Six Aspects of Focus

SUMMARY: Getting started on Wednesday, I’m just not feeling the focus. When I get stuck I usually just write something to get my brain working; writing helps me linearize my thoughts, which helps me visualize what’s wrong and what can be done. This time, I become aware that there are six different challenges that I’ve hazily grouped under the focus label. For once this month I’m out of the house before 10AM. I’m sitting at Starbucks easing into the day, a few pints short of a full night’s sleep. When I’m in his state of semi-wakefulness, it’s particularly hard to focus. So I’m going to talk about focus for a few minutes.

A Quick Detour

Space Filling Calendar First, though, I came across this wonderful example of mathematics improving on the Compact Calendar: Max Froumentin’s Efficient Calendar. The “improvement” is to pack the days in the calendar so those pesky weeks don’t break up the calendar, ensuring a never-ending continuous flow of days! This is just the sort of calendar that should be included in “Welcome to the Big House” prison welcome baskets and emergency parachute survival kits, because unlike the Compact Calendar it uses the beauty of mathematics to express the meandering, days-without-end ennui of life imprisonment and the pulse-quickening briskness of doom one feels when lost in the wilderness through the elegance of space-filling curves and L-systems. I love it! Snooping around the site further, I see that Froumentin also has a picture text-orizer, which converts a photo into a “type picture”. It looks like it produces very nice results.

Where was I again? Oh yes, focus.

Focus on Focus

There a few kinds of focus that I think I’m confusing as one thing.

  • There’s focus for the sake of improving my current situation, which is to make money while working toward greater financial independence through the development of products. This is the overarching goal at the moment.
  • There’s also focus in the sense that I want to be mostly doing things that contribute to the overarching goal.
  • And then there’s focus in being able to pick just one of the multiple project threads at a time, being sure that it’s the right thing to do at the moment and that it’s OK to let the other threads rest for a while.
  • Ideally, there’s the focus that comes from being in the zone, when everything I need is within mind’s reach, and I can simply produce with great efficiency.
  • I’m also continually trying to maintain focus so I can remember what I was supposed to be doing, or making it easier to be efficient without having to think.
  • And I’m trying to maintain focus of what the end game is going to look like, so I can steer myself more accurately in that direction.

That is a giant cloud of challenges. Staring at them, I realize that I’ve attempted to solve some of the problems already:

  • For the overarching goal, I write on this blog to help keep my mind on it. The Concrete Goals Tracker mindset helps as well: I evaluate everything I do in terms of whether a particular task moves me toward client work, product development, and/or financial independence.
  • Likewise for “mostly doing things that contribute”; I have a general sense that everything I am doing somehow fits together, and I only count stuff that people can see as being a tangible result.
  • Picking just one project at a time is something I’m working on; I’m applying temporary forgetfulness, which is when I stop processing new stimuli as the source of novel and interesting brain candy. I do this by actively squashing any thought that seems interesting or fun that is not related to the chosen project of the moment.
  • Getting in the zone, I’m finding, is often about just doing away with the other distractions and actively formulating a step-by-step inquiry. I actually write a little running monologue in a text file; a recent example can be found in my wiki notes on setting up Virtual PC on Windows 7 for Web Development. The advantage of this approach is that I can pick up where I left off by reading the continuity of my project process, and I have a comprehensive set of notes that can be distilled into a how-to.
  • For remembering what I’m supposed to be doing, I’m currently using Google Calendar for meetings, Basecamp for clients, and a notebook inspired by the Autofocus4 method for day-to-day to-dos.
  • As for the end-game…I haven’t really figured that out. Yesterday’s post on Artistic Integrity and Profit may be the beginning of that.

I’ve been playing around with the idea of focus cards based on flash cards, similar to the Task Order Up but designed more like a systems map with a YOU ARE HERE marker on it. The generally feeling I have is not having an exact fix on my location, productivity-wise, in the grand scheme of things. I have tools in place for productively moving, and I can look at my progress and feel good about that, but there’s a voice in the back of my head that’s crying are we there yet?

The Plan for Today

It’s been about an hour since I started writing this post, and it’s been clarifying. However, I’m not feeling a draw toward a particular project with an immediate payoff. That’s kind of a downer. I know there are a couple of projects that I need to get done today, though, because I wrote them down in the AutoFocus4 reporter-style Moleskine. Fortunately I have it with me (I’ve been developing the habit of making sure I put it in the bag of the day). What jumps out is the iPhone application design I’m starting with Al Briggs, so I’ll start with that and allocate a couple of hours. I have a meeting in 30 minutes, but I can probably bang something out using the text file monologue technique (incidentally, I use Google Docs for collaborative monologuing). As I look over the rest of the to-dos, I’m realizing that I don’t have an “end-game” strongly visualized for them, so that’s something to work on.

Ok, off we go! I’m feeling really tired, but there’s a 50% chance that this is merely my brain trying to trick me into procrastinating more.