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Focus Training

Introduction

You know that good feeling when developing software, and you are in the flow. The goal is slowly approaching, and you are making progress. You are learning new things, and time flies. Boring or tedious tasks that may not initially be so fun are not like that. When I was working on those tasks, I found myself interrupted by my habits of checking the news sites or grabbing a new cup of coffee. I was looking for a tool to help me focus more and train my ability to do it for longer periods on boring tasks.

Cold Turkey

In my pursuit to find a concentration helper tool, I came across Cold Turkey. The application is straightforward. You configure the app on what constitutes distractions and start a countdown timer, and Cold Turkey will block those distractions for that duration. There is also an extension to the Microsoft Edge browser so that Cold Turkey can also block websites.

Cold turkey makes it hard, really hard, to unlock it again. I have tried other apps that were too easy to unlock.

Why does it work?

I heard a story about one author that struggled to finish his book. The deadline was approaching, but he was constantly procrastinating and putting it off. He ended up booking a back-to-back flight ticket from Australia to Paris. He would continuously write on the flight just because there where absolutely nothing else to do except watch a crappy film or eat bad food. He was deliberately putting himself into a position where the mind knows it is pointless to do anything else. Booking a flight every time you need to focus would be a costly habit. Cold Turkey can somewhat simulate the flight trick.

Focus training

Back in my time at university, once the exams were approaching, my ability to focus for long hours was good, even on boring tasks. After the summer break, not so much. Based on what I read, the ideal study period before needing a short break is 50min. You should then take a 5-10min break and do another 50min before a more extended break. When working with tasks that motivate you or where you are just on that ideal edge where you struggle a bit but are making progress simultaneously, those minutes go by fast. Whereas on boring tasks, you need some training wheels like Cold Turkey.

Today I would also set my iPhone into a focus mode where I know that I will not get interrupted. In his famous lecture, Marty Lobel has more tips for studying: (641) Marty Lobdell – Study Less Study Smart – YouTube, and how to set yourself up for success by looking at the environment and mental ques as well as using tools like Cold Turkey.

Summary

With the deliberate setup of your environment and digital assets, you can simulate an environment where the mind knows it will not get interrupted or distracted. The setup can make it easier to train the ability to focus on even boring tasks for a more extended period. Cold Turkey is a tool that can help with setting up such an environment.

Published in productivity tips&tricks

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