Staying Focused

Most of us know when we’ve been working in the flow. Time ceases to exist, and often seems to have flown by when we stop working. We may not eat or take a break, just focusing on a problem and tackling it in a very single minded fashion. Whether this is a development task or some infrastructure effort, we can achieve flow.

At the same time, many of us struggle to find the flow in a busy workday of meetings, interruptions, music, slack messages, and more. Attention is a commodity, and one that many of us struggle to focus on a single task. We may find that if we do achieve flow and something interrupts us, then we struggle to get focused again.

When I give presentations and talk about remembering what code we wrote or changes we made last week, plenty of people will chuckle along with me. It’s a challenge to remember what we were last doing, especially when we move to more DevOps style work with small chunks of tasks being completed. Even coming back to work the next day, after an evening of family or hobby time, can be distracting.

How do you get back into the flow quicker? There are lots of books and advice around, but I thought this programmer’s look at how to keep himself organized around a busy life was interesting. He uses some tools, primarily based around software coding, to help remind himself quickly of not only what tasks need to be tackled, but where he was in the flow of the work. In some sense, this reminds me a bit of Andy Warren’s efforts at keeping SQL Saturday organized.

Flow is hard to come by. To me, this is one reason why more workers ought to have private offices and less meetings. A developer or DBA in the middle of the zone, working in the flow, needs to be left alone. That’s the most productive time for them, when they are most efficient and valuable. More organizations ought to try and foster this, not inhibit it.

Steve Jones

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