The Distraction Economy is Reopening
Or, how to focus at work while everything and everyone is trying to steal your attention
To start this very personal essay out, let me talk about my journey through my career. All of my jobs have been jobs that I liked, since all of them were jobs I chose based on my interest in React development and programming. This essay is written from the perspective of what my roles and responsibilities were, so no juicy tidbits here :)
At my first job, I first started out as an intern, translating Figma designs to a NextJS based landing page. At that time, Twitter and LinkedIn were quite nascent. No one used them as much so there were less distractions. There weren't any Discord servers either.
For the first few months, I was working from home throughout the week while coming into the office on Fridays. Personally, I feel it was a good and productive setup. Even though I was a full-time college student at the same time, I somehow managed both things, including having bi-weekly standups to report my progress.
In hindsight, I feel like there were fewer distractions. I wasn't the owner of my time, hence I tried to use my downtime completely, hanging out with friends or going out on weekends.
When I graduated, I transitioned to a full-time role. This was in-office and more intensive (9 hour days). I of course tried my best to come in early and leave early so I could maintain my productive schedule, and work out and relax after 6. Since we were in office during work hours, I feel like the productivity was at a comfortable level because we managed to get things done at a good level under the watchful eye of everyone else.
Then corona hit, and the pandemic happened. Everyone was sent home, initially thinking it would be temporary, to eventually realizing it might take more than an year. In this time period, the little control I had over my schedule was actually lost (as was the case with most IT employees), having to attend meetings which would burn both sides of the candle.
This was of course, quite unproductive and would result in time lost preparing for, and recovering from these meetings. Although distraction still didn't hit. Social media was still (relatively) silent and there were no side-gigs or projects trying to eat away at my time.
After about 2 years of my first job, I got an offer from a bootstrapped startup working in the Shopify space, giving me a chance to work ground-up with people I admired, in a space I wanted to explore.
This was where I was at my optimum in terms of distractions. I was working on no side-gigs and social media was still not that active. The focus also was suddenly on DOING the work, not how much time was spent on the work, allowing me the chance to work when I wanted (barring the task was actually completed of course).
I think when you suddenly get a lot of freedom, and there's no one looking over your shoulder, you struggle a little bit with making something which is bug-free and truly complete. This was something which I struggled with, and would continue to struggle with as well. I personally tried my best to improve the quality of my work, managing to make some progress on that front.
After 9 months of building a product from scratch, and learning from the best about building and selling products, I decided it was time for me to transition to a more mature startup, one where I could focus on building my coding skills more.
So, when HASH reached out to me, giving me the opportunity to work with an international community of people (I think I'm the only Asian there), at a startup cofounded by Joel Spolsky, there was no way I could pass the opportunity.
The journey has been quite well, I've gotten more flexibility than before, and I've learned and grown a lot in the past 6 months. However, this increased flexibility also means I'm more susceptible to distractions.
Over the past few months, as the economy opens up, and people become more open to reaching out to others and going out, I feel like my brain, which used to earlier be focussed on one thing, has to constantly make decisions on whether I should do something or not.
On a typical day, here's what my brain fights with, apart from work:
- Which friend should I reach out to and reconnect
- Someone in my DMs asking for career/future advice
- Someone in my DMs trying to get me to work for them for free
- Someone in my DMs trying to get me to work part-time for them
- Someone in my DMs trying to hire me
- Social media notifications
- Working on side projects
- Creating social media content
- Seeing other people's success online, while I feel like I have struggled and continue to struggle more to not achieve the same
And many many other things which just eat up at my spare brain power.
With all of these things being there LITERALLY daily, it becomes quite hard. I do give my 100% at work though, I have a special office I travel to, and can focus on with Deep Work (luxuries I'm aware that many people can't afford). This helps in keeping me productive and giving a good output.
There are still improvements I can make though, which I continue to discuss and strive towards.
Luckily I do have a wonderful support network within and without work which helps me through this journey. You know who you guys are.
I don't know what the point of this essay/article was. Maybe just ranting out, trying to list down how I'm always distracted, while trying my darndest to be productive. Maybe it helps someone else in the same situation as me, remote workers trying their hardest to fullfil the work part.