#70: Making time for focus

In this episode I ask if we are making enough time for focused work.

Focused work is critical to us to allow us to solve problems and do the most valuable work.

Do we need to think about the time we are providing for ourselves, our teams, and our organisations?

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Published: Wed, 20 Jan 2021 16:45:40 GMT


[00:00:35] Hello and welcome back to the Better ROI from Software Development podcast.

[00:00:40] If you're using Office 365 like me, you might occasionally get an email from Cortana.

[00:00:46] Occasionally these emails come through and try and help you to make the best of your day, help you to actually improve how you work and your work life balance.

[00:00:57] And I was looking at an email I received this morning, first listed out a few tasks I set myself to do, which is nice, but he then also asked me if I wanted a book time to focus. And I thought that was a good conversation to have as part of the podcast.

[00:01:16] We sometimes get lost in all the work that we do and sometimes forget that we actually need to have focus time set aside so that we can actually think about the important problems that we have to deal with.

[00:01:31] Often as executives, we find ourselves running from meeting to meeting whether that be pre-Covid very physically or indeed now just virtual. We find ourselves with very little time to sit down and think.

[00:01:46] And to do my jobs well, being able to take that time out of our day to focus and actually have real time to consider the work that we need to engage in, solve problems, think about the direction of the business is very important.

[00:02:03] And it is a crucial thing for us to make sure that we're making time available for that activity.

[00:02:10] And obviously, Microsoft feels that's important; that's why they're sending me emails asking me if I wanted to spend time focussing.

[00:02:18] They even make it easy on email. From the email, I can block out an hour or two hours to then focus on whatever it is I need to be spending time thinking about.

[00:02:29] Within software development, it's crucial to allow the team time to focus on work. So much of software development is problem solving.

[00:02:40] Now, if you've got a problem to solve, how easily do you do it if you're constantly in meetings or having to provide updates or having to answer people's questions?

[00:02:51] I'm going to bet you're a lot better at problem solving if you've got time to step away from the distractions and be able to focus on the problem in hand and devote your mental energies towards it.

[00:03:05] And that's exactly true of your software team. Your software team need to be able to step away from distractions and think about the work they're trying to achieve, trying to solve that problem.

[00:03:18] Now, whether that's as individuals or teams depends on the work they're doing.

[00:03:23] I'm always a great believer in software developers working as part of a team so that they're getting the advantage of that team and that group mentality, relying on other people's ideas, not just their own. So I'd certainly recommend that, but in the same way, occasionally even individuals need to be able to step away and think for a problem. Without distraction.

[00:03:50] One of our biggest distractions that we come across is meetings.

[00:03:55] Now, as executives we're probably in way too many meetings and you have to sit there and wonder sometimes just how important those meetings are - how many meetings do you sit in that are actually producing value?

[00:04:09] Just look at your calendar for the last 24 hours, how many meetings have you attended where you didn't really gain the value that you probably had in the room to attend the meeting in the first place?

[00:04:23] And with us having to probably have a little bit more ceremony about setting up meetings with us all working from home, working virtually, I think there's a real movement now to ask "Do we need to be having so many meetings?"

[00:04:35] Should we be spending more time away from meetings so that we can do valuable work?

[00:04:44] That's obviously not to say that meetings can't produce value. In fact, some of the greatest value can come from meetings, but only if they're well-run and focussed.

[00:04:54] How many of your meetings do you receive a proper agenda for?

[00:04:59] If there isn't an agenda, you have to question: "OK, what are we what are we gathering for?", "What are we going to try to achieve?", "What's the point in us all being in one place?"

[00:05:10] Maybe there is better approach's than having everybody sat in a room in a meeting, be it virtual or physical.

[00:05:16] So, for example, if you're looking to distribute a lot of information to people, is having everybody on the same meeting the best way of achieving that? You have to coordinate everyone's time down to make sure everybody can attend.

[00:05:33] Now whether that's virtually with everyone having problems, maybe the Internet, maybe everybody having problems getting Skype, Zoom, or Teams working. Or maybe it's physical, making sure that everybody makes it to the meeting room in time, making sure everyone's got a coffee.

[00:05:49] Maybe there's a better way of being at to distribute that information, maybe record it is a video. Then people can watch at their own speed when they're able to - rather than trying to coordinate everybody and go through the overhead of getting everybody into the same place at the same time.

[00:06:08] Maybe the meeting is to make a decision.

[00:06:10] Do we know what the decision is?

[00:06:12] Do we know what the options are?

[00:06:14] Is it possible that potentially just by sending the email round of these are decision to make and these are the options - cannot this decision be agreed without the need of people turning up?

[00:06:26] Potentially it doesn't need the discussion? Can it be done without the meeting?

[00:06:32] And in software development, we have a lot of meetings about status updates: "Where are we with this piece of work?", "Where are we with that piece of work?", "When do you predict you're going to achieve X?", "When you think you're going to be finished with Y?".

[00:06:49] So many of these meetings probably don't need to happen.

[00:06:52] We have various tools available to show progress where we are in terms of development tasks. Use those and use them to radiate information out.

[00:07:03] Rather than having to grab the team together and sit in a room where everybody is actually going through what they did over the last few weeks with most people actually not being that interested for most of the meeting except for maybe their five minutes - if we just had to give a status update, does that need to be in person? Do we need everyone else there?

[00:07:27] As always there are good reasons to have meetings - so there might be a problem, we might need the whole team to actually discuss the issue. Great. Let's make sure we know what it is we're there to do. We've got a proper agenda. We know what we trying to aim to do, and we've got the right people in the room.

[00:07:46] But if it is just a status update of what did you did last week, then we're much better off using systems to provide that - to provide that reporting of this is what I've done - the "this is where we're up to".

[00:08:00] As I say, there are many, many tools out there that are very good radiating what's been done and where we're up to.

[00:08:09] In this podcast, I've talked about why focus is so important. It allows us time to think about problems properly, it allows us to do valuable work.

[00:08:23] So next time, when you receive an email from Cortana asking if you want to book some time out for focussed work; have a real think as to whether or not that's going to be a better investment of your time than just keep attending meetings.

[00:08:38] Remember to make sure they make time to plan time for yourself, your team and your organisation to have that ability to focus on key activities.

[00:08:54] Thank you for listening and I look forward to speaking to you again next week.