Blog Post: Are You Better At Focusing On The Future Or The Immediate?

Agile coaches, project and product managers all have their strengths. While the specifics tend to differ wildly, I can usually divide them into two camps: the immediate and the future. The immediate specialists are awesome day-to-day negotiators of roadblocks and issues that arise on the team. They love spending time with the team, keeping meetings […]

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Is Focus The Key To Your Happiness?


I’m often reminded of how wonderful it is to be working now. Not only do I get to work with the greatest technology ever known, but I am paid to interact with it on a daily basis. I get to wear pretty much anything I want to the office, and that’s not even the greatest perk I have when I head in. When I sit down with my boss for a one-on-one talk about how things are going, I am frequently asked about my happiness.

Never do I remember being asked this question early on in my career. Despite my young age, I remember being repeatedly told that my paycheck was the only “thank you” I deserved. My how times have changed.

Happiness is something discussed in human relations circles, as well as industry leaders. As pointed out by agile grand poo-bah Jeff Sutherland, ensuring the happiness of your company can produce 50 times the productivity. When he’s not busy passing on his wisdom of Scrum, he’s teaching many of us on how important it is that we are happy at work.

Since then, many have tried to take the idea down a pegor two. While important to acknowledge the limitations of any measurement in the workplace, there have been numerous studies that have backed up Mr. Sutherland.

The basics are simple: everyone is anonymously asked how happy they have been recently and then follow up with open-ended questions about how things could improve for you. Individually, a nameless survey on this information is useless, but when grouped together it can signal good or bad times coming for your company. Imagine the possibilities this information could open up.

The best part is when you take this one step further. If happy people produce better work, enjoy coming in, and gladly sacrifice for the greater good…is there one specific thing you could do to improve happiness?

Matt Killingsworth, as part of his doctoral research at Harvard, created a survey where people were asked at various points in the day how happy they were. You can still sign up, I highly encourage it. Amongst the metrics measured were if the subject wanted to be doing what they were currently in the middle of, what exactly it was, and if they were thinking about something else. The most telling stat was the focus of the subject.

In his TED talk about the subject, Killingsworth said respondents were overwhelmingly happier when they stayed in the moment of whatever they were doing. As ridiculous as it sounds, thinking about your commute while you are in the middle of it produces a higher happiness rating than the music trying to distract you.

Peter Saddington addressed the idea of multitasking and how study after study shows it to be a myth in his Agile 2013 presentation “The Science of High Performance Teams”. Not only are we incapable of putting 100 percent behind two things at the same time, it actually diminishes the results of all tasks conducted.

So, if happy employees produce better work, and focused people are generally happier, wouldn’t it make sense to find any way possible to train yourself to focus at work?

Many roles make this tough, I know mine does. Problem is, sitting in a meeting while responding to emails means you aren’t writing your best while not retaining anything from the meeting concurrently. Will this kind of shift mean radical changes in how we work? Absolutely, but the results of batching work into a series of Pomodoro Techniques can make all the difference in your happiness.

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