The original pomodoro. Photo (CC-BY-SA) borgmarc.

For an artist, being productive and being happy are often closely intertwined. Whether you’re polishing off an album, practicing your instrument, patching or coding a new musical tool, or managing your career, music requires immense levels of focus and discipline. Then there’s the matter of the stuff that tends to be an obstacle: your day job, your to-do list, your taxes. Most musicians aren’t full-time, but even if you are, sometimes the greatest challenge is simply hurdling everything that isn’t your music, leaving you time for what is.

Digital technology is naturally the bread and butter of the site, but lately, the computer has been blamed for a lack of a focus. Certainly, computers do provide opportunities for abuse: browsers with multiple tabs, always-on Internet connections, and endless capacity to switch tasks could make your computer a distraction machine. But I do have to admit, I’ve found recent allegations about the Internet frustrating. Anecdotally, they just don’t make sense: I doodled and daydreamed in class as a kid long before the Web. I’ve never really needed advanced technology to be distracted. I also can find immense, profound focus using technology. It just doesn’t add up. To make matters worse, a lot of claims that the Internet was “rewiring” your mind made heavy use of blood flow imaging of the brain, long a suspect and incomplete means of modeling the complexity of human thought.

Happily, Science may be on my side. My friend Nick Bilton wrote a superb round-up of the flipside of the argument, pointing in particular to cognitive scientist Steven Pinker’s rebuttal.

The Defense of Computers, the Internet and Our Brains [New York Times Bits Blog]

It’s well worth reading – if, like me, you don’t mind reading on a screen from beginning to end, thoughtfully.

Okay, so the medium isn’t to blame. But that leaves the responsibility square in our court. Blessed with one of the great miracles of the universe, your mind, how can you tap into your deepest channels of creative expressiveness – and get all the business of your life out of the way?

Disciplined focus

Techniques, like computers, are just tools, but they can be useful nonetheless. I’m particularly pleased at the moment with the Pomodoro Technique, in case you didn’t guess from the tomato picture that leads this post.

The idea is this: work on a task, just one task, without distractions or multi-tasking, for 25 minutes. Then take a five-minute break.

It’s incredibly simple – and, to me, incredibly effective. I’ve tried it while working on music and coding, and felt more focused. I find it does two things. For one, it gives me the discipline to avoid checking a browser tab to procrastinate when I get stuck on a task – always with the knowledge that I only have to keep up this level of focus for less than half an hour. Avoiding multitasking is essential: it allows you to make the Internet a powerful tool for inspiration.

Oddly, the other advantage has actually been that it forces me to take breaks. Often, I have no problem plunging into a task, especially something like music. The problem is, over-abundant focus can be as energy-sapping as distraction: sitting at a computer or desk, your body begins to tense up, you forget to drink water and stretch, and so on. Even working with music, that can mean that you begin to lose focus or perspective. Returning to the Internet as a tool, those five minute breaks could be a chance for a quick Internet injection of ideas from off the fovea, off the central focal point of your eye. Creativity is sometimes best stimulated by something that has nothing to do with the task at hand.

Generally, I found the technique had the opposite impact from what I expected: it made me more able to lose track of time, by keeping my body and mind in a rhythm.

See Lifehacker for more:
The Pomodoro Technique Trains Your Brain Away From Distractions

There’s even a Google Chrome extension, which is nice when you’re browsing: Chromodoro Adds a Pomodoro Timer to Chrome

Pomodoro is a native Mac app; it provides loads of configurability.

Focus Booster is an AIR app (also available in the browser) with a nice, graphical progress bar.

For everything else, I just use a stopwatch on my phone. Any stopwatch will do; you don’t really need a dedicated app.

Task management

Okay, this is more than a little extreme. Photo (CC-BY) Rob and Stephanie Levy.

In addition to focus, though, I’m interested how readers manage tasks. For me, this fits into two broad categories:

1. Elements of big projects, stuff I care about
2. Everything else

Task management for me is taking care of the “everything else” stuff so I can focus on the big projects. And that usually means segregating lists. I like Gina Trapani’s incredibly-elegant command-line todo tool, which I’ve found to be the quickest way of adding tasks, sorting them to find out what you should be doing next with a small slice of time, and getting them done and forgotten about – minimal management required. (I use the Python fork; see a recent happy birthday post. If I ever have time, I’ll whip up a quick Android version to keep my ‘Droid coding skills sharp.)

