F is for Focus

Focus! If you can nurture your focus, you can improve your productivity, flow, and perhaps most importantly, take control of your time.

As someone who’s been on the frontlines (of a dev studio) and more recently, someone who’s working in a managerial role, I have found a wide array of tools and processes to help with focus. Inspired by Shahid Kamal Ahmad’s blog post on focus, I’m here to share my tools and actions (you can take) for improved focus.

I’ll get straight to some lovely lists which you easily scan for useful takeaways, as I realise the irony of hiding useful information in a mire of paragraphs requiring focus to make the most of.

Tools

  • Obsidian for list keeping, note taking and idea storing. This piece of software is a recent addition to my work/personal life management. I personally use it as my “authoritative list” of lists.
    • Magnet, clip or spike for keeping your paper lists from getting lost.
  • Noise cancelling headphones for cancelling noise. I originally bought mine for use on flights. However they have proved invaluable for shutting out my neighbour during his drinking sessions. (I have the Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2, a good midrange set with fantastic battery life)
  • Notebook within which to record thoughts, notes, scribbles and shopping lists. It’s a hard habit to get into: keeping a notebook on your person, but it has saved me the trouble of writing on the back of my hand time and time again.
  • Mushroom coffee for waking oneself up. I’ve been enjoying Four Sigmatic coffee for the past few months, and (while your mileage may vary) it’s been working for me (and it has less caffeine than plain old coffee)!
    • Reducing caffeine or in my case, cutting out ALL coffee after 12pm. At most I’ll have a big coffee in the morning, but on a normal weekday day I have a small black coffee around 8-9 am and NO MORE. I also don’t drink cola, and I’ll have no more than a few cups of tea. Why does this work? Well it’s quite the rabbit hole to dive into, in short, less caffeine should help you have better sleep, which should lead to better focus! I recommend listening to Matthew Walker for more information and actual sciency stuff.
  • Background music for flow. This is perhaps the most subjective point on this list. Whether you prefer silence, ambient soundscapes, instrumental music or metal, I think it’s worth the time investment to start a playlist (or 5) that you can easily add to over time.

Actions

  • Stoicism for grounding and serenity. Focus can be lost in a moment of surprise/disquiet after the shock of something occurring outside of your sphere of influence. A stoic can treat such events with ambivalence and continue to direct their focus towards the best course of action. I wrote a whole thing on fear and stoicism, please read it!
  • Meditation for recharging and recovery. Not yet into meditation? Start small, choose a location at which to meditate, buy a comfortable cushion, download a meditation app, pair meditation with noise cancelling headphones.
  • Intermittent fasting for focus and discipline. As someone with an addictive personality, being in an office (or home) filled with snacks was a big distraction. Having a (mostly) set in stone eating window is hugely helpful to reduce snacking. Additionally, if intermittent fasting is for you, then the (eventual) lack of hunger is fantastic for focus. Before considering intermittent fasting, I’d recommend doing your own research and perhaps speaking with a health professional; especially if you have health problems.
  • Getting enough sleep for being awake during the day. Last night I had 30 minutes less sleep than usual, and I noticed it first thing in the morning when I had to wake up for work. Again, see Matthew Walker’s books or videos for more info on this.
    • Wake naturally for easy mornings. While not possible for everyone, weaning oneself off the alarm clock is a wonderful thing. To wake up with the sun and warmth (my house lacks the latter) is wonderfully energising. It’s said one should get lots of sunlight, especially in the morning, to help with alertness.
  • Napping for recharging and recovery. Although I seldom nap, I don’t feel as though I’m wasting valuable time should I sleep during the day. I use napping tactically to avoid headaches/eye aches while still being productive in the latter half of the day. See more of Matthew Walker’s work for why napping is potentially viable in your life.

Conclusion

I have recently been reading my friend’s experiences with ADHD which has prompted me to write this article. When reflecting on their stories, I came to the conclusion that the best thing for focus (and productivity) is to understand one’s own habits and know when it’s okay to let one’s mind wander, or take a long coffee break, or isolate yourself in a corner for a bit. Remember that it’s okay if you struggle to focus when others seemingly effortlessly focus on their work. Whether you thrive in the office, or would be more productive working from home, remember that everyone is different.

I’m reminded of a certain secret agent who said, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man. True nobility is being superior to your former self.” So I hope this article can help you improve upon the “you” who hadn’t yet read this article and not measure yourself against your fellow humans.

Man standing on a bridge in the middle of the autumn wilderness
I had no suitable photo for “focus”, so please focus on this cool picture of a valley in Japan.

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