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The distraction's killer

brendalimon profile image Brenda Limón ・2 min read

In every activity that requires full concentration, I have a problem, distractions.

Now that I've started coding, I have to face a lot of distractions, because I can't code without my laptop (or can I? 🤔). The most common is Youtube, Netflix, or WOW (World of Warcraft 😍). Usually, when I just can't concentrate I take a 20 minutes break and then I keep working, but a lot of times those 20 mins. become in 1 hour, 2 hours, and I get mad because of the time wasted, and I can't keep working.

I tried the other way, when I don't wanna work I give me 20 mins. of full work and if there's no progress then I take a break. Sometimes the 20 minutes turn in 3 hours, that's awesome, but also sometimes I just can't.

I listen always the same playlist in Spotify because it's a way to know how much time I've been working, I listen to the whole musical of Hamilton, that's almost 3 hours of concentration and after that, I can take a break of 1 hour, I keep Youtube and Netflix block, that's the most useful strategy till now.

The distractors are not only online. When I'm home I take a nap, eat, clean, instead of focus. To get out of a comfort zone, I go to coffee shops, does that also happen to you?

How do you get focus? Can you concentrate more at home or outside? At what time do you prefer to work? what's your strategy or advice? I know there's nothing stronger than discipline, but we always need some help to keep it.

Thanks a lot!

Hugs & Husky love! 🐶👩🏻‍💻

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Brenda Limón

@brendalimon

I'm Brenda! A frontend developer. 👩🏻‍💻 I'm From Mexico 🇲🇽 ❤️videogames ❤️writing ❤️code ❤️mexican food ❤️dogs

Discussion

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I haven't done this in a while, but the Pomodoro technique works really well for me when I need to maintain focus or keep at a task.

Basically, it works like this:

  1. Decide on the task to be done.
  2. Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
  3. Work on the task.
  4. End work when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
  5. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 2.
  6. After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.

Like you said, it's important to get out of your comfort zone. If you work from home a lot, it's easy to want to stay at home where all your comforts and routines are. I've found that it's super helpful to make a specific space in your home that is meant for work. This could be an entire room turned into an office, or a table you always sit at. As a fellow gamer, I made it a point to not sit at the table where my desktop is, although if your laptop is the same one you use for gaming and coding, that'll be another challenge.

That said, I still focus a lot better when I get into the office, so I try to do that as often as I can. Also, I think finding the best working hours for yourself are important, although that's hard if you have a job that has set hours. I tend to be more focused in the mornings, but I'm struggling to wake up early enough. :( Habits are hard to break, but having a goal in mind and not wanting to feel guilty about how I spend my time gives me motivation.

Anyway, that's what I do, hopefully it's helpful for you!

 

Certainly there will be distractions anywhere you go. I feel the same way as well, be it friends who constantly message me, or that lingering thought about that next episode on Netflix. However, I do find that if I force myself to beat the distraction for the first 30 minutes into my work, I will automatically be focused throughout. It's like getting a car over the first uphill and letting it roll down on its own afterwards. Maybe that's how it works for you as well when you are listening to Hamilton.

I also remove any social media/distracting app icons on the desktop of my phone (or make it very troublesome to access) so that I won't even bother lol

 

My phone is always on silent and I even disabled vibration. Either on Windows or Linux, I use virtual desktops to manage my projects. I have one virtual desktop per project (and one for “stuff“). Usually I have multiple browser windows open, regarding to a certain issue about the project. My problem is often the opposite: How do I get myself to not forget to drink/eat/pee while I‘m programming?

 

I've been working remotely for about 4 years now and getting routines has been important for me to keep focus. At start I had a harder time to focus on work but starting the day by taking a shower, making the bed and clearing the dishes has helped me a lot. I feel that these small distractions can make frustrations over nothing if just left as is.

I can't relate to having issues with Netflix or similar as I keep one computer for personal and one for professional. There was a certain time I was bit hooked on random browsing on the phone. I put the phone away in another room and only let myself only use it during the lunch.

 

There are a number of tools you can use to block access to sites that you find distracting (I use StayFocusd, a Chrome extension).

You can also track how long you send on productive/unproductive activities with Rescue Time.

Finally, one thing I do from time to time is take the laptop to a different location (library, coffee shop) where there's Internet access. I don't bring a charger so I have exactly "one battery" to get my work done. No time for anything else.

 

I found that the pomodoro technique has helped me. It's pretty simple. Just set a timer for 25 min and then take a short 5 to 10 min break. Have a predefined task and work on only that task. If I finish early, I usually go over what i did rather than start the next item I need to do. I do about 4-5 of these intervals usually wearing headphones with some instrumental music playing. At the end of that last one I take a longer break, usually 15-20 min. Then repeat.

Lately though, I've gotten a little away from this and probably should get back into it after reading this. Thanks!

 

This book really helped me, and I intend to use it to influence the culture wherever I end up next: The One Thing

 

Another book recommendation in the same line would be "Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction" by Chris Bailey. I listened to the audiobook version; really awesome practical advices in there!

 

Sorry about that broken link. 😉 I fixed it.

 

Beyond hacks to change your local mental state (e.g. music and other things people suggested), I find big picture understanding is very helpful. Why am I doing this? How does this connect to my project goals, my organization's goals, and most importantly my goals? Staying focused isn't particularly useful if you're working on wrong thing, and often working on the right thing can compensate for lack of focus because it's so much more productive.

(Long version: codewithoutrules.com/2018/05/20/st...)

 

Hi, Brenda. The schedules have never worked for me. Instead, I set small goals and don't stop until I complete them.

Btw, I also played WoW many years ago, it's very addictive.

 

What does the trick for me in most situations is noise canceling headphones and this soundtrack (youtu.be/CMnIsnINckU). Now I'm very sceptical of the supposed science behind the binaural waves thing, but for me it provides a pleasant backdrop that will actually fade to the background unlike other types of music which always pull me back out of my work with some chord progression or cadence.
Also when it's over after 1 1/2 hours it's always a good time to take a break.

 

I agree that discipline is what it mostly comes down to. You've got to create a set of rules and force your brain to follow them. It is simple, but also very painful in the beginning. 😓

 

The problem I see is that your "break" still involves an electronic screen (either your laptop or mobile). This is one of the most common mistakes I see at work.

Electronic screens are distracting - especially social media. So even though its technically not working - it still leaves you drained at the end of the break.

My suggestion is to keep the way you are taking your breaks but instead physically move to a different space while on a break. This could be going on a balcony/play area etc.

Its important to not use a mobile phone or any such thing. Look outside at trees, people watching etc. get lost in your own thoughts. It allows your mind to unwind and rest and do whatever it wants.

You will surprised at how effective it is.

If you need any more help - feel free to reach out to me here or on twitter.


PS - I am all about applying such mindfulness techniques as above to workplace in order to become a more productive engineer. I am writing a book (self.debug) about it and I think it will help you as you start your software engineering journey. You can download it here. It has a free option if you want to use one - but I absolutely love it when readers pay for it - nothing encourages an author more than people willing to pay for their work.