That’s just one tool, though; Remember the Milk is excellent on the Web, desktop, iPhone, and Android. So is paper.

What about tracking progress on big projects, though? An in-progress music album feels different than a long list of random tasks (send in a tax form, invoice so and so, pick up laundry detergent). But it can be helpful to divide big projects into smaller steps – and it can be essential to remember small details of something like a piece of music as you work. How do you manage those tasks?

For collaborative projects, a lot of people I know are great fans of simple, subscription-based Web project management Basecamp. Years after this was a highly-hyped tool, it remains helpful; it’s what I’m using now to collaborate on an electronics project and to work on an elaborate redesign of CDM.

Basecamp doesn’t make much sense if you’re polishing off your album, though, necessarily. So what tools do you use?

Mindfulness

Still from a film; photo (CC-BY Noyes/mindfulness.

I’ll close with one simple thought, which is that what binds all these things together for me is a simple sense of mindfulness. It’s a concept from Buddhism, reinforced in Psychology, but I find even without disciplined meditation or something elaborate, basic awareness can have a profound impact on your work and focus. Just taking a moment to take note of my breathing, stop thinking about other things for a moment, or be aware of how my body feels can radically alter my day. As I’ve talked to artists – as I did while meeting with various folks in Germany and Portugal traveling over the past weeks – I’ve heard similar things.

As it happens, the image I found above comes from a Norway-based composer and sound designer named Harry Koopman, who himself focuses on this very issue – and has short films and soundtracks to accompany them. Those films could be ideal sources of audiovisual meditation if you need something online to focus your head before an extended work session.
http://www.mindfulness.nl/

None of this is directly related to music, but for the kinds of music being produced on this site, I think it’s very relevant. Readers on CDM are often assembling their own tools and assembling their own music from scratch, working with the incredible abstraction music production on computers demands, working with scores, and getting close to the most personal, intimate sense of self-expression in musical creation. Without discipline and focus, it’s possible to wind up frustrated and downright depressed fast – and the opposite is true, too. for me is a great time to think about this stuff; it’s the break in the academic calendar (and I still am often teaching), it’s a big seasonal shift here in North America, and amidst travel and occasional trips to the beach, my head is clear. With dissertation research, software to code, documentation, writing, blogging, and music, I know I have plenty to keep me busy. Maybe having the winter mindset in the midst of summer (see photo above) is part of what makes this all work.

So I’m curious what you think. Hopefully we can follow up with more tips for keeping you creative. And digital. And musical. Creatively digitally musical.

So, let us know:
1. How do you stay focused when working on a computer?
2. Does the Pomodoro work for you?
3. How do you manage tasks – little ones, or big ones associated with musical projects?
4. How do you keep your mind happy?

I look forward to your responses.

  • Miller Peterson

    I like Pinker's point re: "re-wiring your brain." I always get kind of irritated when people say things like: "doing activity X actually changes the wiring of your brain!!!" Unless you believe in a an immaterial spirit pulling the strings behind the scene (as maybe a lot of people do?) it is just obvious that any psychological change should be reflected in the brain.

    Regarding productivity, one thing I find helps is to try to leave what I'm working on in a state that is easy to pick up again. For example, if possible I won't quit coding if I'm involved in some tricky debugging, as it will be even harder to figure out the next evening.

  • http://vimeo.com/12490993 jon

    Hey Thanks for this article really really helpful! I struggle so much with these exact issues – so much so it sometimes puts me off even sitting down and starting to work on tracks –

    i find it amazing that i can be working at something for hours, however if theres no focus or pace in my work nothing productive comes of that time – ill be sure to try out the pomodoro technique,

    somethings i do tht helps – (got this from Mike Stavrou fantastic book 'mixing with your mind' – well worth reading)

    Try to separate 'creative' and mundane tasks i.e dont let the flow of your thinking mind get interrupted by having to patch up mixes, etc – so have all your aux sends, your go-to fx's your groups already set up and then try working on making music, confusing the two types of workflow doesnt help.

