As a developer, here’s how I’m more mindful of distractions in the quest of achieving quality work.
I've recently been reading the books Dopamine Detox and a sample from Deep Work. The most important thing I've learnt is the importance of protecting our attention. This is fundamental to be able to focus for a long stretch of time.
Checking emails, Twitter and other social media give us a form of dopamine that makes us feel good at the moment. We feel instant gratification. However, now, working on important but relatively boring tasks such as updating the next user story or adding a new unit test is not as interesting.
As a professional Software Developer, when I’m tired, I subconsciously have the habit of checking trivial things such as emails or social media in general. On doing light work, like changing an HTML element or running a set of test suites, this is fine. Nevertheless, for deep work - involving complex systems and/or learning new things - then even a slight distraction is fatal.
Sometimes though, my biggest concentration gap happens when I run End to End tests, which take a while to complete. I have a whitespace slot of time. As a result, I automatically go on sites that do not require much attention.
Additionally, updating the tests themselves are relatively easy without requiring much concentration. Nonetheless, this can become a bad habit as a tiny distraction might stretch to a few hours if I'm not prudent.
A recent example is I heard that Microsoft is dropping Xamarin. Wanting more information, I opened a tech news site to better understand the situation as we use this framework for mobile development at work. Within minutes, I've already navigated to another technology news website - relevant to my industry yes - but not directly concerned for me to complete my work.
Therefore, At this point, even a reminder suffices.
Blocking vs Mindful
On additional research, I stumble on two types of focus tools namely blocking and mindful. With the first one, once you block certain websites and even apps for some time, there is no way to access them (unless you go on drastic measures such as restarting your computer).
For the former, they don't specifically block anything but rather add friction to the experience. They show another screen, for instance, questioning your choice or closing a tab after a few minutes. Each time you want to use them, there is some form of additional step to take.
For me, I'm highly motivated by my work and am on a quest on Kaizen. Therefore, I don't plan on using distractions and letting the day go by. Instead, I try to make every day count. However, even useful websites or applications might be bad for focus. Maybe a tiny nudge is enough. Moreover, the friction is oftentimes enough for me to just drop the intention (or subconscious habit) and continue my work.
What am I trying to block?
Websites I'm blocking or being more mindful of:
- Google itself: as I keep getting ideas throughout the day and just opening one leads to another thing that breaks my focus
Tools I'm experimenting with
From my research, Freedom looks like the best tool but it's costly. At this point, I don't wish to invest in such a tool despite the excellent benefits.
I also notice that such tools are lacking in both quality and quantity for Windows OS, yet there are plentiful for Mac.
Cold Turkey is another highly recommended one especially for controlling both Websites and Desktop Applications.
I don't use my mobile phone much during work as it has a small screen. Furthermore, being an old model and slow like a tortoise - leaves plenty of friction to regularly use.
I otherwise leave it in another room or put it in the drawer.
The worst that usually happens is I miss an important phone call. As a result, in this case, I simply call the number back whenever I can free my mind.
Chrome and Firefox extensions
This extension doesn't block but reminds me of the site I'm using and things I could have been doing. I find it a nice deterrent
Pause from Freedom
This tool does not seem to work well, sometimes the website is loaded. For me, I just wanted a similar extension just like the one above because I've found it quite helpful.
Next on my list:
LeechBlock NG looks like a nice solution. It just blocks everything for a particular amount of time.
Focusing on work for long hours is fundamental to succeeding nowadays due to the ever-changing world. And, not managing distractions can become fatal to such lofty goals as we will constantly find ourselves chasing temporary distractions at the expense of getting real work done.
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