Focus and avoid context switching

My day job as a software engineer requires a great deal of focus and organization. Writing code is one of the last steps you do in software development. Writing code only comes after gathering enough information and understanding what changes or features we need in an application.

Focusing on one task, but more importantly, one project at a time is critical. When working on more than one project at a time, there is a lot of context switching, which is terrible for you and your productivity.

Focusing on one task also allows you to fully immerse into the details of the project, expand your domain knowledge about the work area, and as a result, be thoughtful about the way you approach the project, its problems, and the solutions.

Context switching while doing any work that requires concentration decreases the project’s opportunity to succeed and your productivity as well. The result is a net negative, and I don’t see any reason to do it. The only reason we do it might be due to our inability to focus on one task or the constant interruptions that are common in the workplace.

Focusing today is more challenging than ever. We have many tools around us that trick us and push us to pursue distractions. The handheld devices we all have are the number one reason for this, in my opinion. These devices are the window into a lot of addictive content out there, and trying to stay focus while having these devices next to us requires a lot of discipline.

It’s not all our fault. We are the victims of advanced algorithms that know us well and learn how to get our attention. It takes a lot to turn off notifications and not open our favorite apps to see the latest micro-piece of content. But, it’s a very effective drug that works against us.

Of course, there are simple ways to minimize this. I, for example, have most of my notifications off. The only place where I turn notifications on is on my family chat. Other than that, I never get pulled in by an app since I don’t get notified about anything. So that works, but just a little.

There are other things I do to keep myself focused and stick to one task at a time. For example, I set up specific times (timeboxing) to do the other distracting tasks such as checking email, social media, the news, etc. I timebox these tasks and try hard not to allow myself to break that rule.

Timeboxing helps a lot. In the past, I spent a lot of time checking, reading, and replying to emails. Nowadays, I check email maybe once a day, and I do not respond to emails unless strictly necessary. I do the same for social media apps, and if you use an iPhone, the Screen Time feature can help you a lot with this.

For non-digital distractions, you can also use the concept of timeboxing. For example, at work, I set up “focus time” in my calendar to make sure people know when I will be available to join a meeting and when I am not. Setting focus time in your calendar sets the expectations of other people around you. It will make it easier for them to know when you might be free to talk, have a meeting, or help with some other task.

I break my workday into four areas, the first block of time, 7-9 am is OK for meetings and open tasks, from 9-12, my time is blocked for deep/focused work, lunch from 12-1 pm, and finally from 1-4 pm I have open it up for meetings and time to reply to email and other office messaging apps.

I started doing this more than a year ago, and it works very well. I get very few if any distractions during my “focus time,” which is enough to make me productive and more relaxed. Before doing that, I checked email constantly, responded as soon as possible to any message, and accepted all meetings at any time. Unfortunately, that caused my productivity to drop considerably and, with it, my motivation and energy.

Context switching is tough for tasks that require concentration. You cannot concentrate with the endless amount of notifications coming from our devices, from people around us, and from our lacking ability to concentrate. We have to set clear boundaries with ourselves and be assertive and disciplined to make sure we and others around us respect them.

Setting limits and structures around my life is not something I often do. I prefer to live the moment, be casual with what I do in life, and allow myself to do unexpected things. However, when it comes to working, whether it is personal or professional, setting boundaries and allowing yourself to focus on tasks is a game-changer.

This advice is not only about being more productive. Focusing on tasks is also less stressful and much more enjoyable once you learn how to do it. I hope this is helpful for you, and please, if you have any other suggestions, questions, or any feedback, please let me know here in the comments. Cheers.

Sobre criptomonedas, la blockchain, y su uso actual.

La idea detrás de BitClout es interesante, otros usos de criptomonedas y la blockchain vienen pronto, estos tendrán más sentido para personas en general. Lo que sí no me gusta es la idea inicial de BitClout, en donde compras y vendes criptomonedas basadas en la especulación solo en la reputación personal de los usuarios.

Por lo pronto, Bitcoin sigue siendo la criptomoneda más popular y más aceptada por organizaciones e inversionistas/especuladores – solo espero que la minería Bitcoin y Ethereum se vuelvan más eficientes y no desperdicien tanta electricidad.

Y del token nofungible (NFT) ni hablar. Entiendo que el arte en general tiene cierto valor intrínseco, pero los objetos digitales que se están vendiendo como arte NFT no es la meta de la blockchain o de las criptomonedas, de eso estoy seguro. Es un buen ejemplo de como podemos asociar objetos con un registro único y descentralizado, vamos, una nueva y mejor manera de mantener un libro mayor universal en la nube.

Tiempos interesantes.

Use your natural competitive advantage

We all know the story of the turtle and the rabbit. We know that the rabbit had a significant competitive advantage over the turtle. However, the moral of that story is not about competitive advantages; instead, it is about never underestimating a weaker opponent.

This post is about competitive advantage, and just like the rabbit, I’d like to think that we all have something in us that we can use to our advantage, that is, if we are self-aware and do not fall asleep on our laurels, the rabbit did.

