Staying Focused as an Engineer in 2022
Staying focused in any profession nowadays is incredibly difficult. Every time you open up a web browser, you get shown a million news articles or flashy posts. Your cell phone constantly dings with some notification. You’re trying to work, but social media is only a few clicks away. Messaging apps are lighting up and notifying you.
Here’s the reality, you can’t do your job at 100% if you’re constantly distracted.
In this blog post, I break down five key ways that you can keep yourself focused in 2022.
Keep a Goal in Mind
It’s always easier to do something when you have a goal. Whether it’s a new hobby, a new job, a new career, a conversation, or anything else that you have a dedicated plan for. If you don’t have a goal, it makes completing a task harder and you’re sort of just going day by day on auto-pilot.
Luckily, most humans have goals. Whether that goal is to get a new job, get a promotion, learn something new, or any other goals that you may have. Once you have a goal, you can start to think about how you want to achieve that goal. To achieve a goal, you must stay focused, diligent, and keep your eyes on the prize.
Take a second to think of a goal that you have before proceeding to the next section.
Understand That Depth Is Better
Once you have a goal, you need to achieve it. To achieve the goal, you have to understand that anything worth achieving takes a massive amount of hard work. To put in the hard work, you have to put time and focus into what you’re doing. You can’t be distracted or think about other things while you’re striving towards your goal. Otherwise, how will you achieve it?
Going deep into a goal is what all of the greatest minds of every single generation do. Let’s take reading a new book to learn a new skill as an example. No one excels or achieves greatness by simply skimming the summary of each chapter. You have to read each chapter, thoroughly, with nothing else on your mind. You have to go in-depth, as much as you possibly can, to retrieve every single piece of information that you possibly can.
If you want to achieve your goal, you have to go into a deep mental state to achieve it by removing distractions.
It takes the average human 23 minutes to get back into the rhythm of what they were doing if a distraction occurs.
Yes, 23 minutes.
If you’re doing work and you decide to check social media or email, or your phone, that means your focus is distorted for 23 minutes. Think about how many times throughout the day you say I’ll just check my email really quick. Now think about how much time you’re wasting.
Distractions are the quickest way to fail at anything you’re doing. Whether it’s work, a hobby, a conversation with someone important, or anything else you’re doing that you’re not focusing on 100%.
Removing distractions isn’t easy, but there are a few key ways to go about it :
- The willpower to say no to yourself if your brain says to check social media or your email
- Put your cell phone in another room
- Understand that you have a goal that you want to accomplish, which should give you motivation
- Get in the habit of not wanting to be distracted
- Understand that in reality, the email that you received or the Slack message that someone sent you may be urgent, but not important. Remember, urgency is typically important to others, but may not negatively impact you. Also, let’s be honest; the world isn’t going to explode if it takes you an hour to respond (unless you’re on-call for some critical services).
Practice Deep Work
All roads lead to deep work, which is a method of removing all distractions and becoming so focused on what you’re doing that you’re pushing your cognitive limits. Simply put, you can’t do your job or a hobby or really anything else if you’re not 100% focused.
Think about it; how many times have you been having a conversation with a friend, your significant other, a family member, and you say “huh?”. It’s because you weren’t fully engaged in the conversation. Maybe you were looking at your phone or thinking about something else, which in turn makes the person have to repeat themselves. Even having a conversation is a form of deep work.
There are four types of deep work:
- Monastic: You’re completely engaged in what you’re doing for weeks and months at a time. You take no meetings, answer no emails, and don’t need to worry about social media. This is great for people that can completely disconnect to do their jobs, for example, high-regarded authors. J. K. Rowling (author of Harry Potter), can go months writing a book and doesn’t need to focus on anything else.
- Bimodal: Bimodal is an easier-to-achieve version of Monastic. With Bimodal, you can go away for a few days, or possibly a week, for deep work. A great example here is Bill Gates, who is known for having Think Weeks, which are a few weeks out of the year that he goes to his lake house with no communication to the outside world. This is the time that he reads, thinks, and plans.
- Rhythmic: If you can’t go days or a full week without communicating to the outside world, Rhythmic makes the most sense. It’s essentially blocks of hours that you’re in deep work. For example, you would go into deep work from 8:00 AM to 11:00 AM, leaving the rest of your day for distracted work.
- Journalistic: This method, which is coined after journalists that have to pop in and out of deep work, is an approach that you take deep work sessions when you can. For example, let’s say you have kids and they’re taking a nap. You would use that nap time to go into deep work. The journalistic approach is arguably the hardest because it’s difficult to get your mind into such a state of depth with a snap of your fingers.
The best and easiest type of deep work for engineers is Rhythmic. Rhythmic is essentially a block of hours that you’re performing deep work. For example, I personally like to go into deep work between the hours of 7:00–10:00 or 8:00–11:00. After that is when I’ll schedule things like meetings, look at Slack, etc… The reality is I can’t practice Monastic deep work because my career doesn’t allow for it. If I was writing books all day or in a research position, I could practice Monastic deep work. As an engineer with clients, meetings, and people that I need to talk to so I can get what I need to get a job done, it’s difficult.
Explain Your Deep Work To Others
This is arguably the hardest part because in today’s world, being in a state of deep work is sort of looked at as not normal, primarily because it’s not normal. Because of that, you need to tell people that you want to go into deep work sessions and explain to them why.
Here are a few tips that you can use:
- Send an email to your manager explaining the value that you want to provide with deep work. Word it in a way that they’ll understand and can possibly relate to. For example, bring up a situation that occurred that could’ve been avoided if there were zero distractions.
- Email your team letting them know that you’re planning deep work so they know you won’t be answering emails or Slack for X amount of hours.
- Understand that deep work is the best way to get things done, and going into deep work will show that to others.
- Say no to things that are urgent to others. This is going to feel uncomfortable at first, but it’s a reality that we should all live.