Focus-mode considered harmful

I have, at times, been a practitioner of turning off notifications, superfluous applications, and other distracting computer softwares so I could “get things done”. Sometimes it works! However, I have come to suspect that perhaps it is obscuring a greater problem.

I’m just not focused.

Maybe my task is tedious, my project is poorly-defined, or I don’t have a thread to pull on in order to get started. Whichever it is, the world’s greatest distraction-free, focus-enhancing software isn’t going to fix it.

What I really need is something imminent. A show-and-tell with my team, a milestone to deliver, an item to cross off a list, something to publish for the world. I need a goal and it really helps if I need to achieve it in the next few hours.

Yesterday, I worked for a couple hours towards a show-and-tell with my team. I had Twitter, Campfire, and Rdio open. One or more of these are a possible distraction. But, I knew none of them was going to make my demo better, and so even though I flicked over to them occassionally, I flicked back immediately and got back to work.

No one wants a deadline, but a date and an expectation can prove more useful than I had previously thought.

4 thoughts on “Focus-mode considered harmful

  1. I’ve found that using the pomodoro technique ( helps me to focus. I can use the five minute breaks to check my social feeds, and with the continuous nature of the system it’s easy to start back in on task when the break is over.

  2. I’ve tried Pomodoro and do something similar now. I work for about fifty minutes, then take a 10-20 minute break to read a real book, go for a walk, play with the dogs, annoy my wife, make coffee, whatever. It doesn’t help my focus, but it does keep my energy up throughout the day and gives me a time to let distractions in, should I choose.

  3. A rather provocative title. I didn’t read anything in there about how focus-mode could be considered harmful, only that having small, well-defined goals (or tasks) are preferable for your workflow.

  4. Touché. I was just experimenting with the internet’s traditions. A better title might have been “Focus-mode considered insufficient”.

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