Furious Fists of Fire for Focused Fridays

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 03/17/2009

I have an opportunity the likes of which I have not had since I programmed HitTail–single-minded focus! At least, once a week. I plan on converting this opportunity into massive productivity that trickles back into the rest of the week. This blog post is about the background to this, and the planning that must happen to make these Fridays super-meaningful, and my key to being the high impact player that I have been so many times in the past.

Single-minded focus means shutting the door, silencing email, IM, phone, and whatever other insidious tendrils of peoples’ ability to derail you that have snaked their way into my life.

The biggest offender is of course cubicle-life. Without doors, there is really no filter. You can put headphones on and turn off the phone and software-notifications. But really let’s face it. Once you’re put in a cubicle, you have had a productivity limit slapped onto you. While not intentional, and I know it’s well-meaning, it’s “the man’s” way of saying “you will never be more effective than me.”

With programming, it’s particularly relevant. I’m one of those people who needs total silence to program. Even ambient music or discussion at a distance is fatally distracting. But I’m not a programmer at work. But in the field of SEO, you HAVE TO be a programmer–at least a little bit–to be effective. But other people have the “job” of SEO programmers. But I’m supposed to provide the company-wide and client-wide strategies for SEO, and if you don’t walk the walk, you can’t talk the talk.

What am I to do?

Easy–just focus on just the right projects at just the right time to keep your edge. You have to be the genuine article, or you’ll be “outed” in 6 months or so. I can feel it happening already.

So, I steal 3 hours here, and half-a-day there from Rachel after work and on weekends. My stress level goes up. Other areas of my life fall into disarray. It isn’t fair… so I try to do it at work.

But I work in the “agency environment.”–and in a cubicle to boot. Interruptions abound, and the background discussions are ever present. It’s basically hell for someone like me.

It takes between 6 to 20 minutes to regain focus once you’re interrupted, and interruptions at a marketing agency in the cubicle environment are constant. Even with headphones and all the interruptions turned off, you’re going to have your Account Managers walk up to you to take care of something that really does have to be addressed before an impending meeting. It’s their job. But those lost 20 minutes with every interruption not only limit your productivity for the day, but it also limits the overall heights of excellence you can achieve in life.

Various people have expressed the opinion that they don’t believe they are hyper-intelligent or geniuses of any sort–but rather are simply better at focusing than other people. Most notably, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. Franklin had some quote that I’ll figure out later related to his discovery of the Gulf Stream on a trip to France where he said something along the lines that he wasn’t a genius for discovering it, but rather just an average person with a great deal of discipline who thought to take ocean temperatures. Einstein’s quote is much more famous: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it;s just that I stay with problems longer.”

It is my similar believe that if you have even a little bit of the raw stuff to do amazing things, the principle thing keeping it from happening is the determination to make it so, and crafting your environment to support it. When you’re at the whim of the goings-on around you, without the basic human right to filter your stimulus, then of course you’re going to be an Office Space idiot, disincented to ever reach your potential.

The last time I really focused (even more than HitTail) was at Scala where I totally transformed a company and did my proudest work. Not only did I have an office with a door, but I had up to 2 days a week I could work from home, and I always exercised that privileged at least one day a week. The creativity is just so much higher with this sort of freedom, and with it I helped turn a company that was millions in the red to tens-of-millions in the black. Yep, I take credit for a great deal of that, to which my LinkedIn recommendations will attest.

So after nearly descending into Office Space insanity, I brought up the issue and won myself a focus day once a week. It’s going to be Fridays, and I’m going to lead my week up to that Friday so I can hit it with fists blazing. I can’t take the time to do “discovery” and surveying the landscape on Friday. I have to hit a planned project HARD, because if I don’t finish it, I can’t really take it up again in a serious way until the following Friday. And projects are now competing for that Friday. God forbid… Powerpoint projects that just perpetuate my Office Space stupidity. I have to clear out the Powerpoint work Monday through Thursday, so my Fridays can have some long-term transformational power.

Basically, I’m going to program. But I’m not doing old-fashioned server programming–and not even what’s thought of today as Cloud distributed programming. I’m going to do mash-up programming with a heavy emphasis on JavaScript, and generic or generalized system frameworks. Now anyone who has followed my work over the years knows I think that I basically invented agile frameworks (along with a host of other technologies and applications) but they were relegated to under-utilized internal company tools that no one but Steve Elsner ever really understood.

So during the week, I do the best I can with headphones and brown noise (warning: audio link). But I plan, and I plan, and I plan for that Friday.

Oh, with that Friday do I plan on moving my professional capabilities and the capabilities of my company a baby-step forward. And those baby-steps have what I think of as “self-describing accelerators.” An endeavor isn’t worth doing unless it has the capability to snowball its own awesomeness. It’s kind of like “viral” but for business. The landscape is just much too competitive for non-self-fueling, non-scalable products (Powerpoint deliverables). Instead, you strive to create something that is generically wonderful, and at the same time, easy to understand and allow other people to participate in the game–NOT as a user of an application, but as collaborative programmers.

Wait until you see what I have in mind. I think I’m the first one to it.