Fighting distractions while working

May 31, 2022    Productivity Lessons-Learned

Fighting distractions while working

I confess, on occasion I get distracted throughout the work day. It’s a hidden habit, like many others. I could and have rationalized this, but it’s time to confront it and fight to reduce this. I want to be a better employee, developer and worker. I want to “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” ~ Colossians 3:17.

A first good step is to recognize it, say it out loud to someone, ask them to hold you accountable and work to reduce/eliminate it by replacing with different habits. I suspect I’m not alone, so maybe this will help you as well.

My 8 year old son’s fighting monsters drawing

~ My 8 year old son is getting better at drawing all the time. I asked if I could use a drawing for this article.

What leads me to distraction?

There are so many things I want to learn and know about. I don’t have time to keep up with it all after work. Some of those things are crypto currency technology (investing, prices and technology), podcasts and news (especially with the war over Ukraine and USA events), Twitter (what are developers sharing), articles about programming/process (I don’t want to fall behind), writing blog articles, conversations about life with co-workers, Teams chats and probably more. These easily lead to rabbit trails and time lost. That’s not even mentioning family, life and other unforseen events.

There are times a challenge I’m working on is hard, or I don’t understand how it’s working and the desired outcome. I tend to procrastinate digging in (it’s easier to look at other things). I think, “this is hard, I’ll just check on or learn about x while I’m stuck”. Instead of stopping and asking for help or clarification, I stubbornly keep looking and trying changes. This usually helps me understand better after awhile, but the time could have been shortened.

I haven’t had to deal with lots of meetings and calls from others for awhile, but these can quickly interrupt my flow. They are necessary, but it’s hard to handle when they are frequent and aren’t consistent.

Fighting the distraction urge

I said this earlier, but my main approach is to recognize it, put it off and put something else on. I’ve also talked about it with my wife and she often asks, “How’d you do with distractions today?”

I’m training myself to recognize and think: “I’m distracted, what is really important? stop now, note that thought/article/idea for a later time, go back to your task”

Add friction: “In his book ‘Atomic Habits’, James Clear talks about stopping habits by adding friction. If you find yourself watching too much television or mindlessly on your phone, for example, then unplug the TV after each use or leave your phone in another room. The greater the friction, the less likely the habit.” ~ a quote from Reddit. (a lot of good ideas from Mr. Clear in his newsletter emails and his book).

Things I’m trying

Blocking off a time to check on my interests to get them off my mind helps. A few minutes in the morning and some time after lunch helps me stay focused in between.

Pomodoro really helps keep me focused. It’s easy to tell myself that I can take a quick break after a Pomodoro or 2.

I’ve been trying one monitor or fill the second with 8 HOURS Waterfall Sounds and Birds Chirping - Relaxing White Noise for Sleeping - Part #4 . I’ve had success avoiding seeing my email or other browser windows. It puts a small barrier between me and clicking on something that will lead me off.

I still need breaks for stretching, my eyes and my energy. Workrave application has been helpful in the past. Taking a walk with co-workers or family in the afternoon is really helpful.

I’ve started using the Chrome Extension StayFocused to block and limit my time checking Twitter. I’ve recognized Twitter as my biggest distraction and having this barrier has already slowed me down and helped me to stay focused.

Minimizing and letting go.

  • I’m unsubscribing from newsletters that I’ve gotten added to from conferences and webinars. This will mean less emails to delete!
  • I don’t really need to keep up on the news, I’ll stick with The World and Everything In It on my bike ride to work and maybe another shorter one throughout the day.
  • Do I really need to know what the stock and crypto prices are? No, especially after this week’s crash in May 2022.
  • I’m unsubscribing from emails about finding the next best stock or services to pick the best cryptos. I’m simplifying my range of investments.
  • If there is something interesting, I capture in my Obsidian notes and come back to it later. Sometimes I never get back, but I guess that means it wasn’t that important.

Faster feedback loops

I need fast feedback to keep my attention. The best way I know to do this is with Unit testing . Wallaby JS has been an extremely valuable tool to run the tests really fast. Live Unit Testing in Visual Studio is great. There’s nothing quite like changing code and seeing the results a second later.

How much distraction is ok?

Some “distractions” are good. Taking breaks (rest your eyes, go for a walk and reboot your thinking, stretching), building relationships, helping/enabling others and learning are all important. The balance is knowing when to go back to work.

Can we actually multi-task? . No, we can just switch are attention really quickly.

Developer Flow is essential for productivity. Do everything you can to stay in it, especially when it’s in your power and responsibility.

What do you think?

Please share if you have struggles or what helps you in my Tweet .

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