Focus

It’s crazy how much one can do, with focus. This morning, I found myself awake at half-past five. (My stomach was acting up last night.)

After reading for a bit, I decided to get an early start on work.

(I do this intermittent sleep thing, not on purpose, but because I have irregular sleep habits. I sleep as much as I can at anytime during the day.)

I completed one assignment, submitted it. Did some agenda planning and research, to make a list of recommendations and next steps for a meeting I have today. I looked at the clock, hoping that I’d have time to go back to sleep. And I did! Heaps!

It turns out, I had done that in less than 20 minutes. There are days when I love the duality of time. Even though the 24 hours in a day seem to go by in a snap, a third of an hour can seem to stretch for an eternity. 

If you’re focused, a lot can be done in an hour. 

Time blocking has proved to be rather effective for me. Besides helping to control my anxiety and that feeling of being overwhelmed, it also helps me to focus. 

One task at a time, don’t even think about anything else. 2000 words in an hour? No problem!

Self-care

The thing about writing is this, especially if you do it without holding back, the more you do it, the more there is. 

Since I started this practice of writing 200 words for myself daily, the thoughts and ideas have been pouring in. 

It’s not a matter of whether I’ll be able to fill the blank page anymore. It’s about whether I can get everything down in time before it’s all lost. 

Words are slippery things. Ideas are even more so. 

I initially thought that allocating time and headspace out of my day to write something that’s just for me would take away from the work that I do for clients, for business. 

On the contrary, it’s made my brain feel more elastic, stretching itself out to fill the demands of what the workday requires. 

I suppose that’s why they tell you on planes to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, and then only on those in your care. 

In the short term, it might seem selfish. But there’s a long term rationale to it. 

How can you take care of someone if you’re not around to do it? That’s why you need to survive. 

That’s why self-care is vital. 

Novelty

Last year I did a CliftonStrengths test on Gallup and it’s shed some light on why I am often distracted by “shiny things”. I love novelty and occasionally, feel myself watching myself experience something new. 

However, in a development blog that I’ve been following lately, developer Flavio Copes writes that choosing the “boring stack” is important. It helps you stay focused on the thing you actually want to deliver. 

What’s ironic, is that since I properly learned to code in 2015, I’ve spent less time writing code than I did before. Not because I’m better at syntax, no. 

(I mean, even my English vocabulary is lousy, why would I remember syntax.)

But because these days, I think about why I’m trying to build something. And before I even write a line of code, I look to see if there’s a tool — that’s cheap and easy — that I can use instead. 

And now that I’m jumping back into coding, I’m choosing languages and frameworks that I believe will support my goals better — Python, Vue.js, perhaps SQL. 

For solving problems on Project Euler — I do it for fun sometimes — my go-to language is Ruby. 

I’m learning that I have to control that impulse to keep crossing over to greener grass. 

“The grass is green where you water it,” I remind myself. 

Correspondence

This is the fourth month I’ve “gone independent” and what a whirlwind it’s been. It’s crazy how much paperwork everything in life calls for. 

It’s insane how much time one has to spend on administration. Even with the assistance of software, I’ve had to block time out for admin and correspondence. 

But spending time on clear correspondence can be valuable.

Some people say that one shouldn’t send long emails but I’d like to propose a different suggestion. Rather than have meetings all the time, sometimes a long email can be a good replacement. 

It means that the sender would have thought through the content of his/her message. The ideas contained would be more concise, better verbalised. 

It also gives the receiver the chance to read through the points, digest and provide better insights and comments, and perhaps even complementary ideas. 

Rather than bouncing back and forth during long meetings that in my experience, are usually dragged out longer than necessary, both sender and receiver are in the right frame of mind when sitting down in front of the information. 

And when a meeting actually happens, they would have already digested the concepts and ideas and can dive right into execution. 

Distractions

Today, I listened to a Foundr podcast about “doing your best work by working less”. In it, Jason Fried talked about the disruption that comes with being connected 24/7 and the subsequent real-time work chats. It’s something I’ve always hated.

Whatsapp has become like email for me, especially when it comes to work. There are always requests flooding your inbox, there’s always someone asking for your attention. I don’t always respond right away, and I don’t expect instant responses.

There are times when I’ve sent messages to someone who might be sitting right beside me, just so I won’t distract them from their task.

Friedman also mentioned that his company practices a policy called “no talk Thursdays” and to me, that sounds like heaven.

I’ve worked with people who don’t seem to understand the concept of deep work. I’d be in the middle of a task (sometimes with earphones on) and they’d speak to me anyway. A distraction is a distraction, no matter how important it may seem.

Lately I’ve realised that it’s the CEO or department head who does this (perhaps because they think whatever comes from them is highly important?) and then later complain that certain work isn’t done fast enough.

The other thing Friedman mentions is setting deadlines. While yes, I agree that people should be given the freedom to plan their own time, setting a deadline provides a set timeframe for the work to “be shipped”.  Otherwise, as Friedman said, there’s a tendency to keep tweaking.

For me, no deadline = not a priority. And I’ll keep tweaking.

Surmount

I’m not a morning person. After midnight is when my brain comes alive, even if I was up at 6am that day (only when absolutely necessary). 

When I first started work in media, I ran on three to four hours of sleep per night. Then if I needed to, I’d pay back my sleep debt on Sundays. 

By that I mean I would sleep from Saturday night until Monday morning, waking up only to drink water and pee. (Someone I know calls that “sleep-water therapy”.)

Getting out of bed anytime before 9am has always been a struggle but these days, I manage to force myself out of bed earlier. 

Although I have no fixed working hours, the main “person” I answer to is my calendar, in which I time-block periods of time to do specific work — either for clients or for my own projects. 

“If you wake up earlier, you’ll have more time to do your thing,” I tell myself. It works. 

Even an extra half hour to slowly sip my coffee, to journal, to just sit and let my mind wander, is therapeutic. 

I actively not worry about productivity, or the upcoming tasks of the day. I’ve already blocked off time to do those things — this is my time. 

Somehow, it makes the rest of the day feel more surmountable.