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Words to Focus By

Stuff Googled While I Should Have Been Focusing

While digging through browser bookmarks for references on maintaining focus I found some interesting tidbits. The first is from the writer Henry Miller. While creating his first book, Tropic of Cancer, he established eleven commandments to be followed in his creative endeavor. I've emphasize the items I thought were especially pertinent, with my comments in square brackets ( [ ] ).

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished. [Context switching has a steep cognitive cost.]
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to "Black Spring." [Black Spring was released two years after Tropic of Cancer - in other words, stop burning the candle at both ends; on project at a time.
  3. Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time! [Develop rhythms the mind can anticipate and gear up for.]
  5. When you can't create you can work. [Not every moment will be creative fireworks. But even when the muse isn't raining down on the desert plain there's still plenty to do to ensure the seeds are planted when it does come.]
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers. [Stop forever tinkering with new processes hoping for revolutionary leaps - very few things are like that. Instead keep momentum, even if only incremental, up every day.]
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8. Don't be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only. [If you're not happy with what you're doing the work will suffer.]
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude. [No one should ever hold themselves in bondage to an arbitrary set of rules. Take an interesting adventure when it presents itself. However, after the deviation, return the the path that got you here ASAP.]
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing. [Sure, we all have our dream projects. But what is the work before me now? How can I take some of the enthusiasm for the far flung project and instill some of what excites me in the current work? ]
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

The second piece is a set of beliefs that management science professor Robert Sutton has found in effective bosses. If we re-write these as beliefs of highly productive people we have some insights into how to maintain workplace focus.

  1. I have a flawed and incomplete understanding of what it feels like to work forwith me.
  2. My success — and that of my peoplecompany — depends largely on being the master of obvious and mundane things, not on magical, obscure, or breakthrough ideas or methods.
  3. Having ambitious and well-defined goals is important, but it is useless to think about them much. My job is to focus on the small wins that enable my peoplecoworkers to make a little progress every day.
  4. One of the most important, and most difficult, parts of my job is to strike the delicate balance between being too assertive and not assertive enough.
  5. My job is to serve as a human shield, to protect my peopleteam from external intrusions, distractions, and idiocy of every stripe — and to avoid imposing my own idiocy on them as well.
  6. I strive to be confident enough to convince people that I am in chargeknow what I'm doing, but humble enough to realize that I am often going to be wrong.
  7. I aim to fight as if I am right, and listen as if I am wrong — and to teach my peoplecoworkers to do the same thing.
  8. One of the best tests of my leadership — and my organization — is "what happens after people make a mistake?"
  9. Innovation is crucial to every team and organization. So my job is to encourage my people to generate and test all kinds of new ideas. But it is also my job to help them kill off all the bad ideas we generate, and most of the good ideas, too.
  10. Bad is stronger than good. It is more important to eliminate the negative than to accentuate the positive.
  11. How I do things is as important as what I do.
  12. Because I wield power over others, I am at great risk of acting like an insensitive jerk — and not realizing it.
  13. Script Kittie Dev Comic

    To summarize, both disparate insights into being productive downplay the need for the creative homerun. Instead, focus on getting those base hits day after day. (Who else has seen Matthew Reinbold - Feb 13, 2012