Too Much To Do
Lately I’ve been having trouble making significant progress on the things I’m working on. I’ve been hyper focused, but with the amount of different things I’ve been working on, none of them gets very much attention for very long.
I’m starting to realize that making significant gains on complex work areas (software development, company marketing, personal relationships) requires longer periods of attention spent on each, even if you may feel that you’re ignoring the others for a while.
I think Jason Fried of 37Signals hit the nail on the head when he talked about why you can’t work at work. It’s not that the interruptions at the office keep you from spending focused time, it’s that they don’t allow the productivity flywheel effect to happen.
The Productivity Flywheel
When you’re “in the zone”, you make great gains on the work you’re focused on. But the zone doesn’t operate like a lightswitch. It’s not something you’re in or you’re not. Like Fried says, you “go to” work like you “go to” sleep, it’s a gradual process.
My belief is that it’s like a flywheel. That is, it takes significant effort to get moving, but once it’s going, it goes by itself for a good long while. Once the flywheel is up to speed, we are at our maximum productivity, cranking out work at peak efficiency. Before that time, however, we’re just trying to work up momentum.
The interruptions we face, or the task and context switching we do, need to be controlled. We need to realize how much momentum our flywheel has going, and consciously decide when the time is best for us to switch to something else for a bit. If we do that when the productivity flywheel is at full speed, we can easily return to the work later. If not, then we need to struggle to get things moving from scratch again.
Changing Work Habits
With this new realization in mind, I’ve been making sure that once I have a productivity flywheel moving, I use its inertia to the fullest potential. This means that if I’m writing code at peak efficiency, I don’t go and answer emails that come in, even if they’re important. Likewise, if I’m responding to tweets or online articles, I don’t try and implement the cool server idea that I find. It’s somewhat related to focus, but more about focusing on the area in which you have momentum.
I would be interested to hear what your thoughts are on this concept, and some of the tricks you use to keep your productivity flywheels spinning optimally. Let me know in the comments, or give me a shout on twitter.