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How I Get Focused

One of the most important skills to have in development is focus. It’s when you are so caught up in solving a problem, that when you lay your head down at night you dream about it. However, It can be hard to dedicate brain power to a single problem. Especially if you have a mild form of ADHD as I do. “How do you channel your energy in one direction?” you might ask. I’m glad you did.

You might think I am crazy but I turn off all my notifications. Slack, Email, Phone, Calendar. Any device or application that can deliver notifications I have turned them off. I read up on what I have missed on my time just as everyone should. What’s the point of asynchronous communication if you think you have to respond right away. Squeeze every ounce of focus from your mind first and then waste brain cells trying to catch up in #general.

I follow the Pomodoro Technique when I need to buckle down. The idea is you spend some amount of time, usually 25 minutes, focused on a problem and then take a short break after that time is up, usually 5 minutes. This is helpful for a few reasons. For one, you are forced to break the problem down into ~25 minute increments. Anytime you can break the problem down into it’s constituent parts it makes solving it more manageable. Secondly, solving a difficult problem can be mind numbing. After spending an hour or two on a problem you sometimes stray away from your original intent. Shortening the focus time and taking a break in-between allows you to re-evaluate what you have been working on and actively assess what needs to be addressed next. This should help ensure you don’t wander down the rabbit hole that leads to no where island.

Usually in-between my pomodoro sessions I take a nice stroll. Sometimes I think about a problem I am working on and sometimes I take time to myself. What’s nice is that the physical activity of walking gets the blood flowing and activates my brain, turning on receptors that were previously dormant. I can’t count how many times after taking a walk, when I come back, I have a good idea of how I am going to solve the problem I was just thinking of in my previous pomodoro session.

Sometimes the above techniques are not enough and you have to bring in the heavy hitters. What I like most about meditation is not that it directly helps you to focus, but rather opens up space in your mind to think creatively and deeply about a problem you are trying to solve. I like to think about mediation as taking out the garbage but for your brain. We have all of this extraneous junk in our mind blocking our flow. A solid twenty minute session is good enough to clear up the mind and get it primed for the challenge ahead.

There are a number of distractions in this modern world and they only seem to be growing. Take control of your focus and you take control of your time. Well intended focus sessions are great not only for work but also for feeling accomplished. There are a bunch of apps out there to help you track and log your sessions as well. If there are any techniques I missed feel free to mention more below!

Happy Coding!

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