20 years of building production code for side-projects, small businesses, and hyper growth startups. Both successful and not.
Subscribe below 👇
Software Engineering Lessons from Production
Join Swizec's Newsletter and get insightful emails 💌 on mindsets, tactics, and technical skills for your career. Real lessons from building production software. No bullshit.
"Man, love your simple writing! Yours is the only newsletter I open and only blog that I give a fuck to read & scroll till the end. And wow always take away lessons with me. Inspiring! And very relatable. 👌"
Senior Mindset Book
Get promoted, earn a bigger salary, work for top companiesLearn more
Have a burning question that you think I can answer? Hit me up on twitter and I'll do my best.
Who am I and who do I help? I'm Swizec Teller and I turn coders into engineers with "Raw and honest from the heart!" writing. No bullshit. Real insights into the career and skills of a modern software engineer.
Want to become a true senior engineer? Take ownership, have autonomy, and be a force multiplier on your team. The Senior Engineer Mindset ebook can help 👉 swizec.com/senior-mindset. These are the shifts in mindset that unlocked my career.
Curious about Serverless and the modern backend? Check out Serverless Handbook, for frontend engineers 👉 ServerlessHandbook.dev
Want to Stop copy pasting D3 examples and create data visualizations of your own? Learn how to build scalable dataviz React components your whole team can understand with React for Data Visualization
Did someone amazing share this letter with you? Wonderful! You can sign up for my weekly letters for software engineers on their path to greatness, here: swizec.com/blog
By the way, just in case no one has told you it yet today: I love and appreciate you for who you are ❤️