However, it don't come for free. If I get "roused" from my "fugue" (what I call "the zone"), I can be cranky. This has not always been helpful in my marriage.
Also, I find that I can be "vocabularily challenged" for a few minutes after I break out, sounding like a complete moron; struggling for the most basic terminology. "Whatchacallit" is one of my most-uttered phrases.
10 years ago I was really bad at studying, then I had a peak of low self esteem, believing I was not intelligent. Ready to give up uni, my GF suggested I'd give myself only one more opportunity.
So I started studying like it was the very last time I'd do it. Like, in an angry state, like I was demonstrating to myself no matter how hard, it was useless.
This is how I discovered my brain only had a "fast gear", and the "slow gear" that normal people used was basically not working for my brain.
I breezed through all my exams, got a series of cool jobs and promotions, now I own my company and sell my own software to Fortune 50 companies.
The side effect of operating at peak concentration levels is becoming socially impaired, and verbally inept exactly like Chris Marshall above described. This has non trivial social consequences.
The amazing thing here is that I just thought I was getting older and grumpier. But now I understand it's in fact tied to the focus. Thanks Chris, now I know what it is, and maybe I can try to tune it down for a period to see what happens.
I’ve had a similar experience over the past few years — a ton of work focus (at a FAANGM as an ML scientist/engineer) combined with limited social interaction and I’ve noticed my ability to have normal social interactions has declined greatly (“verbally inept” and “difficulty with empathy” pretty much hit it on the head). There’s potentially confounding factors in my case so I’ve been hesitant to attribute it to overfocusing at work although I’ve considered it may be a cause.
In retrospect I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s not really a worthwhile tradeoff and I’ve been pulling back from work a bit. To add to the larger discussion, I thought I was focusing on work for the right reasons (making a difference in the world, gaining skills, self-actualization) but after getting my “dream job” it turned out that it the job wasn’t very fulfilling at all. No technical challenge or abstract impact metrics really did much for my happiness (or money fwiw)... at the end of the day it’s still rewarding social interactions (which don’t necessarily _have_ to be outside of work) that control the needle for me.
I'm currently looking for ways to reorganize my way of working so I get a better output and require less compromises of my family.
This is a pretty good blog post I found on the subject: http://faq.sealedabstract.com/uninterruptible_programming_su... .
I’ve found various side benefits in addition to being able to focus in shorter time windows. For example:
- it’s useful for dealing with interruptions that are part of work too - e.g. if you’re helping teammates with different projects, or have to switch contexts for other reasons.
- it can be useful as an artifact of work. For example, you’ve spent a lot of time debugging a weird issue and you’re still not making progress, so you can use a second set of eyes. You can share your work notes with a coworker so they can immediately know what you’ve tried, what worked or didn’t, etc. In that context, I like to think of it as “offline pair programming”.
I'd really, really like to know how to enter that state again, and sustain it for longer.
While this is strictly anecdotal, I do believe there is a tight correlation with focus, social and emotional intelligence. In the sense that if I devote all of my “brainpower” to solving a task, I do reduce my ability to understand social queues and other “left brain” stuff.
But as I’ve taken some time to understand my fellow humans better - deliberately putting myself in social situations and reading some great books about it, I’ve noticed the amount of energy required to “process other people” in my brain reducing greatly. This kinda gave me the ability to be pleasant even after doing some coding.
If I feel comfortable with that language, I don’t even skip a beat, whereas if its something I’m not exactly fluent in, it gets me cranky - who put this in here and ruined its purity kinda feeling.
So it gets better with time, but I had to put deliberate effort into it.
It resonates with me from a different perspective. I can't speak to the technical accomplisments -- I had a mundane tech job -- but I was making nearly 100k in total comp in my mid-20s in a low COL region, and my job was difficult for me. I know this isn't a lot of cash to many here, but it was a lot to me coming from being homeless at 18. However, my life took a bad turn, unfortunately. I had some unbelievable aggressions and weird things happen to me, and I left my job. I remember my history teacher saying of the past "If I was there, I would have done something about it," and yet all everyone told me at this time was something like "You need to stand up for yourself." I think most people today are just like they were back then, even if we are not burning people alive for witch craft, we still sometimes bully people under the name of pretexts and for unacceptable reasons. I then quit, left to try to play one of the most popular online games professionally (I was ranked #40ish at the time). I was really unhappy despite the intense competition and supposed fun and excitement of it. So finally, after that, I started travelling the world. The thing is, I started feeling like I was in heaven. When you travel, it's so easy to make friends and meet so many people in a setting where you are incentivized to share good memories, and not in a rat race or a "keeping up with the Jones's-type" of neighborhood, university or other setting. I mean, maybe it's that I am like a pariah or witch or otherwise bullied person and I dealt with a lot of extreme bullying that destroyed my social life and this contrasted with anything would be good. But I think it's also a lot about what you are saying: it's positive social interactions that really make us happy. I mean, I wouldn't wish my life on anyone, but I somehow found an amazing life out of it this way amidst all of the aggression and chaos.
Because of things that don't apply here, I am privileged to constantly be around many folks that have overcome great challenges.
I am at the point in life, where personal happiness is much much more important than money, property or prestige.
I've been learning to apply my ability to focus toward feelings, and the internal states of others. (To the point that I am grumpy to be removed from this flow state also.) This has allowed me to glean insight and deeper meaning into the social lives of my friends, and connect at a slower, deeper level than I could achieve simply with rapid banter. (Which I too am increasingly less capable of as I grow older; now in my mid-30s. I'm slow enough to respond now that people I converse with must think I'm on drugs. I've never done any.)
It is said that few remember exactly what is said in a conversation, but everyone remembers what is felt. If you can use flow to plan and practice the right feelings and feeling-responses, the eloquence of the words you say in the moment does not matter so much.
