Focus is a Superpower

In a world dominated by near infinite inputs and distractions, focus is a superpower. The ability to simply pick a task and think about only that one thing is an incredibly simple way to differentiate the work you produce.

Most of us accept that our best work is done when we are “in flow”, doing “deep work” in isolation from anything else, but it’s really hard to get there. There is without a doubt, brain chemistry in play here. Certain people are predisposed to have a have a harder time with focus, and I’d say we all are wired in such a way where intense focus is not our default. Much smarter folks than I have dug into why this is tricky on a physiological level, but I feel it’s a worthwhile pursuit to seek focus.

The goal here for me is not higher productivity, but to generate better quality output in a way that is most caring to myself. Without a pretense of any sort of arrival I’m going to focus on two things I’m personally working on right now.

Denying Synchronous Expectations

To have synchronous expectations is to feel one should always be available to engage in a back and forth communication. The work environment around COVID has revealed this “desire to be immediately available” better than anything else could. It’s shown the “distraction problem” to be not only a corporate level problem but also a deeply personal one. Before, we could blame open work spaces for distracting us, but now we’re often doing it to ourselves, by constantly (truly constantly) encouraging and seeking out distractions.

A few ideas here:

  • Instead of being available for back and forth communication, encourage modes of communication that expect time to pass between responses (think project management tools as compared to texting).
  • Make yourself unavailable. Communicate to others that you’re going to “go dark” for awhile. The more you do this, the better it will feel, and the frequency will increase.
  • Check your expectations of others availability. The intention you set with them will often be reflected back to you. As an aside, you do not want your developers to be always available to respond to you immediately. If they’re available to you during other’s work, they’re available to others during your work. Focus is likely not happening on any deep level.

Encouraging Longer Loops

We have trained our brains to require short feedback loops. Who was that actor in that thing? What’s the status on that task I asked someone to do? How is that person doing today? I’ve just started to keep a little notebook next to me when I work, where I can write down things that come to mind to do, look up or follow up on. Coming back to this list later, it’s much easier to parse through, answer questions, and revel at the ridiculousness of some of the queries.

These are just baby steps (tips and tricks, persay) on a much longer pursuit. For me, it’s both a strategic business move and a deeply personal conviction of how I work best. The louder the world gets, the more impact the quiet, focused work can have.

I haven’t fully read either of these, but the books that come to mind on this topic are Deep Work & Flow.

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