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Building Focus
Feb 19, 2017
4 minutes read

Lately I feel like I’m beginning to become somewhat overwhelmed with the number of separate projects that need managing. Here I record some strategies that I’m trying so that I can enjoy life more with a greater sense of focus, while also becoming more effective at accomplishing my goals.

Organization

In my job it is essential that I can always know my obligations for the dozen or so projects that require my direct intervention on a weekly basis. In pursuit of handling this diverse workload, I’ve adapted the GTD method into a single master Trello board. The details of my strategy is worthy of it’s own post, but it allows me to structure and remain mindful of my work.

Early in my career, I’d usually have one main task to accomplish, generally impementing application features, and I could handle interruptions as they came up. Slowly, my job has gotten to the point where this strategy simply no longer scales. My system allows me to manage incoming requests, delegate them, defer them, or file them. The ultimate goal of the system is to cause me to always work on the most productive thing at any given moment.

Under GTD, my daily routine settles into three main activities:

Gathering

New tasks arrive continuously throughout the day from email, chat apps, meetings, bolts of lightning, etc. These interruptions would previously derail me. Now I file them in an incoming list, and go back to what I was doing. Notes from meetings are processed and put in this list as well. Emails (received via gmail at my company) are hyperlinked into a card in my list, and the email is archived.

Processing

Three times throughout the day, I clean out my incoming list. This involves going through all of the cards in the list sorting them into their appropriate projects. If they’re simply useful pieces of information, I file those on another board.

Working

The rest of the time I’m either in meetings, or working on tasks. My board allows me to see existing projects, flag up extra critical items, and select a task from among all of my obligations that will move my goals forward.

Exceptions are often made, some tasks are of critical priority and can’t be delayed, bot overall the system works. It trains you to be mindful of the work that you’re taking on, and puts weight into accepting new tasks.

Monotasking

I used to listen to podcasts while doing almost anything. For monotonous activities like laundry or driving, this is an amazing thing. Over time, however, I found that my default behavior was to just have them on all of the time at home. This eventually extended to absurd moments like trying to listen to podcasts while also reading a book. Same goes for social media. Reading twitter while talking to someone on the phone. Updating facebook in between sets at the gym. This is a waste of my time, so I’m stopping it. From now on reading twitter, listening to podcasts, or anything else will require 100% of my attention span. In theory this will force me to make more conscious decisions about how I’m spending my time, which will likely keep me from doing useless things like reading twitter in the first place.

Time Boxing

Applying some simple timers has also been helpful. The real difficulty, however, is respecting the timer. For time-boxing (a-la the pomodoro technique 🍅) you absolutely must kill the timer when you fail to focus for the whole period. The ability to resist distractions must be trained constantly, and time boxes act as an incentive, a goal. It’s a minor consequence for breaching the contract with yourself. Tracking these over time can provide a fun gamification that helps the habit stick even more.

Conclusion

These are three strategies that I’m implementing now, but productivity is a continuing journey. What strategies have you tried?


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