Current events make my “Not Groundhog Day Resolutions” report seem like a distraction from the core issues that people have on their mind, so I’ll keep this draft as short as possible.
The Month in Review
Last month, I started my “singular focus” experiment, which is based on the following conditions:
- Accepting I have limited discipline to focus my attention.
- Accepting I am innately distractible.
- I will apply my limited discipline/attention to a single goal (in this case, mastery of software development through my billable project work). This is about 2-3 hours a day.
- After I exhaust my limited discipline/attention, I accept that non-intentional behavior will happen and that’s totally OK.
- Continuous project-focused communication is necessary to maintain interest.
- Continuous documentation is necessary for maintaining focus.
- It’s totally OK that I am not as smart and agile as I think I “should” be. This is the state before learning happens.
- I must accept that learning is a time-consuming and unpredictable process, but when followed it produces the knowledge that paves the path to mastery.
These worked very well for the entirety of May:
- For my singular focus of getting good at software development, I booked about 40% more hours than normal. However, I am still far behind where I would like to be on my projects.
- I maintained a daily morning habit of meeting with my sister every day virtually over Zoom.
- I maintained daily presence in the Virtual Coworking Chatroom, and have been pleased that our members continue to evolve the space to their needs.
- I have remained healthy and in relatively good spirits despite the pandemic.
However, at the beginning of June I experience a hard productivity crash. I think it’s because of the following:
- Despite my singular focus, my head is filled with concerns for (1) other people’s needs; (2) upcoming meetings/appointments; (3) ongoing ambiguous responsibilities with no closure. These concerns prevent me from maintaining the clarity of mind I need to stay productive.
- There is no return of energy from handling these concerns. They just deplete my reserve.
- The daily morning habit is not working with my schedule, because it is both (1) an additional focus and (2) breaks my day into parts too small to do the difficult parts of the project.
- The number of overlapping concerns has prevented me from starting my work with a clear head, and this has produced tremendous resentment that has no where to go.
COVID-19 and CIVIL UNREST are, of course, also on my mind. A lot of mental energy is going into assessing the situation and overcoming the anxiety that comes from weighing action against physical danger. I can forgive myself for being less productive…in the grand scheme of things, getting better at software is really not very high on the list of things to give a crap about. However, following through with this experiment is one way for me to “hold it together” during these stressful times, so let’s keep going.
Prioritization, Triage, and Letting Go
My version of “Singular Focus” was supposed to help me improve the utility of my limited focus by removing as many mindful distractions as possible, counting on my natural distractibility to inject unplanned distractions into the day as soon as my discipline for the day expired. And this worked pretty well; I think I’m going to keep doing this.
What Singular Focus didn’t do was prevent me from being concerned by all the other things that I felt I didn’t have a choice about. These were ongoing responsibilities and social bonds that are important to me, but the mere act of participating in them disrupts my fragile attention span. I imagine this is a familiar situation with people who are introverted and/or are on the ADHD/Inattentive spectrum. What happens after a hard crash is a HERMIT MODE period where I completely cut myself off from other people for a period of 1-2 weeks so I can get some work done in isolation. While this helps get me back on track, the cost is severe erosion of social bonds. I am not particularly pleasant to be around, am robotic in tone and emotion, and this has the side effect of making people feel unwelcome. This is a terrible pattern and I want to break it.
The Month Ahead
For June, I’m thinking of applying what a few people in the Virtual Coworking Chat practice: prioritizing tasks instead of managing them. While this might seem a subtle distinction, the difference that matters to me is that prioritization implies choice of what to keep and what to drop based on the situation. Management, by comparison, implies optimizing to solve multiple problems because you DON’T have a choice.
That said, I’m not sure if I have a choice. When I first started the “Singular Focus” experiment I was hoping to find a good way to balance all the things I wanted to do by unplanning stuff that was going to happen anyway; I was distractible already, so let me just focus on applying discipline in short bursts and be OK with distraction afterwards because hey…that’s the way my brain works. However, I did not address all the underlying challenges of managing all the non-work tasks and responsibilities that I have no choice about. This has built to the point where I’ve suffered the hard crash, and now I am forced to perform triage by going into HERMIT MODE isolation. The pattern repeats again.
One course of action comes to mind: LET GO of a lot of responsibilities that I believe I need to maintain. It’s possible that the EXPECTATIONS I have of myself are unrealistic. Do I really need to devote 100% of my attention to every problem all the time? I have a tendency to try to pour myself into a problem completely, and this is really draining. I have a desire to try to provide the most comprehensive and thought-out solution to even the most trivial of questions. I had a college professor who used to ask me “what’s the good word?” every day, and I would freeze in my tracks to review the entire time period since I last saw him so I could give him a succinct and meaningful answer. He would marvel at this, and I would marvel at how automatic and excessive I was. He really was just saying “How are you?” and I could have said, “I’m good, you?” Duh.
I guess I have never really learned to moderate my attention appropriately, a vestigial nerdiness that remains both as a superpower and a curse. So, the second thing I’m going to try in June is to moderate the power of my attention so it is not face-meltingly intense all the time, recognizing that maybe people don’t even WANT that level of response.
Taking all the above into account, here’s the additional operating principles for Singular Focus 2020, adding to the list at the beginning of this post.
- Prioritize and triage instead of manage. This means choosing what to do and dropping the rest. If it’s important, it will come around again. I have limited resources and there’s no way I can do them all without suffering another hard crash.
- Moderate the amount of attention by task type. Social interactions may not need 100% intensity, so maybe they will be less tiring. Even serious interactions may not need the 100% treatment. See how little I can get away with, and play it by ear.
I am really not sure what this will feel like, or if I even know how to do it. I’m making a note to check-in on myself next Saturday on June 13 to see how it’s going.
So that’s it for today! Not a whole lot else to report.