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Concentration. Focus.

These are the cornerstone attributes of any (good) engineer. Because, well, engineering is hard. And it requires each of us to marshall much of our mental energies for long periods of time.

News. Blogs. Twitter.

Distractions are the enemy of productivity, yet progressively I’ve given in more and more to the temptation to read “just one more link” instead of bearing down on the task at hand.

Recently, mostly over the thanksgiving holiday, I decided to detox from all the distracting things (for me, Twitter, news, blogs … and wikipedia: oh, the timesink of wikipedia.) for a couple of weeks. 14 days. Yup.

For the first few days (ok, 5-ish) I gotta admit I was pretty messed up. Itching and Twitching, it was tough to stay away from all my … stuff. Soon, though, I noticed something. I was getting stuff done. Even if it was just reading, not even engineering per se.

I started to settle into a nice, easy rythym of … solving problems. Distraction free. And screw it if I was “missing something”.

Escape, endless distractions … and Deferred Gratification

So, the few sites I had allowed myself to peek at (e.g. motorcycle racing news) became rewards for staying “heads down”. It turns out that feeding that obsessive “just a quick check” beast throughout the day has atrophied my ability to actually stay on task. Much much more than I had thought!

Anytime a problem started to get a bit intractable I would take my handy escape path and do a “quick Twitter check” or whatever and slowly bleed away the best parts of the day.

Working long hours != working hard. My constant care and feeding the distraction beast was indeed making for longer hours, but were hardly reflective of productivity.


As an OCD/Addictive personality, now I’m finding that “runners high” of staying heads-down and working through problems is my carrot that (well, hopefully, with a bit more practice) will overcome the distraction fed sapped productivity stick.

It fits me. Like an old friend I had shamefully abandoned for the shiney bobble of “staying informed” and “staying connected” (which admittedly is harder for an INTJ such as myself)

The Practical: Implementation

  • Use Twitter, blogs and news runs as “treats” after a particular goal is met (relatively infrequently)
  • No ‘distraction minimalization’ tools – just white knuckle resolve. (not that tools are bad, just won’t work for me, I’d end up fiddling and gaming the system)
  • Email: closed mostly; open at regular intervals and triage then close.
  • Personal iOS devices: Do Not Distub is my new best friend.
  • Strictly use Evernote (latest versions for iOS / OS X are great) for raw + random thoughts to be dealt with “later”

So, that’s it. I’ll see if this sticks. Sure hope I can, I miss that “coder’s high” that only pure concentration and focus can deliver.