    Similarly before sequencing a track i try to create/design sounds for 7 or more musical elements before composing a single note – this allows me to quickly pick up new sounds and introduce them – having to design my sounds as i go slows down the composition and productivity

  • http://seanny.net Renzu

    "Regarding productivity, one thing I find helps is to try to leave what I’m working on in a state that is easy to pick up again"

    Definitely… just keeping that in mind winds up being a big motivator for me to keep going on whatever sound sketch I have in front of me. Gotta get it to the point where the next immediate step, or the light at the end of the tunnel, can be seen before I save it for later.

    Being an INTP, I basically have no set process… I just try to build an intuitive sense of what kind of work motivates me and what bums me out. With that in mind, I can design projects that are more likely to be completed, and avoid or re-think projects that will bum me out before they actually do.

  • Joe

    Carr rebuts the rebuttal here:

    http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2010/06/steven_

    Their argument is more to do with how the brain functions than whether the Internet is or isn't bad. Carr has the better case IMHO; Pinker seems to have more of an agenda.

  • http://andrew.hicox.com plurgid

    facebook (aka "the distraction engine").

    If I want to get anything done, I've got to force myself to put it away. Hoping it won't come to the point that I actually have to block it on my router.

  • Andrew

    I've found recently that working on music in a new mindset has gotten me out of writer's block (ie. writing classical style pieces a la theory 2000 courses). I've started making scores with a wacom tablet, and it seemed absurd to me at first because it felt wrong to write music on anything other than paper or renoise, but it's really fun using the tablet for writing the scores. I can then type them into renoise, and suddenly I have a whole lot of musical character that I can pick and choose from when I'm writing tracks now.

    This is similar to what jon said- I have a bunch of musical ideas that I normally wouldn't think to write (bach style chord changes, for example) and it allows me to just play around and see what works. I get bored and frustrated when it's the same chords I've written 100 times before.

  • http://www.lazytrap.com Aaron

    Andrew: out of curiosity.. what scoring software are you using with your wacom?

  • Mark

    "Being an INTP, I basically have no set process… I just try to build an intuitive sense of what kind of work motivates me and what bums me out. With that in mind, I can design projects that are more likely to be completed, and avoid or re-think projects that will bum me out before they actually do."

    Wow, also an INTP myself, I get a sense of what you mean. I can definitely see how that would be helpful, but I'm not totally sure how to design projects that way…

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Joe:

    I'm not convinced. Carr doesn't differentiate between different modes of usage of the Internet – modes evidenced by this very comment thread. Indeed, some people are approaching the screen with greater degrees of focus than they would print media, by virtue of the fact that what's on the screen is tailored to their interests. Carr relies almost entirely on the neuroscientists' view, which itself has an axe to grind — and I've seen him repeatedly, in magazine articles at least, claim blood flow patterns to the brain are a sufficient view of what these adaptations are.

    Carr's argument is regarding general trends. My argument is that, in legislating our own lives, we can only focus on the personal. That may have more to do with how we use the tools of the Internet than they do with the Internet itself. Carr argues that vocabulary and problem solving approaches aren't improving. Yet the Web can be a tool for expanding both those horizons – among other media. (No one's telling you to burn your books and stop reading.)

    For an alternative view, and one that I think is germane to the hope that we could better ourselves:
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?stor

    "In The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind, New York Times health and medical science editor Barbara Strauch writes about ways the brain actually improves with age, and discusses what recent studies say about keeping the brain in tip-top shape."

    I would hope that a range of activities, including, yes, reading on paper (which I do quite a lot), would open up other possibilities. It's particularly encouraging in electronic music. Once the domain of youngsters, artists now cover a broader gamut of ages. A lot of famous electronic musicians continue to record as they have kids. And my general hope is that, far from being doomed when we get past 30, we have decades of potential growth and learning ahead of us. Rather than asking how the Internet is corrupting us, it might be more logical to ask how we can use it effectively as a tool, to rewire our brains in good ways.

