Attention, Focus and Flow in 2014

I've been thinking a lot recently about attention, flow, and focus.

My first encounter with the idea of protecting attention was Merlin Mann's classic "Who Moved My Brain?" deck (or video if you prefer):

A recent post on Medium, "How the Productivity Myth is Killing Your Startup," brought this theme back to mind a few days ago.

Each day is given only 24 hours. Even with the bare minimum of coordination costs, cut down by your tools and your processes and your homegrown blend of agile, whole hours of that day are lost to meetings, status updates, course correction, revision, company chatter, building consensus, setting and measuring, iterating and reporting. Life decimates your team with unerring and unrelenting creativity. Pregnancy, paternity/maternity leave, illness, death, burnout, vacations, weddings, freakish seasonal variants of the flu. Then there are the inevitable bugs that would make shipping irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst. Urgent customer issues. Scope creep and intervening crisis.

You don’t have that much time to work with. You are going to get a very few number of things done. You are going to get way fewer things done than you think you’re going to get done. And those things will take you much longer than you plan for.

Much as you must talk to teens about drinking, you must talk to your team about productivity.

It's interesting that we've all been in situations where estimates slip, but we always blame a specific roadblock, execution issue, or the initial estimate rather than look at productivity culture as a whole (super relevant Quora thread). Hopefully as a product manager I'm shielding the build team from a lot of the churn, chatter, and scope creep, but it's still a good reminder that teams doing fewer things one after another have an advantage over those forced to heavily parallelize.

And finally, a TED talk I watched recently on the science of flow states:

My favorite excerpt:

He says also that this is so intense an experience that it feels almost as if he didn't exist. And that sounds like a kind of a romantic exaggeration. But actually, our nervous system is incapable of processing more than about 110 bits of information per second. And in order to hear me and understand what I'm saying, you need to process about 60 bits per second. That's why you can't hear more than two people. You can't understand more than two people talking to you.

We can't handle two conversations at once, yet we somehow think that we can get work done in the midst of eight browser tabs, an IM client, and our cellphone.

Protect your and your team's attention. Be wary and smart about estimates. Find flow, be happy. Here's to a 2014 filled with building awesome stuff.