It is also sometimes stated that "on-the-spectrum"-ness is correlated with heightened sensitivity to emotions. I'm fairly certain that is true for me. If it is for you too, flow is your chance to exploit that trait.
(Probably not applicable to you but maybe applicable to others: I experience ASMR, and use that gift to semi-regularly reset my emotions to a positive state. I utilize that wellspring of good feelings to support my emotional investment in others: it's easier to care about others when you are happy yourself.)
Also, I rarely enter flow for work-work these days. It's rarely needed and sometimes counterproductive for the daily Jira-bug-squashing routine (writing copious notes works better for me), and nearly impossible to maintain in an open office setting. I save it for rare sessions of innovation, and for hobby work.
I got help from Vivekananda's books. He mentions that the ability to concentrate is the only difference between humans and animals.
And the degree of focus determines success in human life.
But he warns that learning the ability to focus without learning how to completely get out of the mind-thought complex is like going inside a complex maze without the map.
His books are quite small and can be finished in a few hours. Worth reading.
If anyone reading this is in the same boat, I’d like to pass along some simple advice that a friend gave me: get up and go for a quick vigorous run around the block. I’ve found this to be a very effective way to reset.
But is it good code?
And I don't mean your code personally, but more in general. I've known people who are able to focus alright but then what they produce -be it code or anything else- is rather mediocre. I knew this person that would get on his workbench, and spend the whole morning in a flash, not noticing anything around him. He has a fairly large collection of rather unimaginative pieces in wood.
Recently, in a new team of programmers a fair number of them seem to be able to focus quite well. And they do produce "vast amounts of code" and it is some of the worst code I've ever seen. In fact, the fact itself that they are vast amounts seems like a detriment. They are proud that the project is some 5-6MLOCs big, but after some months of going through it about 25% of that, should just be trashed.
So yeah, focus is nice, but... being able to produce a lot doesn't necessarily mean you're producing anything particularly interesting, useful or good.
P.S. And, again, I don't mean you personally.
My screen name here is also my GH handle. See for yourself.
Yes! Oh I am so glad I'm not the only one.
After spending several hours in the zone programming, I need to sit back and take a recognizance breather before I can speak in effective complete sentences again. It definitely feels like something actively changing in my brain when this happens. Some kind of awareness shift, or orientation shift.
It's like I need to reset from thinking in "parallel" to thinking in "serial" again -- parallel being random-access in a sense, able to go back and update an artifact piecemeal in independent locations, shifting back and forth quickly; while serial being a narrative sense, able to put together a full thought at a time and express it in words.
I've found if I get distracted while in the zone I'm frustrated by being interrupted, and any sort of attempt to converse is challenging because while my focus may have been forcibly shifted, it's like my brain is saying "hold up, I'm still working through these problems" and I'm only half present for people because I'm having parallel trains of thought.
This can last anywhere from minutes if the problem was a small relatively trivial thing to several hours if it's a much harder or larger scale problem.
I recognize this.
I figure we need to practice unfocusing as well as focusing. Being able to look closely at an issue is an important skill, but so is “zooming out” and seeing the bigger picture.
I find my lingual knots tend to get worked out after a short while, but if I have been exceptionally deep focused I can get almost a focus hangover where the lingual hangups last a very long time.
I know most theories about tasks using only one hemisphere of the brain have been debunked but it does seem like language and some logic tasks can be at odds. I wonder if it extends into other things than language.
Difference basically being I can only focus on one thing at a time (and the things connected to that thing), but I jump from 1-1-1-1 in a circular mode.
My wife is now like she's mentally got a rope on everything at once but never finishes any of the things in her focus because there's too many.
I guess in programming terms we both have focus issues but she's asynchronous and I'm only synchronus.
If I get bored or my mind wanders of task I end up on hn, Google, Reddit or doing anything that isn't work. Started taking meds a year ago at 39 and light and day difference when I'm on my Vyvanse.
Sometimes I front load a couple days worth of work (freelance by the hour),; I'll literally be up 48 hours and put in 24+ hours of work, insomnia is a side effect of Vyvanse, so I usually when I'm past me limit I'll go off the next day and catch up on sleep and family time and relax a little then the following day jump back in, though I don't always go full in for two days.
Trying to not kill myself cause I have kids, but I work best when everyone is asleep anyways.
Anyone that can get into "the zone" is probably eligible.
I was a manager for many moons. That's really unusual for folks like me. One of my top engineers was absolutely brilliant. Verbally, he was rather reticent, but he could wax eloquent in emails, and his designs were exquisite. He had a high school diploma. That was all.
I remember him sending a rewrite of an image processing filter back to Japan. The Ph.Ds there, had submitted a Monte Carlo-based filter, and he rewrote it with a modeling calculation that improved the performance 100X.
He also submitted the design as a PDF document.
With live Postcript code, generating the charts, using his simulations.
They were flabbergasted.
Sometimes, it's a good idea to let odd just be odd.
When I am deep in the zone, I am thinking in... pictures? not really, more like structures and graphs; they don't have colors, but they are connected. And then at a random moment my manager interrupts me to ask for a short summary of current status of the other project I was working on yesterday. For a few seconds I am like when Windows is swapping, because my mind is full of this nonverbal content that has to be thrown away, which means losing many minutes of work, but unless I do it I am unable to provide a coherent verbal answer. I gradually return to the real world, try to remember what was yesterday, find the right words... meanwhile my manager is getting impatient about why it takes me so long to answer such simple question.