  • Jane

    I mostly prepare for a flow of focus for 3 to 4 weeks. In that period, no parties, no commercial jobs, no friends visiting. Total isolation. Just me and my studio.

    I learned that to be as creative as possible you I need to conquer every technical issue in a studio first so that you can use any machine that is available instantly.

    When that is done the studio behaves as if it is an extension of my mind. After some time I feel the stream coming. When I am In that state of mind I feel total bliss.

    Mail and safari are not used the whole day. No tv in my studio. Phone switch off. And ……some "fuck you" money in the bank. That helps a lot. No worrying about anything is of vital importance.

  • http://www.redvoidmusic.com/blog/ redvoid

    so I found your article by trying to catch up on my RSS feeds, when I should have been working. Read the entire article, opened all your external references in separate tabs for followup after I finish my critical work task today, considered all my self motivational creative exercises, and dreamed up many methods of commenting on your post, and decided I really should go back to work, and finish up that DJ set after work instead since I have a gig tomorrow that I am quite unprepared for…. oh yeah right after I buy groceries first… crap!

  • jordan

    two main things for me:

    whenever possible, i try to only work on what i'm in the mood for at that moment. forcing myself to do something my head or heart are not into because i sorted a to-do list by priority or date is counterproductive for me.

    if i'm in a coding mood i'm going to write lovely code, quickly, and enjoy doing it. if i'm in the mood to play something, it's probably going to sound better. and so on. obviously real life is not going to allow you to live 24/7 by your whimsy but i work for myself and wear all the hats so at the end of the day it's all on me as far as work goes.

    so that, and working standing up. no joke. you'd be shocked at how good it is for your alertness, and your back. burns some extra calories throughout the day too. seriously. please try it.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @redvoid: I was waiting for someone to say that. ;)

    But, yes, as Jane says, sometimes you have to switch things off. Even I do.

  • Naus3a

    For focusing i kind of follow the Pomodoro method, even if i'm not reLly that disciplined. For the rest i personally have a major bias: whenever i'm intorno a creative process, be' it music or coding, i'm in panic. i have lots of sudden panic attacks (like "my god it's crap, it won't work"), my breath gets irregular and i don't sleep well for the whole project. So i finish spending the 5 Mins breaks repeating myself "stay calm, everything's ok, you'll make it right".

    Am i the only one living this way? :)

  • jordan

    also, as far as general tech stuff goes i find "blackout" apps like Think or WriteRoom do help me. sometimes i'll set my desktop background to images or videos that have something to do with the piece i'm working on too.

  • http://seanny.net Renzu

    Mark: I only know that I can't deal with long projects that involve lots of tedium, or projects where the conceptualization & creativity (the fun part) is all in the front, with nothing but grinding to follow. I like to work on short, loosely-defined projects where creativity and experimentation is evenly distributed. Lots of project ideas are always popping up in my head, as well as opportunities for collaboration. Knowing what I'm capable of working on helps me cull the list down.

    Back to one of the major points of the article, the relationship between the internet and our music… I have a funny relationship with the internet, since it's as much a distraction for me as an inspiration. I'm not a genre producer who can sit in front of the same 3 pieces of gear or plugins and bang out an album's worth of tracks that sound mostly alike. I'd get bored of that prospect before developing track 2. Instead I'm always searching for new ideas, sounds, techniques, gear/plugins/libraries/sounds and so on. The internet is an amazing resource for that of course. It's also a major distraction too, but sometimes it's hard to differentiate whether I'm being distracted or inspired.

    I remember the few times when I've had to go without internet for a week or two. My creativity was practically shut down during those periods. The popular adage of locking yourself up in an isolation chamber with your gear, while great for some people, is not universal. Though I've had great spurts of productivity being locked in a foreign studio full of gear I've never used, the novelty wouldn't sustain me beyond two or three tracks. Eventually I'd have to go back out to find new ideas to channel into my work, and new ways to channel it. To some degree, I am doomed to be distracted.

  • http://www.twitter.com/jonguntrip Jon

    Thanks for the article, rings a lot of bells, I was also the kid in class (even still in meetings) doodling and daydreaming…hadn't heard of Pomodoro, but determined to try it tomorrow…my distraction levels are at an all time high (thanks iPad!)

