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How do you stay focused in a distracted world?

jmfayard profile image Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ ・1 min read

Photo: Sisyphus trying to read all its notifications

I often feel that the hardest part of my programming life is to stay focused in a distracted world.

  • Facebook, Twitter and a whole industry is working hard and smart to make us Hooked notifications junkies
  • Group Chat is making me sweat
  • Most of us are still working in Open Offices despite studies clearly pointing out that it's a false good idea.
  • There are so much cool tools I could try out
  • There are so much projects I could launch

How well do you cope with all of this?

Personally I have tried a lot things, and they help, but it still feels like a never ending battle.

Credits: The title is inspired by Cal Newport book

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World


Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

If you feel like it, please help me choose what I should write next.

Discussion

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kcarrel profile image
kcarrel

I am a huge fan of the Pomodoro technique although I typically go by a 45 minute work sprint/10-15 minute walk/break instead of the typical 25 minutes. I also really love a nice focus playlist + noise cancelling headphones to help eliminate office noise and get into flow.

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Gleb Skibitsky

I always focus on one task at a time with notifications and distracting websites/apps blocked. I made this tool to automate this process. Also, I plan my day ahead and try to keep to the plan as much as I can, so I do most of the things that I planned. Still looking for better ways to focus and finding the best ratio between focus and leisure time.

My iPhone allows me only 15 minutes of social networks and I limit my information sources to a few group chats and developer communities. Adding additional friction (i.e. not having dev.to bookmark and putting the app on the third screen on iOS) helps to use media less :)

Personally I have tried a lot things, and they help, but it still feels like a never ending battle.

What works best for you? Would like to learn your tricks :)

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

What works best for you?
Would like to learn your tricks :)

I don't actually manage to avoid distractions.

But I got better at getting back on track.

I ask all the time: why is thing important?

When I feel overwhelmed, I write down a list of projects to avoid doing now so that I can focus on a realistic set of next tasks.

I make a BaseCamp or Trello board to have an overview of what I could do. Seeing it all at once helps me prioritize.

Doing meditation helps a lot. I use calm.com/

Walking outside is also great.

I avoid social media.

I wish I would avoid news, but I read too much of it.

On my smartphone I use a minimalist launcher

I write a blog post here to be inspired by what others are doing :)

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chris_beef profile image
Chris B

I have a daily list on trello, no social media during work hours, listen to music to drown out open office distractions and turn off all sound notifications as they really annoy me. If really busy will ignore email/slack for a while. Apart from the annoying pms who send a a slack message and then run round to talk to you about it!

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Richard Schloss

I gave up TV in January 2019. I think that single change made a world of difference for me.

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Lautaro Lobo

Yeah, no TV makes you free of a lot of things. Less social pressure, less bad news on your head means more positive thinking, less distractions which means more productivity...

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

Good decision!

For me that would be giving up reading so much News, but for now I failed at giving that up!

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Akshay Mukadam

Same here, its very much that I am obsessed that cannot end day without reading it

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Austin S. Hemmelgarn

Bit of a different approach here, but I stay focused by not working on the same thing for too long. It's rare for me to have fewer than half a dozen things on my task list, so I take something similar to the following approach:

  1. Pick whatever the highest priority task is and start with that.
  2. Work on that task for some unit of time (often an hour or so) or until it's completed (whichever comes first), then note how much time I've spent on it.
  3. Take a short (often 5-10 minute) break, then pick a new task as follows:
    • If something urgent came up, start working on that.
    • If there are tasks with fixed deadlines, pick the one with the highest ratio of time remaining until the deadline to time spent working on it (IOW, whichever one I've spent the least time on relative to how soon it's due).
    • If I'm not having issues focusing and nothing urgent has come up, continue with the previous task.
    • Otherwise, pick the task with the least time spent working on it, weighting towards higher priority tasks.
  4. Return to step 2.

Of course, the logic I use is a bit more complicated than what's listed above (I also factor in how much longer I think a task will take and give exclusive priority to anything past it's deadline, as well as shifting the time unit based on priority (giving longer time units to higher priority tasks)), but you get the general idea. Aside from helping me stay focused, this also helps ensure I don't forget to work on things, and helps make sure people don't end up feeling like I'm ignoring them.

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Josh Duffney

I 100% agree, dealing with distractions is the hardest part. I blogged about my journey into this concept a few years ago now, but it's a constant battle to improve. Deep Work was the second book I read on this concept. I'd also recommend the following:

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

duffney.io/DetachingFromDistraction

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John Peters

stayingFocused = function(){return this.LoveWhatIDo;}