Trying to answer before my brain fully reboots leads to imcomplete responses like "uhm, I was fixing this bug with that thing that went wrong" -- "which bug? which thing? can't you speak normally?" -- "uhm, the... what made the problem on the... front end... when the button... when the guy who wanted the report pressed the button... and it didn't return a correct result because it was asynchronously called, and..." -- "okay, why don't you simply say 'I was fixing the bug with asynchronous report generation'?" -- "uhm, yes, that's exactly what I wanted to say" -- "then speak more clearly". Yeah, like it's so easy. Well, maybe it is for a normie, I don't know.
Working in open space is already full of distractions. Someone is talking, someone has a phone call, someone is walking around... The schedule: there will be a meeting, daily stand-up, regular one-on-one meeting, lunch, some report from higher management, and this lesson on safety or compliance I need to complete before the end of the week, I need to update JIRA and also my daily attendance. The knowledge that "within one hour I will have to abandon my work and do something else" is already distracting long before the moment actually comes. Plus an avalanche of e-mails, most of them unimportant to me, but I have to read them all to find out whether I can just safely delete them. An instant messaging application, which in theory is for urgent work, but in practice people keep posting all kinds of stuff. (Why do you need to post dozen updates about the upcoming Christmas party? Why do I get dozen notification about all the "thanks the party was great" responses?)
Then it's five o'clock, people go home, the large room becomes empty and quiet... well, in the past this would be my peak productivity time, but these days I have kids so I get up and return home, too. (No, I can't simply come later and leave later, because we have the daily standups in the early morning.) So, now that I have kids, my total productivity has dropped visibly.
I try to keep written log of my thoughts while working, and yes it helps a lot. Still not the same as having a day in a silent room without interruptions.
I was never officially diagnosed with anything, because when I was a kid we didn't get tested for these things. People like me were simply "not paying attention" or "not trying hard enough". Which is kinda true; I am quite lazy when unmotivated, and I find it almost impossible to pay attention to boring things. (It's just so easier to get motivated when I am not distracted by endless communication.) Anyway, my kids are diagnosed on the spectrum, so it seems quite likely to me that I would have been too.
I just had a kid and had another in the way. I told my wife about it and we agreed I should get some therapy.
My therapist deemed I have ADHD inattentive or what used to be ADD. I talked to my Dr and got on Vyvanse, I also went to gym and lost 50 lbs. I don't do therapy any more. I don't know if talking and thinking about things helped but I somehow learned to cope.
But the meds do help me stay in a more focused and alert frame of mind.
I don't feel broken anymore. I still get off topic and focus on the wrong things sometimes but I can be productive when I really want to be and get a ton more shit done.
I'm also convinced I'm on spectrum but therapist didn't really want to go there or test for it. Not sure if that would have changed anything.
> I'm also convinced I'm on spectrum but therapist didn't really want to go there or test for it. Not sure if that would have changed anything.
I really don't like this "you don't need to know what exactly is your problem" attitude, that often comes from psychologists. But that would be a long rant. Here are some hypothetical benefits from knowing that you have a specific diagnosis X, whether autism or anything else:
- maybe you could apply for disability benefits (probably not, but at least you would know what exactly to ask);
- you could find a support group for people with X;
- you could exchange information (in the support group or online) about what helps or what hurts people with the same problem;
- you could read scientific research or popular books, ask an expert by e-mail, etc.;
- you could find out the chance that your kids get X, how to find out whether that is the case, and how to help them.
What if you're in your 50s and stuck in a low paid job with a wife to take care of? What if you have a disability? The point I'm making is that a lot of life's time-sinks/distractions are non-negotiable and one life varies drastically from another in terms of how much freedom one has to pursue one's passion. Those who shout loudest that money doesn't matter are usually the ones who have plenty.
In the author's middle-class world there are always other options to what you're doing at any point in time. Unfortunately this isn't a universal given. A lot of people are stuck with massive amounts of debt just trying to survive and live from one paycheck to the next. In this context pursuing one's passion is sadly not an option if you want to be able to keep up your rent payments.
The examples you give, taking care of a wife, family responsibilities etc... are in your words "non-negotiable." Which I interpret as required to be maintained as top priority irrespective of all other wants, needs and desires. Each of those examples however, except for having a disability, is truly a choice in terms of priority.
I think most people would argue that it is unconscionable to abandon a family or ailing spouse to "follow their dreams," however it's surprisingly common to see. That's not to defend it, but simply to point out that it is done and with surprising frequency, by people who you probably admire.
Someone quoted Bukowski on here recently, as giving some insight into the mind of someone who is fully invested in something, and I think it's apropos for this discussion:
"If you're going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don't even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench...etc "
It sounds like your suggesting that people are actively making that "all-in investment" in what you describe as non-negotiables.
So writing something like "Whatever happened to living a balanced life and the satisfaction of fulfilling a responsibility?" suggests that the primary priority you think is being under-emphasized is "living a balanced life."
This is very similar to the popular philosophy of "diversity of experience" being the ultimate priority, which is a remixed version of the classical philosophy of hedonism  (not to be confused with the modern interpretation which only focuses on sexual pleasure).
I also get bored with client work so when I do get a nest egg or bills together I work on side projects hoping one gets me to ramen profitability (ideally a little more than ramen 2-3k/month mrr would be nice).
I've got a family now (2 kids under 3), been married 14 years just kids weren't easy to get (lots of ivf and shit jobs for the free ivf), I was struggling over summer with no clients, and now my clients are not great pay wise (35/hour vs 60/hr what I'd like to make vs 100/hr what a lot of freelance devs claim they earn), so I've been putting in 60+ hours per week to catch up on bills and had to borrow 8k from family to make monthly bills over the summer.
I live in rural Utah near wife's family and her mom is really sick so moving isn't an option so freelance or remote is my only option.
I'm tempted to try and get a remote job with benefits cause it would be a lot easier just to be on salary again but I hate interviewing.
I feel exhausted by this cycle of ups and downs financially. Thought I'd own a home by now.