    In terms of task management, I love teuxdeux http://teuxdeux.com/ – simple and very effective for task management and prioritisation.

  • Sebastian

    After a whole day of programming my main problem is not only to stay focused on making some music in the evening but also being creative. With the head full of code snippets and unsolved problems from the day job it's very difficult to say "fuck it, relax and start recording something even if it totally sucks".

    I don't want to sound like a commercial guy but we recently started to code yet another todo tool. It started out as a small internal pet project to manage our own tasks and to try out Google's appengine with Clojure, a Lisp-dialect running on the JVM. As we thought it got really cool we made it publicly available under TheDeadline.

    Some of the main principles were that we don't want another prioritized list manager but a system that lets us easily enter and handle our todos with filterable context information by using twitter-like tags and an internal aritificial intelligence system that reminds us of our todos and informs us of the unfinished todos of our buddies without being too annoying. I don't think many will have the feeling we use an AI under the hood (if your interested: it's a rule-based system based on the Rete algorithm) but it's already mature enough to work with it on a daily basis (at least we do). Maybe some of you find it useful, too.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Jon: Teuxdeux looks lovely! I like that it maps things out by days of the week, which means it can even accompany other systems nicely.

    @Sebastian: TheDeadline also looks fantastic; I'll check that out, for sure.

    This does raise some interesting questions – what would a Web app look like that helps to fry your mind into creative mode. Maybe it'd combine images and visuals for inspiration with Oblique Strategies with…. I don't know. :)

  • http://designingsound.org Miguel

    Great post, Peter!

    For focusing on tasks, pomodoro technique is the more effective and practical solution. It's very simple and works amazing.

    For task and project management I use an app called OmniFocus.

    http://www.omnigroup.com/products/omnifocus/

    It's based on GTD technique and also adds some additional tools for getting things done better. It's fantastic for the job. I've also used another app called Things, but OmniFocus is best for me. There I can organize different tasks, daily todo lists, organize big projects. The filter system is great. You can browse the taks by context, project, flagged, etc. It's fantastic.

    For keeping my mind happy I use to include some little tasks on my schedule that make me feel relaxed. That includes watch a video of something on the web, play with my dog, see an episode of one show I like, or just turn off the screens, close my eyes and listen to a couple of nice songs. That's always makes me feel confortable.

    I'd like to add something more. There are some apps that help to focus on something, such as:

    http://freeverse.com/mac/product/?id=7013 http://www.johnhaney.com/backdrop/

    Another great tool I use is WriteRoom:

    http://www.hogbaysoftware.com/products/writeroom

    It's simple text editor that help you to avoid distractions when you're writing… I use it for brainstorming, write blog posts, articles, etc. Keeps you very focused on your writing…

    Cheers,

  • J. Simon van der Wal

    Hey that's what I do! Twenty-five minutes messing around on the net and then five minutes solid work… er, wait, did pick that up wrong? :)

  • http://agargara.iiichan.net/ Agargara

    This is the reason I find running something like Ableton Live in fullscreen helps productivity. Going fullscreen doesn't give you that much more screen space, but it helps your mind focus and not be distracted by multitasking.

  • David Prouty

    I use this to track large projects. The Visual Understanding Environment

    http://vue.tufts.edu/

    Its free and tracking projects is not what it is made for but it works very well for those purposes. hope its useful to someone. :)

  • Axel

    I have to admit I haven't read Carr's book. To save precious time I read only one or two abstracts I found on the internet ;-)

    Does he even acknowledge the biggest distraction and stupidity machine of the last century which is: TV!? The internet has so much potential for bringing people together. Since traditional journalism has succumbed to PR almost completely, it is currently also my only hope for the survival of free democratic societies.

    And to keep focus I, um, keep focus. Doesn't this all come down to a decision on what exactly you want to do with your time? When I want to write music I don't go on the internet. Often, I even switch off my computer (yes, it has an off-switch). We actually have responsibility for our lives. All we need to do is take it. There is no time management tool that can help us with that. We rewire ourselves at each moment by making decisions. The internet is just a technology, albeit an important one.

