On losing focus

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When I started this blog, I had only one over-arching goal, and that was to give myself an opportunity to practice writing. I write a lot of emails in my day-to-day life, and I write some code and instructions on how to do things, but what I was looking for was a place to write down whatever was on my mind at the time, regardless of whether or not my observations had any real practical value. If you’re reading this blog and you have gotten something out of it, that’s terrific, but even more important than that is that I wanted to be able to get in some writing practice and to slow the pace of my life down for a half-hour or so every day and concentrate on just writing. In fact, the first iteration of this blog proudly bore a banner “new post every Monday” (the inclusion of which was clearly a commitment device).

Well, a funny thing happened. This blog started to make money. Not much money, no, not much money at all. Barely enough to fund its existence, if I’m being honest, but still there’s magic in that transition from doing something for free and getting paid for it, even if the pay is measured in pennies on some days. After all, if you can make pennies on this sort of thing, you can make dollars, and if you can make dollars, why couldn’t you scale up to hundreds or thousands of dollars? Anyway, this part of the experience started to drive the whole experience for me.

For my day job, I am in charge of a large number of websites, which is fine by me because I’ve always been interested in Internet technologies. The sites I oversee don’t have ads on them, but I’ve always been interested in how that whole model works, so I decided to engage Google Adsense to put some ads on my blog posts here. I was interested first in whether website ads generate any real revenue (in my case at least the answer is “technically, yes”) and what sort of ads would be placed on the site (and in my case, early ads were all about small electric shavers that allowed men to trim hair that they didn’t know should be trimmed in the days before the small electric shaver was invented. It really seemed like lowest common denominator stuff).

Slowly but surely, a few pages that I had written about how to read your Peloton bike screen and controversy about broken Peloton pedals started to generate a little ad revenue. Fascinated by the daily returns (I just checked… I’ve made $0.39 today!) I started to tailor my blog to the audience that seemed to be visiting the site (because the pages that generate the revenue are the pages that are being read) rather than following my original plan of writing whatever was on my mind. Pretty soon, I was writing sequel blog posts, like how to read the Peloton leaderboard and how to replace Peloton crank arms. At this point my blog started to become about bicycling (featuring my back-and-forth vacillations on Peloton or Zwift), and Google clearly agreed because my ads are now about bicycling accessories — a step up from manscaping accessories, to be sure, but perhaps a sign that I have gotten a bit off-track.

Now, if the goal of this blog were to make money or establish a solid readership (which are sort of the same thing in an ad-based model), this is all very solid strategy. Your blog should be about something. It should be about bicycling, or whatever, and not peppered with rants about Star Trek or a biography of the Red Baron. In fact, blogging about “irrelevant” topics is definitely a no-no, but on this blog, there is no such thing as an irrelevant topic. Hopefully, I’m able to present at least one though-provoking or informative thought in each of my blog posts, but I want to get back to basics now, and in this situation it means maybe a little more randomness.

A plug for Focus Keeper

I have been thinking a lot about focus recently, because I feel that it’s my #1 productivity enemy and has been for a long time. I suppose procrastination ranks pretty high, too, but if I had to rank them I’d put focus challenges right at the top of the list. It’s the usual story… too many potential distractions and too many goals. In the face of it all, I find myself jumping from task to task, somehow still trying to multitask even though the concept of multitasking is pretty widely considered to be counterproductive these days.

I can’t say that I’ve really figure out the secret to better productivity, but the most successful strategy I’ve found to date is the pomodoro technique, which is pretty straightforward: you set a timer for an interval (I use 25 minutes as the unit of work) and pick one task (or one topic) to devote yourself to during that time. It’s amazing how, just a few minutes into a task that you’ve already decided is the best use of your time, you start to feel the pull toward all the other tasks you might be doing with your time. And if you were to switch tasks, how long do you think it would be before you felt the pull back to the original task?

There are a whole bunch of pomodoro apps out there, but the one I use is Focus Keeper (and no, I’m not compensated for this plug). It’s not overly complicated and does exactly what I want (basically, string together a series of pomodoro sessions with breaks, which is just a series of various-length timers). I tried a few of these apps, but I picked Focus Keeper because it works in both portrait and landscape modes. Good UX is everything, people!

And in conclusion…

If you’re still reading this, thanks for sticking with me. After working for a while trying to come up with compelling content that would generate ad revenue, it’s refreshing to get back to what I had planned for this blog, which is to expound on what Homer Simpson called “just a bunch of stuff that happened.”

I’m even thinking about putting back the “new posts every Monday” banner. We’ll see how the next week goes!

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