I guess things are better than ten years ago though. I weighed 260 lbs more than I do now. I wasn't a developer (seo marketer), I earned under 10/hr. Learned to develop in 2012/2013 started hr Dev work in 2013, changed my life. I'm on the right trajectory just feel lost from time to time with what I should be doing to move up and not down.
If you have a higher level of focus, you'll take a step back when someone says or does something harmful, and be able to communicate effectively in a mature and kind way. This can improve your relationship. The benefits are not just work.
If you have concentration, you can setup a 1 hour block a day first thing in the morning, and work on a goal every day, instead of futzing around. You can go to bed on time easier too, because mental habits are more malleable with focus and awareness.
I can keep going on. The benefits seep into your every day life, regardless if you're on the street or a billionaire.
This is why mindfulness meditation has become so popular, and in late why lsd was so popular, because both increase focus and concentration, as well as increase awareness into what is important so you can better achieve your goals even if it is only working towards it 5 minutes a day. It's no secret you need a minimum amount of focus to succeed in life. Sure, it's only an ingredient, not the whole dish, but it, like oil, is an important base ingredient.
But concentrating on something you're good at, and not spreading yourself too thin, is a pretty solid advice, middle class or not. It is by doing 100 things and not becoming good at any of them you end up in poor state without viable options.
> Unfortunately this isn't a universal given. A lot of people are stuck with massive amounts of debt just trying to survive and live from one paycheck to the next
Where would one find statistics or some numbers regarding the above?
What good is it to gain the whole world but have no one to enjoy it with? Of course this is simply another form of focus - choose which relationships to focus on. But putting intellectual pursuits above relationships is a lonely and foolish path, even if you achieve your dreams. If someone close to you suggests spending more time with them, you would be better served to listen to them than to cut them out of your life.
If you're going to approach focus like an engineering problem, you probably want a minimax strategy: figure out what keeps you functioning/healthy and devote minimum adequate focus there, figure out the reward space you want to explore and devote near-maximum resources there. And leave a little bit of slack baked in for when attention is overscarce or for when you need perturbing input. Digital distractions can be that slack. Or they can be your dump stat (he says, while posting on HN :/ ... ).
Most people will find that a handful of close relationship plus some web of weak ties fit in both the "keeps you functioning" and "reward space" categories. Which both underscores the importance of relationships, and the challenge: you are probably going to have to balance frequent not-especially-rewarding maintenance work, and regular (but longer period) reward-space exploration, and feeding slack time to it.
Also, for me it was more important to understand what NOT to focus on. Figuring out that which truly does not matter and letting it go is one of the most freeing things I have done. It's also a skill/tactic I see at all levels of life. The big picture of your whole life, then there is your work life, then there are work problems, then in jiu jitsu, etc... And the funny part is that people know bike-shedding exists and still do it day after day.
In other words, it is better to be alone, than with someone who ruins your mind and sleep.
So from an evolutionary standpoint, focus might not be that important after all ;).
Most people make mistake they start compromising very early for no reason, and when things get tough, they just get buried.
Because if I've learned one thing in my life it is that there is no sex without a relationship. Everything else is a sliding scale of masturbation.
The desire to pretend otherwise is a cause of significant misery for many people.
Also no man is an island. If you want to make that spaceship to Mars, you will not do it yourself. So that advice of cutting off ties in order to improve focus is terrible.
A better wording of that advice would be to re-focus on important and strategic relationships which benefits you and vice versa.
It's healthy to know we're only human, and we should strive to build a few quality relationships that don't interfere with our life, and knowing when to say no otherwise!
Our relationships are our life. Our goals are just stories we've made up about ourselves
Even though it's good to value friends and family (not arguing against this at all!), me time is needed too. Hobbies and other work you like.
Personally I believe there's a good amount of engaging with your acquaintances, and an excessive amount where you're just shuffling around between them, getting lost in those dynamics. In that case, there's probably a way to keep relationships growing naturally, with almost the same returns and much less time sunk.
I'm lucky to have the gift of focus, and to know other people who also have it.
I know I'm on the right track when I'm asked:
* "You did that yourself?"
* "How did you do that?"
* "How is that possible?"
One person with deep focus can change everything. Nikolai Tesla is the ultimate example of this - he made the modern world.
My secrets? My only social media is HN, and I use a stick phone.
It's what I've been doing in the past few years, nobody noticed that I stay at work a lot less than the others and the quality of my work has improved
1) You could be in a position where the work "never" ends. For sure, there are a reasonable number of tasks expected to be done at the end of the day, working some fraction of the day's butt-in-seat time; and when they're done, the business runs smoothly. However, recognizing this, businesses will add tasks that could be automated or designed away (e.g., answering the same inane help-desk tickets, which pile up constantly), because they "help" to secure an employee's "engagement" when they'd otherwise be free to study, optimize their performance, or simply socialize. If you're seen doing any of these, rather than the assigned tasks, you'll be docked.
2) It's difficult to bounce between tasks, including from your work-work to your personal work and back again. This is a sure-fire recipe for not being able to maintain, or even cultivate, focus. To add insult to injury, workers are often dealing with a scenario where "availability" is required of them to mask inefficiencies in the business' management or administration. This task could be done remotely, that one could be automated, a third could be grouped with a fourth if someone twisted arms to get the necessary data earlier (as has proven possible on days before a holiday). Allocating the 2 or 3 hours of the day not spent directly on work tasks would then be possible, but not when they're spread out over the course of an 8+ hour day in 10 minute chunks, or eaten up by busy work. "Hurry up and wait" is a productivity-killer.
What is a stick phone? I presume you're not referring to this:
Literally the only things I use my phone for is calls, SMS, GPS, and eeeeeeevery great once in a while I'll google something at the store.
