Field Notes #002

In yesterday’s notes, I talked a bit about trying to hot-wire my distracted mind into focused mode by using some warmup activities. And you know what? It worked!

It seems that a few minutes of reflective writing followed by a few minutes of music practice is all I need to quiet my mind.

I am going to try to repeat the same process for several more days and see if I get similar results. I am half-optimistic, half-skeptical because I find that nearly any “life hack” works for a little while simply due to its novelty factor. It’s after a few days or weeks that you discover what actually sticks.

As I worked yesterday, I noticed another side of the focus problem that I want to work on: Staying focused once you do start something.

I noticed that any significant delay that breaks my flow is where distractions start to creep in. For example, installing a new Ruby version and waiting for that to finish up, or running a test suite that takes more than just a few seconds.

Whenever I hit those “gap moments” that are too short to leave room for a context switch to another productive task, but long enough to get the gears in my head turning, it is very easy to jump into social media, or just sit there and start chewing on anxious thoughts (my perennial hobby which I need to constantly fight back against.)

I am not entirely sure how to make best use of these gap moments. But I am moving in the direction of trying to incentivize good uses of that time while throwing some friction in the way of activities that are likely to drain my focus or leave me distracted.

One easy thing I started yesterday and hope to continue is not just to close tabs to things like Twitter and my email while doing focused work, but to log out entirely. This makes it so that when that reflexive urge to go seek a distraction kicks in, you have to deal with a forcing function… it inserts a reflection point. Sure, I can just type in my password and be on my way to that quick dopamine hit if I really want to… but do I really want to? It forces me to answer that question in the moment, and I like that.

This is not enough though. I still need to find a way to not just resist unhealthy distraction but to encourage healthy activities during these little gaps. And I recognize that there is a continuum here: Sometimes cleaning up the office for a couple minutes will feel good, other times I’m going to be looking for something far less chore-like.

So it’s almost like I need to prepare a buffet of different options of the things I can do for 30 seconds here, five minutes there whenever I’m in an idle waiting loop. I’m going to give that some thought, but right away I’m thinking maybe I can dig out the big stack of “Life or Death” Go problem books I have, maybe I can print out some papers and leave them laying around, maybe I can sketch pictures of cats and rainbows for 30 seconds, etc.

I will experiment and report back!