I’m focusing on writing a blog entry right now. The most important concept is to look at one task at a time and — TOUCHDOWN Raiders!! Fuck yes! Winning season this year, I swear to god!!
Oh, I’m also streaming an NFL game in the background, but it’s okay because I’m good at multitasking. Over my tenure of being an Internet user, I have found that my ability to focus on many things at once is quite — Interception!?! Goddamn it! The last ten years of being a Raiders fan has been like falling in love with the wrong woman over and over (and that woman is a drug dealer).
*click* Alright, fine. I can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. Probably, neither can you, but humans are stubborn, and when you get in the practice of having 15 tabs open at once, or youtube in the background, or a girlfriend constantly snuggling up to you to get your attention, we as humans pride ourselves on our skill of multitasking.
Multitasking is a myth. It should be called multidistracting. When our brains switch contexts enough to fully emerse ourselves in a situation or task, it takes time. If I’m deep in code and I get an IM asking me where I bought my awesome hat, I might tell the story about how I picked it up in Europe, or I might simply think about the story about how I picked it up in Europe, but when that IM is over and I’m staring back at the code once more, I have no idea what I was doing. I have to reteach myself the algorithm and then start again. A block of code that should’ve taken me an hour to write has now taken me an hour and a half. After I finish writing that chunk, I might google hats that are similar and think about getting another. Or I might think, “There’s only 20 minutes until lunch, not enough time to finish another ticket.” Or I might be frustrated about that code taking so much of my time that I find myself demotivated about future tasks that day.
That’s time I don’t have.
Here are some general tips I use throughout my workday to keep myself focused on one thing at a time:
1. Sign out of facebook immediately. Chances are, you’ve accidentally signed in through the multitude of sites out there that require facebook to login.
2. Turn on invisibility mode on chat/AIM/jabber/adium/whatever. Keep it on invisibility mode for the rest of your life. If people want to contact you, there’s email. I don’t want IMs about hats able to reach me while I’m working. If you must chat because that’s part of your job, use IRC.
3. If it moves, minimize it. Nothing but my cursor should be moving. Spotify lives in minimized mode, as does Colloquy, Sparrow, web browsers (except for the tab I’m working with). Turn off your Growl notifications for anything non-critical. Speaking of music, do you need to listen to it? Personally, I work best with no music at all, but I work in an open office environment, and there is a constant roar of conversation happening around me, so I tend to play music as the lesser of two evils. If you do listen to music, find something that will not distract you. Insane Clown Posse produced by Jack White, probably not the best background music. I find lyricless remixed video game music to be a good fit for me (It feels like I’m playing a video game all the time).
4. Prioritize your life every day. Getting shit done requires constant vigilance. Nobody likes a person who wipes their ass before they go to the bathroom. It’s just uncouth. Being organized means you have a better chance to tackle emergencies that are not on your schedule. Because let’s face it, getting close to finishing is not the same as finishing. It’s a huge let down, much like the Bills of the 90s (Shit, I’ve had the NFL streaming turned off for 15 minutes now and football is still in my head. Distractions are powerful and long-lasting).
5. Change your /etc/hosts. Go to a new line and type 127.0.0.1 www.reddit.com right now. Do this for techcrunch, news.ycombinator, ars technica, facebook, twitter, and any other site you find yourself mindlessly opening throughout the day.
6. Buy a todo tool. Yes, buy one. Do not download a free one. I use an app called OmniFocus not because it’s good (which it is); I got it because it’s expensive. I mean, it’s a goddamn todo list, how complicated of an app could it be? If you get the iPad version + Mac version, you’re looking at least $100 for the app. Why did I choose an expensive one instead of a free one? Because I’ll be angry at myself if I spent a bunch of money on something that I don’t use.
7. Lose your phone. Your phone is the worst thing that can happen to productivity. It’s full of entertainment (and bullshit apps). Sure, you can respond to an email, or schedule something on your calendar, but that’s for when you’re at a cafe later, or forced to go to an opera with your girlfriend. Not at work. Never at work.
8. Maintain a steady energy level. Listen, you’re not a machine despite what you’ve heard. You’re going to get sleepy. Combat that with caffeine. Not too much because it’ll interfere with your ability to think straight. A coffee in the morning and a tea after lunch sounds about right. Oh, and for lunch, don’t eat like you’re a Sunday morning churchgoer at Denny’s. All you need is a little to keep you going. I’ve also found that sitting all day is a real drain on your energy. Get up, walk around a bit, or just don’t ever sit down.
9. Save your willpower. Willpower is a tricky thing. You spend all day not eating the ice cream in the fridge. It’s chocolate chip cookie dough. It’s pretty much like an orgy in your mouth, but you resist. 7 o’clock PM rolls around and now you’re on your way home. Some asshole cuts you off, but you don’t honk because you’re above that. Your neighbor’s dog won’t quit barking. You want it to kill it with an axe, salt it, and eat it, but you don’t, because that would be rude. Your mother calls and complains (for an hour) that you never call her (so you make plans not to pick up the phone the next time she calls). Your roommates are bitching that it’s your turn to take the trash out. Suddenly, your boss calls and asks if you checked in your commit for ticket 555, so you respond with, “Why don’t you look in the fucking git logs and find out for yourself?” Bad move. You’ve depleted your willpower. It would’ve been better to eat the ice cream, honk at that guy, yell at your neighbor, tell your mom you’ve been busy, and throw the trash all over the ground than to snap at your boss. Save the willpower for things that are important.
10. Learn when to say yes, and when to say no. If someone comes to you everyday and asks you to help them with their dev environment (the same problem they always have), the answer is no. Don’t catch the fish for them; teach them to fish. If someone asks if you can build an iPhone app for the company even though you’ve never built an iPhone app in your life, you say yes (and then you work your ass off and learn many things very quickly). Now you know how to build an iPhone app. If someone asks if you’re a god, you say ‘YES!’ Because after you look at your OmniFocus for the day and see what you’ve accomplished, you’re going to feel like one.