I'd love something like this, but it would really have to have GPS on it.
He got to do exactly what he wanted for most of his career, which was research, live in the Waldorf, and his patents were the foundation of Westinghouse.
Ever look at a power substation and see all those Buck Rogers-looking transformers? Those are his original designs.
Besides AC electricity generation and transmission, he also patented wireless remote control and was one of the earliest pioneers in radio. Niagara Falls hydro generation was his idea, and nobody understood what he was doing until the on switch was thrown.
Had he wanted to be a businessman, he could have done that at any time. I'm glad he chose the inventor path.
Can you please edit swipey tropes like that out of your posts here? They lead to ill will and poison the well. The rest of your comment is just fine without that first sentence.
This is in the site guidelines: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html
Also, I intend to turn internet mostly off in 2020. By that I mean:
- no 'checking' of any websites, no news. I will only use internet to search on specific topics I'm interested in
- subscription to paper edition of Economist, to keep myself informed (albeit not in real time - what's the use of that anyway ?)
- read interesting sites / blogs I subscribe to, once a week
I've tried this for 2 weeks once, and the effects on my mind were amazing - besides the obvious effects on concentration and work quality, I've also noticed that I actually do have plenty of free time !
But it's an addiction that I think will be rather easy to get rid off (based on my previous experience) so I'm not planning anything very specific (other than the points I've listed).
* figured out the most valuable things I was reading: HN in moderation, 4-5 twitter accounts, the top posts on a few subreddits each week
* siloed them. There are weekly top posts emails for hn (how I got here), tweetbot with an account following those 4-5, and a weekly email sent to myself with links for the top weekly posts on those subreddits
* I check those periodically, usually at meals. I have a time tracker when doing so.
* They’re blocked on my phone, with two levels of content blocking. Ios is bad at content blocking, but the two layers make it annoying enough I generally don’t use it. (Layers are: limit adult websites, which lets you block custom urls as well. 1blocker’s url blocking, which blocks in safari, my main browser. If either of those don’t work for you, Lockdown has url filtering at the vpn level)
So I’m not going cold turkey: I’ve gotten immense value from HN over the years. Stuff with no value I can easily go cold turkey on. But these other things, I’m reading in a managed wya, leaving more time for focus.
I had this sort of balance naturally when most of my internet was on a laptop. With the phone, I find the balance went out of wack and countermeasures were necessary. No phone is an option, but introduces a lot of frictions I’d rather not have.
I also put in positive tracking, like things I have to check off if I met certain goals. So replacing empty surfing with positive action, which naturally reduces the desire to surf.
I sometimes entertain an idea, if a similar monastic community can work in our world - assuming they would be less strict than in the book. Such isolated retreats would be beneficial for rebuilding focus, finding calm and comfort, without noisy distractions, so one could focus most of their time on studying mathematics.
Definitely, nowadays isolated monasteries would not be convenient for doing actual research, as the access to Internet is a must.
> What we do. The Recurse Center is a self-directed, community-driven educational retreat for programmers in New York City.
It seems like a great experience, and if I were at a different stage of life I would likely pursue it.
I've honestly given up at this point. Without some kind of alternative to whatever all this is, I consider the startup world to be an evolutionary dead end. I give it a very solid vote of no confidence and consider it so far removed from the world that we could have made that it's now actively suppressing any kind of real innovation.
I wish there was something like this for random adults. I hate the structural assumption in our society that only people on the academic track are capable of doing deep intellectual work. Being in academia, or even in orbit of academia, comes with a lot of irrelevant responsibilities and spatial constraints, making it not cost-effective for someone who already ended up in the private sector.
Second, you can try changing your phone to grayscale. Lack of color may make use of your phone less appealing. iOS makes it relatively easy.
I don't have WiFi enabled on the phone, have Cellular Data disabled, have never signed into my Google account (it's an Android phone), have Bluetooth and Location disabled, and have never downloaded any apps. It's a phone, period. I can't imagine having something in my pocket beeping and dinging at me all day long. It would drive me nuts and I'd never get anything done.
If I'm in the car and lost, I have a $100 Garmin GPS that works fine without having to load a bunch of crapps on my phone. Or someone is in the car with me and is quick to start navigating, which is even better.
Try disabling WiFi and Cell Data for part of the day. You might really like it!
One of the 21st century’s large problems is humans having to learn to live in a world of unlimited information.
Both problems involve overcoming our evolutionary programming to scarf up as much of what used be a limited resource as possible.
This smacks of anxiety and FOMO. Thinking like this would drive me absolutely paranoid. Life is much more stochastic than this.
Yes, it is likely that in retrospect a few select hours of work may have unlocked huge value. You don't know which hours in advance. It is highly unlikely that one missed day will derail your life.
It's highly more likely that a wasted day was necessary to recover from a lingering illness, fatigue, or stress. It's OK to have an impromptu sabbath.
It wasn't grammatically/syntactically valid, but it worked well as a token for a concept that helped me immensely those years.
I've found that you can't rush relaxation, but you can enjoy higher quality relaxation. Watching youtube videos, reading reddit, or playing a videogame will relax me in a sort of listless, not-quite-satisfied way. Similar to eating chips as an entire meal leaves you feeling full but not nourished.
Meanwhile, a long walk with the dog and a podcast leaves me eager to jump into the next thing. But it requires focus, thought, and effort to get into - a higher activation potential than scrolling on a phone.
I got the exact opposite advice from "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield:
The entire book is how to overcome what he calls "resistance" which is what prevents you from getting creative work done. He says the belief that you need relaxation is false and just another way your mind keeps you from what you need to get done.
I likely mistakenly assume most HNers are overly ambitious, perfectionist, neurotic types like myself.
I have no trouble getting started, I have trouble stopping.
I'd trade my issues for yours in a heartbeat ;).