  • Pingback: ???????????????????????????(The Pomodoro Technique™) : monogocoro ?????

  • http://www.tom.net Tom

    I find that Modafinil helps enormously.

  • jusba

    Interesting article. It is true that we have to take care of tedious things and responsibilities. However, i do think that if you consider yourself as an artist or have a passion towards music or anything you sometimes must say "fuck it" to those responisbilities and just go with your art or whatever.

  • adam

    Thanks Peter, exactly what I needed. I just did some Pomodoros and it works great.

    Another concept that always works for me is to have at least two completely different projects i'm working on. For example "create digital music" and "prepare my tax return". I start working on the first project til i get stuck. Then I work on the second project til i get stuck. Then i start over. It's like I had batterys for every kind of work. When my "Make music"-battery is empty doing something that's got nothing to do with music gives this particular part of me time to recharge…

  • http://www.20twelvedubstep.com Diasporah

    Thank you Peter!

    The article really was a great read and your entry actually was very relevant to my current time-management. It is very hard going to school , Working a full-time, Running a label, Djing, and making tracks (Although Renoise saves me quite a bit of time in that area lol) So it boils down to a point where you can feel overwhelmed and you just want to relax and read CDM. The thing that works best for me is my lovely Dry-Erase Board which was recommended by a close friend who relates to the struggles of staying focused in the digital-domain.

    Keep up the good work, Best blog ever created for Electronic Musician's if you ask me.

    Ryan@ The Twenty/Twelve Imprint.

  • http://www.jlpconsultants.com/ Lucito

    Thanks for the insight!

    I have been in the IT business for over 25 years and have been learning about music and how to make it for the past year. Since I was a kid and reading more than 6 books a week I have developed a simple method that helps me be creative and do things. First my goal, and the way I have lived my life, is to learn something new every single day. I refuse to go to bed at night without learning something new, as I feel my day is wasted if I don't. The real trick is to keep your mind open for new insights all the time.

    Second I developed a technique of focused dreaming when I was a kid, and it has helped me all of my life to get things done. When I have a project, or get stuck in one, I normally spend a short time analyzing what needs to be done then put the thing to the back of my mind. Then the trick is to consciously dream and focus on the general picture and not think about any details of it. That takes training and can be difficult, but I found out over the years that within anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks a fully formed creative solution will come to my mind with all the details. Then I must act very quickly to put down the solution on paper. My wife is very used now to me getting up in the middle of the night running to the office to take some notes.

    As for managing to-dos I tried about everything, I even wrote some multiple software applications to do it, but I always come back to a medium sized spiral-bound notebook I keep on my desk in front of my computer monitors and where I make my to-do list. If I am busy I start a new page daily and go back to the previous days and move to the current page the main tasks to do. I also put down thoughts, ideas, insights, and notes in the books. I simply cross the tasks out when it is done. Very efficient and I have piles of those notebooks that are very entertaining to read through and are great sources of ideas, and also of where my mind was at certain points in time.

  • Jonathan

    I'm not interested in short term focus but rather long term focus. I'm perfectly creative minute by minute, hour by hour, even day by day.

    But as the months and years roll by, I find myself feeling really exhausted and burned out.

    I will have had my guitar for 2 years coming up this September. I'm taking lessons. Progress is pretty painfully slow.

    As for 2010 I set 3 month deadlines – begin composing April 1. (check). Begin recording July 1. Begin shooting video October 1. Goal: 4 music videos (good or bad!) by January 1, 2011.

    What I've found is that having been at this for so long, I'm feeling really burned out. I haven't been practicing or writing much the past month. I feel completely exhausted. I'm tired of it all. At least when I was in school, the classes would change with the years. But this is like one class… for the rest of my life! I still think I might like a career in music… but that's never going to happen if I can't get started.

    So how do you keep at it year after year after year?

  • Damon

    I started out with software when I discovered you could make music on your computer. Now I have some pretty kickn' outboard gear. Turns out computer music can be backwards compatible.

  • Damon

    I just choose to believe that was the actual topic.

