Exploding sodas in the freezer: Why having focus matters

I'm sure this (or something similar) has happened to you-- You put a drink in the freezer, and you think to yourself to come back to it in 15 to 20 minutes. Simple enough, right? What's 15 minutes? That's not even a single episode of The Office or Parks and Recreation (both shows that I'm forever addicted to).

Then a couple of hours later, maybe even a day or two later, you open the freezer and notice your delicious drink coating your frozen vegetables and ice cream containers. Fantastic-- you totally forgot to pull the can from the freezer and it paid you back by exploding everywhere.

After the first time I did this, I thought I'd be smarter: I set a timer on my watch--helping my future self remember to walk back to the fridge and get the drink out. Fast forward several hours or days again, and I once more walk back to the freezer to notice my drink having exploded everywhere. Why!?

The problem is with focus-- and specifically with finishing something that I've started. Whenever the timer went off in the second scenario, I was busy doing something else in the house. Most recently, I had just finished taking my dog out and was washing my hands. I told myself: "Ok, timer is finished, I need to head upstairs after I dry my hands and grab my soda! Easy enough."

In the 5 seconds that it should have taken me to go grab my soda and avoid the explosion, I was easily distracted. My dog picked up a nearby toy and wanted to play. Without much thought at all, I was like: "Oooh yes! Let's play!" I started throwing the toy around with him and playing fetch. After that, all hope had been lost for me to remember that I had a drink in the freezer.

WHAT'S YOUR "DRINK IN THE FREEZER"?

I realized I'm describing is a metaphor for my life every single day. My soda in the freezer is something important I need to do: Build a new feature for the app, respond to customer emails, write for this blog, seek out contract jobs, etc. The adorable puppy asking me to play with him is everything else in life: The internet, messaging apps, music discovery, figuring out who was in that one movie and what other movies have they been in, shopping on Amazon, and so on. All of those things are insanely distracting and pull me away from what needs to be done.

It's just too easy to get drawn into those distractions. Why? Mostly because they're really rewarding. It's much easier to shop on Amazon and buy things I want than it is to dig through code and fix a bug. Or to think about how to integrate a new feature. Or figuring out how to get new customers to download my app. All those things require way more thought, and the pay off is so far down the line by comparison. Hard work is hard.

IT COMES BACK TO YOUR 'WHY'.

What is there to do about this? Well, ultimately I feel it's about finding your internal motivation-- your "why". It's about figuring out what matters to you more: That instant gratification or the delayed gratification of achieving your goals. In fact, whenever I find myself wanting to click into a 'time wasting' site, I remind myself of that finish line and ask: "Does this get me there?" (It often doesn't.).

Visualizing that win, no matter how far away it might seem, is critical to getting you back on track. It's about focusing in on that one point and letting all those other distractions pass you by. It's hearing the timer go off on your phone or watch and saying: Go get the soda. Go get the soda. Nope, ignore that dog, you have just one job right now: get the soda. Go go go go! (and repeat this until you have it safely in hand).

I'm finding when I have this discipline, it's actually quite rewarding. The days that I sign off from work and look at all the tasks I've completed are so much more fulfilling than the days I slack off and putter around online. All those small instantly-gratifying distractions add up to nothing at the end of the day. Only putting in the work I wanted to do, and making progress towards my end goal is what helps me sleep at night.

That's what it's all about for me-- finding my internal motivation, and keeping that focus on it. The easy stuff will always be there, but the hard stuff is what counts.

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