I can relate. It has its pros and cons. There are definitely days I wish I could turn the ambition off or at least down, but it's stuck on high. The upside is life's never boring. The downside is it's always non-stop.
One major problem I did have years ago was a lot of negative self-talk. Being so mean to myself, in ways I never would have come close to treating other people. I dealt with that with a lot of self-help books, working on my issues from childhood, learning to love myself etc.
A walk in the park can be worth a hundred hours of work if that walk in the park sparks the realisation that you were about to waste a hundred hours doing something in the wrong way.
- I block relevant news and social media sites on my phone and laptop (phone rules are more restrictive)
- I force myself to note everything I want to research/read down as a todo. This alone helps me to avoid many irrelevant things I would have otherwise read/researched
- Every month I set priorities, how I want to spend my time. Then every day I go through the list of items I have written down to select and prioritize what I want to do. Then I start working my way from the top item down
This article has helped me shape my thinking: https://medium.com/swlh/theres-no-such-thing-as-motivation-e...
Primary task: write outline on all areas of X presentation.
Secondary task: replace light bulb of car.
It's just that simple. Two tasks that I'll struggle to finish in a day. From there some properties emerge beautifully.
It naturally forms chunks of focus. The "flow". Yet, it's flexible because the execution details are not agreed beforehand, they're made up as you go.
"2h on the main task at least, now that I've done some stuff and have enough free time for a chunk!"
I can still deal with any blow as it comes. Stuff happens. But at least one can be more mindful about priorities, having the easy to remember two tasks in mind.
loose systems (good ones) often work better and can handle failures without crashing down.
PS for the author: i live & study in Madrid as well! these kind of deliberations are an important part of my self-improvement. I really like trying things out, and bouncing ideas off another person in a good discussion. You can consider this an invitation, open at any time, about things that we both value :)
I feel like I need to print this article out and stick it across from my desk to be reminded of this every day.
Jocko Willink has written multiple books on the topic of discipline and coined the phrase "Discipline Equals Freedom".
With mindfulness, one is aware before the bad habits starts. The earlier the habit is caught, the easier it is to change. It's the difference between struggling to replace a habit for months vs noticing it once, changing it once, and then reaping the rewards.
The mind when given a situation needs to respond to it. Habits are born and then they stick. Saying no to a habit is almost impossible. Instead an alternative habit needs to be made to replace the old habit. Every time that trigger pops up, the new habit fires instead.
Once those two criteria are met, it becomes easy to self-program.
The awareness you mention in the moment is the key to making changes.
For me, it resonates, because the perspective of "doing my job, having friends and watching movies" sounds depressingly empty to me. I want to work on the next rocket to Mars (yes, I really do want to work on space rockets - because I care about space rockets).
I don't buy into the pressure you're seeing either. If your heart doesn't drive you to strive for meaning in your own work, then you won't be happy chasing it because social pressure tells you to. Not everyone ticks this way, and this is fine.
It's just that you read online about all these people that do open-source stuff, create their own website/business, build tools, do research etc. that you feel left out and the big pressure to do something meaningful. In addition nowadays you have to do something meaningful for the world, but it's hard to impress the world or the community, because in your community (like the hacker-news, reddit, indie hacker) there are now thousands or millions of people, you have to do something very substantial to actual get noticed.
What more do you want? Think of how many people there are in the world who want that. Who just wish they didn't dread waking up every morning to go to work. I love my job and I'm completely fulfilled with it. It's all how you look at it - we've made it as far as I'm concerned, anything else is icing on the cake.
Really, the question you might want to ask yourself is: do you even want to be a CTO? I don't, it sounds like a set of skills and activities I don't really want to work on. I'd rather be a good engineer who helps other people grow in their career, who also gets to fish and surf in the morning and play video games in the evening.
Whenever I feel the way you're feeling, I think back to this quote by Kurt Vonnegut about Joseph Heller:
True story, Word of Honor:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer now dead, and I were at a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island.
I said, "Joe, how does it make you feel to know that our host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel 'Catch-22' has earned in its entire history?"
And Joe said, "I've got something he can never have."
And I said, "What on earth could that be, Joe?"
And Joe said, "The knowledge that I've got enough."
Not bad! Rest in peace!
People don't write about ordinary lives normally because they don't get clicks and they don't grab attention. But if you're not seeking attention why does it matter?
It's partially why I enjoy the Great British Baking Show; all the bakers are otherwise perfectly ordinary people living ordinary lives, and they just bake as their hobby and the competition is relatively cheerful. Compare that to most American reality shows where all the people do is live and breathe being a master chef literally every second of their lives and everything is extremely stressful.
Don't sweat it. Just like there are billionaires, there are also these mystical productivity billionaires. It's a cool thing to behold but it's very much not the norm.
Why? It's your life. You're the only one living it. Live it how you want. It doesn't matter what other people do. If you're happy and fulfilled doing the things you do, that's awesome. Honestly, that's really the best most people can and should strive for in their lives. Some people just aren't contented or fulfilled doing those things, that's fine too.
Everyone lives their own life, it's cool to see what other people do and be inspired by it, but no one's really forcing you if you really don't want to. But if you feel pressure, maybe you're not as fulfilled as you think?
I mean, this was probably my biggest fear about parenthood. Observing other parents, I've noticed that a lot of them lost everything that made them interesting. The kids are the only things they care about now. I don't see this as a good thing - not for parents, and not for the children. If a parent's entire self gets consumed by child-rearing, what example do they set for their children? That the point of their adult life is to have a (arbitrary, but hopefully well-paying) job in order to support their own children, perpetuating the cycle of doing nothing but breeding and dying? Isn't that meaningless and boring? To me, it is. And I'd hazard a guess that this is where midlife crisis comes from - when one's children are self-sufficient and the role of a parent is over, one realizes they have a 20 years old hole in their life, into which everything they were disappeared.