  • Axel

    @Jonathan

    "So how do you keep at it year after year after year?"

    I've been playing guitar for about 25 years now. I just can't help it. It's part of my life. I LOVE it!

    I think the key to discipline is love and passion. I suggest you stop worrying about a career in music and all this and just listen more to the noise that comes out of this marvelous piece of wood when you work it. There is magic in it. And you can find it by listening and getting out of its way. Find some music you'd love to play and think you could handle with a little work. Then listen to it over and over and over again. If it takes you 2 weeks figuring out a 10 second section only by listening that's okay. Time is not important. Desire is.

    Don't put pressure on yourself!

    Good luck!

  • Ivan

    I have found the same interest about these subjects a long time ago. There is a best-seller book about time/task managing, called Getting Things Done from David Allen. A lot of software applications, as Omnifocus, have been developed according to the principles of this book.

    Here is a list of other books which are VERY interesting I think :

    - The Inner Game of Music (Tim Gallwey)

    - The Power of Full Engagement (Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz)

    - Any book about relaxation or/and bouddhist meditation

  • http://labs.makemachine.net Jeremy

    Great post!

    A sense of mindfulness is definitely key for me.

    Another important factor for me is maintaining simplicity. If I am working on a complex programming project or composing music I will first gain a broad understanding of the overall structure of things and purposefully neglect the intricate details. Then, I'll break the complex task into small simple ones. I'll pick one that seems like a good starting place and continue to select the most natural next step until all of the tasks are complete. If a step takes longer then a half an hour or so I will typically take a short break and think about ways to break it into a subset of simple steps. In this way the principals of OOP apply quite well to working on creative endeavors.

    That said, a solution to constant productivity is most likely not one size fits all.

    Thanks for the thought provoking article,

    ~Jeremy

  • http://www.jlpconsultants.com/ Lucito

    @Jonathan

    The trick for long term focus is a mindset to learn something new daily. Since I have been a little kid many many decades ago, I have refused to go to bed at night without learning something new that day. The trick is then to learn something new daily in the field or fields that you are focusing on. It does not have to be something huge, but something new. This way you keep focusing, and since you are learning new things all the time it is more fun and you progress much quicker this way.

    I know from experience that it can be very difficult as I started with music about a year ago, as it was something that interested me since I was a kid, but never had the opportunity to concentrate on it. It is heartbreaking at time how little progress you can make, but the only real way of progressing is to stick to it and learn new things daily. I now have a lot of interest in all things musical and since my background is hardware and software I am trying to dream of new ways to do music, even though right now what I do is more noisy than musical. One day…

    Good luck!

    Luc

  • Bo

    Very interesting topic. Since I'm trying to get my focusing capabilities in better shape, I'll give the pomodoro technique a try. I recently saw a nice Google techtalk with the title "Your brain at work". It's about how neuroscience can help to improve your working and focusing capabilites. I recommend to watch it, if you can spare an hour. It is not technical at all. <a>

    Bo

  • http://mattleaf.com Matt

    These tools have probably been mentiond b4, but they're really good for managing interent usage. I use Freedom and Self Control:

    http://visitsteve.com/work/selfcontrol/ http://macfreedom.com/

    Freedom in particular is just great. I just bang in an hour and thats it, no net for an hour, and I can focus on the task at hand. Then I can even have a quick 5 minutes at the end of the 60 minutes, abnd just throw in another 60 minute block.

    Granted it's not going to stop you from surfing via your smartphone!

    It's basic discipline that's needed.

    But I personally decide against using an RSS feed reader. I limit my feeds to manual address entering/bookmarks. And in turn liit the amount of media i consume.

    The internet is literally infinite, so i use this method while working on a project.

    At the end of the project period, i'll go through another phase of intense research, finding more sites, blogs, bookmarks, websites. All this tends to fuel the impotus for a new project – which when it begins I go back to the limited/chosen few news feeds.

  • Drutski

    Mindfuless (as in focused attention) is the key. You should check out the work of Eckhart Tolle, which explains the essence of zen. Funnily enough he decribes it as no-mind.

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  • raoul

    drugs ?