Do you think you have a competitive advantage? Of course, you do; everyone does. The hard part is knowing what that is and then finding specific ways to use that advantage to help us progress in our lives.
A natural competitive advantage is, in my opinion, something that we can often do better than others, something that we naturally are attracted to it. Therefore, we are good at it.

During my professional experience, I realized that while I was not the best programmer, I was always good at communicating with people who weren’t technical, clients, partners, coworkers, etc. Having the ability to communicate equally with technical and non-technical people helped me find the answers I needed to do my job better. It also placed me in a good place as a bridge between non-technical people and other programmers like myself.

I am also very patient, and this has helped me over the years by allowing me to work on frustrating projects with frustrating people and do it without becoming cynical or upset. Patience is a significant advantage, especially since you have to be not only patient but receptive and often generous with your time. That is one of my natural competitive advantages.

Maybe you are a good teacher, a good writer, or are great at drawing; use it to your advantage. Find creative ways to do it, apply that hobby or skill to your professional tasks. You’ll be surprised how much of your abilities and even hobbies you can use for professional purposes.

Use your strengths as your natural competitive advantage. You do have them, and it’s just a matter of realizing it and putting them to work. Use your natural competitive advantage.

How do you remember things?

I like to walk around the city 2 or 3 times a week and walk between 5 to 8 miles. I do it for exercise but also as an excuse to get out of the house. Often, these walks are paired with a good podcast or audiobook, but recently I started to try something new.

Last week during one of these walks, the podcast I was listening to ended, and I didn’t have anything else in my queue. I decided to just keep walking without listening to anything, and then something remarkable happened.

Out of nowhere, I started remembering things from when I was a child. It was me eating one of those unhealthy extra-sugary cereals and being very happy about it, holding one of my toys in one hand and a small spoon in the other. It looks me by surprise. I thought, why am I remembering this? Then I purposely started to dig into my memories more and more.

I was able to go as far back as kindergarten when I was at a table with two other kids playing with play dough. It was me with a happy face, opening a brand box of play dough with multiple colorful tubes of this fantastic product.

After several minutes of reliving memories from different stages of my life, I stopped and started thinking about how or what I can do to control my memories. For example, what if I tried hard and remembered all of the times I did something for the first time? The first time I drove a car by myself, my first kiss, my first day at school, my first job, first fight, first roller coaster, the first book, etc. I think you get the point.

What if I started to remember and write down all of these things? I don’t know about you, but this sounds very interesting to me, and I am currently in the process of doing it.

There you have it, that was something remarkable, and it resulted from not having something to listen to while walking. There is an excellent lesson to be learned there, and I am not going to attempt to know what that is, but something is inevitable; I will walk without listening to anything but my own thoughts, memories, and the sounds around me more often now.

What about you? What do you do to focus and remember specific things that might not come to mind often?

A note on boredom, anonymity, and declinism

It’s interesting to see how the amount of ennui in our society increases simultaneously as technology advances. We are doing something wrong. Technology and its rapid advancement can be not only distracting but dangerous. 

Is this contributing to the declinism of our society? I think it is, and my only advice is to be more empathetic and caring of others around you. 

The abundance of digital content, the accessibility of technology, the algorithms strictly designed to keep you connected and in rage, and the facility to consume more goods from our homes, digital and non-digital, it’s all part of it. 

We are becoming isolated creatures who are often policing others to see how they are behaving and ready to complain publicly if other people disagree with us.

Attacking and criticizing others is easier than ever; digital anonymity is at the root cause of this. Interestingly, those who identify themselves and dare to share their opinions publicly suffer from attacks of people who dislike what they say, destroying any opportunity of dialog and intelligent conversation.

It is boredom, online anonymity, misinformation, and many other things contributing to a civic and ethical decline. 

I’ve found myself lured into digital anger holes just by doom-scrolling on Twitter and other platforms. Even when I think I’m self-aware, it’s hard to push back and ignore the ignorant and the misinformation of pointless negativity, some of which comes from people who are just virtue signaling.

Slowing down is the best thing we can do, in my opinion. Before you reply to a critic, before responding to someone’s comment, take a minute and figure out if responding or commenting to something undeniably negative or ignorant is necessary. I think it is not.

Fighting misinformation, cynicism, and hate speech are necessary, but we can’t do it with more misinformation and cynicism of our own. We often fall under tribalism behavior, and it requires a large amount of patience and self-awareness to combat that. 

We don’t need to stop innovating to advance our technologies. However, we need to be wise and empathetic to those who are negatively affected by it. Hence, we should be aware of what’s happening and be willing to make changes, even when not in our favor, to ensure the technology and progress that comes with it benefit everyone equally.

At a personal level, I find it beneficial to be more present and empathetic to those around us, our family, our friends, the cashier at the store, the homeless around the corner, the people with who we disagree, etc. 

Just follow the Golden Rule:

One should never do something to others that one would regard as an injury to one’s own self

Mahābhārata 13.114.8