(This is my perspective as of right now. But the funny thing with perspectives is that they depend on where you stand - so who knows, maybe I'm wrong now and three years from now I'll be arguing the exact opposite? I don't expect to, but I can't rule it out.)
That's an important point, isn't it?
Home office is a wonderful thing, but now that I'm a dad, I find myself wishing for an actual, external office. Not because I don't like my own home, but because catching even a tiniest fragment of my daughter's cry next door is incredibly, incredibly distracting - even though my wife is taking care of her perfectly, I have to fight myself to not just get out of the study and render assistance.
Just make sure to not let your passion drive you too far from loved ones. (:
The irony is that some of the wealthiest people I’ve met seem the least happy and settled. It’s so strange.
The concept of having “enough” is fundamentally incompatible with the hyper-growth startup, social-media driven society that we’re creating. Because having enough means that you’re giving up on the rat race, at least to a degree.
This unhealthy obsession was in large part what drove the United States to what it eventually became in 2019 over just a few hundred years. This is probably an unpopular sentiment, but what makes us bad is often what makes us good. It is not like this obsession has no upside.
It makes society run so much faster. But can't guarantee that it runs in the right direction. And so many signs say it's not.
>>> giving up on the rat race
means I end up in a tough position. Either I leave the race, knowing that I'll have hard time to finance another race (kids, etc.); either I stay in, but then it means doing things I don't like.
middle class man's dilemma.
There’s not a single county in the US where a minimum wage income covers the cost of a two-bedroom apartment.
Economically, we’re entering a new gilded age where legislative decisions increasingly favor the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.
Individual, not household. And that appears to cover all "wage earners", including cases like college students working part time. Median household income is $63k according to https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2019/09/us-median-hou...
This is only true if you define paying for said apartment using the 30% of your income rule of thumb, which on top of a two bedroom apartment on minimum wage for a single earner is REALLY stretching reality. Federal minimum wage covers it if you increase 30% upwards easily in a lot of counties.
I'm going to call bullshit on that. Federal minimum wage is over $1000 per month at full time and I've seen 2br in my county for $550+utilities. I don't disagree with your general point but that report did a piss-poor job. I suspect they only looked in urban areas.
Alternatively, might they simply value to enter world (through themselves & others)?
Personally I think a lot of the overachiever hype/nonsense is designed to just remind people how little they are. Its not to build them up. Its a different but same version of something used to sell products like cosmetics: make people feel insecure then sell them something.
(Now someone will argue I'm somehow against doing your best. Nice try)
For me, I was part of early-career layoffs during a recession. I push myself because I was put in a hard situation, and I want control over my career.
I have that now, and I still push (though not as hard) to maintain it. It keeps my anxiety over providing for my responsibilities in check. I want to be independent.
> Why isn't it okay anymore to just do my job, have friends and watch movies?
The reason you get to "just do your job, have friends, and watch movies," is because of the advances in science/technology/government/economics/art/etc that gave you and your ancestors enough surplus in productivity so you can afford spending some of your time watching movies. Those leaps would not have been possible if the persons working on them shared your attitude.
So much suffering has been avoided by people who sacrificed their comfort discovering vaccines, inventing engines, or rallying people behind a cause. It's more than likely that you and I would not even be alive today without those sacrifices.
I don't know about you, but I feel I owe my life and my privileges to people who didn't "just do their job." And it inspires me to pay it forward.
Now don't get me wrong, maybe it is okay to "just do your job and watch movies." But don't lose sight of why you get to do that.
On the one hand, I'm with 'icelancer here - there's not enough driven people in the society (that is, driven to do things, and not driven to gain status by incidentally doing some things). The more they are, the faster things can improve. On the other hand, everything seems to indicate that there will always be something to improve, so if everyone was driven like this, nobody would be left to enjoy the fruits of these sacrifices, making them ultimately pointless.
I don't know what the right balance is. I know I myself am not going to pressure anyone into seeking meaning outside their social circle and entertainment. From what I've observed, there seems to be a default balance - some people are happy with having a decent and a loving circle of friends (like OP), and some are unhappy with it (like myself). I see no good justification for forcing either kind to change, and I don't see either as better or worse than the other.
I agree. But to me, this is not a dichotomy. As in, you don't have to choose between complete comfort (do your job and watch movies) and total sacrifice (devote all your time to a cause). You can have time for friends and hobbies and still do great good for your community and the larger society.
Partially because you having friends and watching movies doesn't make anyone rich. When people give you advice, it's meant to improve their lives, not yours. A guy who writes books will tell you to read more books, a guy who organizes seminars will tell you to attend more seminars, a venture capitalist will tell you to create a startup. (If you need to be told that watching movies is all right, you have to ask Netflix.)
People are just realizing what's been true all along: IQ is a bunk measurement that points to nothing of note in the brain.
Regarding IQ and the brain there are positive relations between brain volume, white matter volume and IQ and between hippocampal volume and verbal IQ so
The change in quality of life (due to the negativity on FB) and productivity was instantaneous.
Meditation drastically boosts focus and increases awareness, which then accelerates learning of whatever is being observed / studied.
Because of this, focus is a prerequisite for learning, and learning is a prerequisite for intelligence, so focus is very important and more beneficial than many realize.
I think I have a better solution. Watch your level of engagement, if you are hating something, it's a good signal you should do something else.
Like say Leonardo da Vinci, Goethe and Alexander von Humboldt had a lot of things going on.
I have to be honest though, I no longer believe in the startup world. I'm so disillusioned now that I honestly don't know if I can write code anymore. There are so many bad indicators about where all this is going, how it's causing wealth inequality and the destruction of the natural world, that I just don't know if my heart is in any of this anymore.
