Focused Work

Paul Brown • March 5, 2016 11:45 PM

There has been some discussion lately on some podcasts lately about how we can be the most productive in our work. I've recently made some intentional changes in these areas, and hearing these conversations in other places has made me think even more about it. Three things stuck out to me:

• Work, don't play, in your office

Having a dedicated space for work is important. If your office is also the room where you read books, play games, or color with your daughter, then you may find yourself wanting to do those other things instead of the actual work that needs to get done. Those other things are important, but it's important to do them at appropriate times and in the appropriate place.

• Keep your office free of distractions

This is similar to the first point about having a dedicated space for working, but it's more about what external things could make their way into your environment. In the latest episode of Cortex, CGP Grey talked about how when he works at home, even the slightest distractions (like his wife coming home from work, or the delivery guy dropping off a package) can totally derail your productivity. These things are far from being bad things (in fact many are good), but they are terrible for productivity.

• Extreme productivity can only happen in finite bursts

Grey was talking about this "productivity burst" after having taken a trip to Amsterdam to shack up and get work done in a hotel for a few days. Now, this is a bit extreme to me, but the logic makes sense. He had an extended amount of time where his schedule was extremely rigid/stable, and this allowed him to focus. This effectively put him into productivity overdrive. This isn't something you can do for very long, but in short spurts it can be very rewarding.

For me, I have recently realized and experienced some of this in my own life. To start with, I bought a 5K iMac (which, by the way, has ruined me for all of my previous computers) that can be dedicated to my Objective Jellyfish app development. I had previously been doing work on my laptop, where I do everything else, so I knew this would be a good change.

Having a dedicated development machine puts a wall up between my "just messing around" computing and my "I'm getting work done" computing. That helps isolate things, but there's one other benefit that I hadn't thought about. It means I can leave my developement-related apps and all my browser tabs open, and when I leave and come back, things are exactly where I left them. This makes it so much easier to get my brain back to where it needs to be.

Another system my wife and I have implemented is that I have a set time when I work on my business1, and it's a time of (mostly) no distractions. Right now it's just a couple hours, once a week, after my daughter is asleep. Combine this with the dedicated machine, and I can sit down and get right to work for a decent amount of time.

I've already seen some big benefits. In the last month, I've release two updates to Easy Grade, and another one has been submitted to Apple for approval. Compare that to seven updates in the last three years!

So far I'm very pleased with these changes. It will be interesting to revisit this post in the future, and perhaps see what other kinds of systematic changes I can make.

  1. At the Release Notes Conference, Rachel Andrew gave a talk in which she made the point that we should treat our projects as first class citizens. My friend Michael wrote up a nice post about that talk here