In the realm of productivity, I think there are two types of focus. You could call them “micro focus” and “macro focus”. I came up with the distinction as it has been on my mind a lot lately. A quick search before I started writing showed me that I’m not the only one making this distinction. What I found intriguing is that William Webb, the author of that article, said that he’s much better at macro focus than at micro focus. It has been my observation that most people are like him, but it’s been a different experience for me.
But first, let’s define our terms, and my definition might be slightly different from his. For me, micro focus is about being able to choose a task, ignore others that are not relevant at that moment, and get “in the zone” where you can perform without getting distracted easily. Macro focus is about having goals and clear priorities and not holding too many projects and responsibilities at once.
I am good at micro focus. Using the Pomodoro technique was very helpful in getting there. Of course, I sometimes procrastinate when I am not sure how to proceed, but once I’m tackling a project, I stay on it. I’ve seen so many people for whom the incoming email, the person walking outside the window, etc. is always more exciting than the thing they’re doing, or who switch from one task or topic to another the moment they feel like it.
On the other hand, I think that many people have a better macro focus. They decide on a job or a personal priority or a side-project and then either keep at it or drop it after a deliberate decision that other things are more important. For me, so many projects sound exciting, and I want to be a part of them. Few things are good enough that I want to focus exclusively on them, though, not even for days or weeks. And there’s practically nothing that I’m doing that I want to get rid of entirely, probably because of a sunken cost fallacy but also the optionality fallacy and keeping all options open forever (which isn’t very sustainable)..
It is one reason I’m freelancing with multiple customers and doing other projects simultaneously: having options, and not buying into one thing too much. I guess my fascination with the world of APIs comes from a similar sentiment. I’ve always been an “and” person, not an “or” person. Cooperation between competition. The choice, comparison, and flamewars between technologies or tools A and B aren’t remotely as exciting as the integrations and standards that build bridges between the two.