I'm mostly coping now and coming to terms with the fact that I may have to choose tech or my life. All I ever wanted to do was invent stuff, but as far as I can tell, the whole system is rigged so that that can never happen.
Without hope, there can't be focus. I don't even know what to call the limbo I'm in. It's not really depression, it's not burnout, it's not even apathy because I care very much. It's more a sense that, the best thing to do rather than invent something is to wait a year for someone else to do it. Or more realistically, for 10 other people to try with 9 of them failing. Soon that will be 100 attempts with 99 failures, going up an order of magnitude with each passing decade.
If a true next-gen solution that comes after the internet arrives soon, then it could replace the soul-sucking work-life imbalance that we've all recreated. It could replace late-stage capitalism. But it's looking like tech's going to keep crushing down harder and harder until there is no profit in anything and we're all just running the rat race until we die.
How did it come to this? Am I alone in feeling this way? Seriously, I don't really even know what to do to make my next $100 to survive tomorrow. I don't know if I can eat the $#!@ sandwich and work for someone again and lose however many more years of my life. Why can't I just go help somewhere and contribute in positive ways and make a modest income? Why is it so cutthroat and all-or-nothing? Blah. Just blah.
You are right about love though, that is very insightful. Even though it seems like tech is this analytical endeavor, I've found that it is really built on passion (love, devotion, etc, the things that got us started making things in the first place). Because when you step back from it, why would someone bang their head against the keyboard day after day in endless frustration, often alone and misunderstood, trying to do even the simplest things but coming up short, unless they saw potential in it. That's the real reason why pretty much every tech job listing is looking for passionate people. It's not about excelling now, it's about survival.
Anyway, after 6 months of writer's block, I have finally started seeing some alternatives. When I think about the opposite of the tech world today, I start feeling good emotions again like inspiration, hope and maybe even some love as you put it. Here is a starting point for anyone curious:
The table at the bottom of the second link lists some of the problems with the startup world today and some ways that we might transition from consumerist phantom tech to real tech. Where phantom tech mainly distracts or lowers some prices or makes some people obscenely rich, with jobs that provide time or money but not both, at great cost to society and nature. But real tech is things like distributed alternative energy, robot labor, universal basic income, etc that provide both time and money passively (without human slavery in the developing world) so that people can get back to living freely like we did as recently as the 80s and 90s.
You may also find some jobs posted at Idealist of interest (although many may have their own issues as the non-profit world can have its own dysfunctions):
You might like some things written by E.F. Schumacher like "Good Work": https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/313764.Good_Work
Or maybe "Honest Business"?
Also, "What Color is Your Parachute" is also great.
Or maybe stories related to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trickster
Another tip: the more frugal you are, the more flexible you can be about jobs and living arrangements.
Frankly, I can find problematical things about pretty much any profession in our modern society -- from sanitation worker through school teacher to medical doctor to shoe clerk. So, yes, it can be a challenge to make peace with that when, without a basic income, you need to exchange your labor for ration units to then exchange for food and shelter. Yet, people need, say, shoes -- so you can help a lot of people by making or selling good shoes to people who really need them. But as you point out, a lot of business and related jobs go far beyond the basics (for good or bad).
You can also find lots of post-scarcity thinking on my personal website. Or by many others in many places if you look. So, you are not alone. It seems though that, short of broad social change like, say, Andrew Yang proposes, solutions that work for specific individuals in late-stage capitalism may have to be individually crafted based on on interests, abilities, circumstances, tools, social network, local community, and so on.
Anyway, there are some non-startup jobs here in who's hiring for January 2020 (including at PBS):
I've seen C and D-level developers create working systems-despite the fact that they are using the wrong tools, creating un-maintainable code, etc.
The key is only letting things go sad far before the right people are brought in to "fix" things.
Whenever I have been the 1+ person, I always keep in mind that the original code was just trying to get the first dollar in the door. Those dollars eventually led to me to have the luxury to be able to come back and fix things.
It's why I'd rather have lazy stupid people than energetic stupid people. Energetic stupid people destroy organizational output. Lazy stupid people just keep a chair warm.
If have enough mindfulness, you start to notice this tension feeling that happens when learning. (I'm not talking about trying to get a project done, getting stuck with a compiler error, then "learning" how to solve it on Stackoverflow. The tension I'm talking about is usually subtle and happens when there isn't some sort of pressing other end goal, just learning to learn for learning and enjoyment.)
This tension is correlated to how well the unconscious mind is digesting what was learned and converting it into long term memory.
If I learn a lot and it is a difficult subject, I might get very tense within 5 minutes of reading. This means I need to take a break to let the mind digest what I just learned.
In the other direction, I can be reading a book and most of it is review, so I feel bored. My initial instinct was to skim to go over it faster, but that only reduces learning. Instead, I can dive into deeper levels of detail, focusing on how the author sees the world, why s/he is demonstrating their findings that particular way, and so on. Basically, diving in more aids learning.
Anyways, sometimes I can go for 2 hours of study straight and be in a happy middle ground of tension where my mind isn't overworked or underworked. This is the ideal state, sometimes called flow. By being mindful of this, my study sessions dynamically adapt to it, into an optimal state of learning.
Also, if it's too tense, I may not be getting it, because there is too much prerequisite material I don't know well. I might turn to wikipedia or other text books at that point. A detour can be fun, and is far better than not understanding the material. I once had to spend 3 full days learning over 20 new concepts (due to recursive prerequisites) just to read a paragraph in a book.
Definitely works and can help with focus very much, but don't know if it works equally well to types of personality different than mine.
Call it will power or whatever, but it's a mental muscle that must be exercised if it is to be realized.
In Dutch the words are "slavernij" for slavery, and "verslaving" for addiction.