This is perhaps the most challenging balancing act when you're looking to do more.
Let's say you're tracking your productivity on important stuff, you're doing your weekly review, and you realize that when you're in a loud environment, you get less work done.
So you realize that. Maybe you never realized it before, but now you realize it's true.
And you notice it keeps holding true, even when you try to concentrate through it.
This puts you at a very tricky crossroads.
On the one hand, it's dumb to ignore reality and your empirical data and observations.
You thus might decide to aggressively work to set up your environment so you don't have to deal with dumb noise.
On the other hand, by doing that, you're somewhat conceding the fact that that it's a weakness and you risk making it permanent. Perhaps, you're creating a Kryptonite-like problem which you didn't need to do so.
The "mind over matter" or "indomintable will" schools of thought suggest you should say:
"I will not let noise bother me. I will work through this. I will get stronger and overcome this."
Indeed, being able to thrive under adverse conditions is a critical part of maturity and effectiveness.
On the other hand, sometimes the data is just the data and there's nothing you can do about it. If you're badly allergic to shrimp, you wouldn't say "I'll do my best work even when having an allergic reaction!"
Umm, no, you just avoid shrimp.
Knowing what's really-genuinely-really-a-problem is very, very hard.
I periodically try to investigate what screws me up and throws me off track. Some things are more like a shrimp allergy, and some things are more like being surrounded by noise and distraction. The former you can't really do much about, whereas the latter you can train yourself to endure.
Which is which?
It's hard to say.
On the noise example, Josh Waitzkin covered this fantastically well in his excellent The Art of Learning. He was studying to be elite at Chess, but noise and certain distractions took him off his game.
So he started intentionally training in the most chaotic and unpleasant environments. Blaring noise, distractions, clouds of cigarette smoke.
But it's really hard to say.
Generally speaking, I do bad work on most types of public transport. These days, I try to scope out my days so that if I'm on a train or bus, I'm doing something simple like answering email on my iPhone or reading. I like to read anyways, so it's fine to mash up reading with transit.
But could I train and prepare myself better to do deep and focused work while in transit?
I can't see why not, with some practice and focus.
I was out in the Sun heavily two days ago; I didn't even really realize it until I woke up the next day feeling run-down and sunburnt.
Yesterday after a few hours I said, "ehh I'm useless right now" and just went to bed very early, and today I woke up very early and am getting some great work in.
That's the trickiest one, for me. Knowing when to acknowledge reality after being a bit sun-stroked (for instance) and just throw in the towel on that day, vs powering through it and mastering it.
Empiricism vs will.
If you answer the question wrong in favor of will, you wind up accepting distractions and bad conditions and working poorly through them.
If you answer the question wrong in favor of empiricism and avoidance, you wind up getting weaker and more fragile over time, turning small problems into gigantic stalking Kryptonite tigers. You make yourself more vulnerable when you accept weaknesses as barriers to performance if they can be overcome.
I still don't have great answers to this. It's a topic I've been interested in for around five years now, and I still can't tell on a glance what problems are "real" -- shrimp allergy type problems -- and which could be trained against and overcame with will.
I will say this: just being aware of the problem, the dichotomy here, goes a long way.
I try to walk myself through some variant of this reasoning when it comes up --
"Is this a real problem to be avoided, or am I making something small into something bigger than it needs to be? Should I genuinely fence off and avoid this type of problem with better environment design, or should I train through it and overcome it with force of will?"
I still don't know which is which, though I imagine with another 5-10 years of study I'll probably be able to reliably tell the difference.
That's not the most satisfying answer, but it's what I've got.
Your thoughts and experiences, dear reader?
Solid thoughts on this. And yes, it's hard to tell which is which.
For instance: I can now focus incredibly quickly on coding, even with small children around, even with periodic interruptions. This took a few years to learn, but is now probably among my most valuable skills - it made a previously-impossible thing possible, and helped in many other circumstances. It has made me able to perform in 50/50 coding/management work roles, which are normally considered difficult-to-impossible to do well, and pay nearly commensurate with that.
Of course, if it hadn't worked, I'd have burned two years of seriously lower productivity for nothing.
And then there are problems like sleep deprivation, where your in-the-moment estimate of whether you've beaten them is suspect or wrong. It's easy to "will yourself through" sleep deprivation while ignoring just how bad the problem has gotten. Without actual measurement, I can't even really tell how it worked out by the next day/week.
My default is to willpower my way out of any problem. When I get to the point of asking, is this a "real" problem or not, it usually means I have struggled enough and it's real.
I did remote work for three years and the problem of procrastination dominated my days. When I joined a company with a physical office - where I had a rough structure to my days and people around me working - the procrastination problem went away naturally. It's like I never even had it. And this is a problem that I really struggled with for three years.
I'm thrilled that Tynan is coming to you with two things -- first, he's offering a breakthrough session through GiveGetWin. It's geared around doing more of the kind of excellent work you want to do, becoming more internally focused with your emotions, having a more enjoyable life, building great habits, and producing a lot of value in the process. There's five spots, so check it out now.
Second, we have this wonderful tour-de-force interview: it starts by covering how Tynan made the shift from unfocused to focused, how to derive internal enjoyment from things, useful actionable exercises you can do right now, Tynan's method and mindset for producing creative work consistently, how to set up great habits and an excellent mental and physical work environment, and how to make blogging work and similar endeavors work for you.
Total Focus; Total Enjoyment by Tynan, as told to Sebastian Marshall
When I turned 30 and I had a minor freak out… I thought, "I'll be 40 in not long, and then 50… there's things I want to do in my life, and they're not happening at this pace."
Before that, I had a general idea of things I wanted to do and have in my life, but I went about in an unstructured way. It was good in a lot of ways. It made be a broad process, but not much depth.
I did something different this evening. Instead of the usual "turn up" Friday night, I decided to do something even more exciting, I spent time with God. I grabbed my Bible, my devotion book, and my journal and headed to Atlantic Station, one of Atlanta's greatest nightlife attractions. As I sat outside of Yogli Mogli and attempted to do my devotions, I became very annoyed at all of the noise. It was so hard to focus with all of the distractions going on around me. The loud music, drunk couples, crying babies, the sounds of car engines and other distracting noises, I was ready to pack up and leave. I begged God to help me focus and drown out all of the outside noise. Right at that moment, I was given the peace of God and my spirit was quiet. It was like God was telling me to focus on Him. Don't worry about what's going on around you, keep your eyes on my Word. After a few minutes, I was so engaged with what God was trying to reveal to me through my devotions, that I forgot I was located in one of the most popular and busy attractions in the city of Atlanta. It was one of the most peaceful nights I had ever had.
Being at Atlantic Station on a Friday night and still being able to hear God's voice showed me something very important. The busyness of our lives is like the busyness of Atlantic Station. We have work, school, children, relationships, family, friends, bills etc. However, no matter how hard or busy our lives get, God will always supply His Peace. Stop listening to the noises and distractions of the world, instead, keep your eyes focused on Him. No matter what's going on in your life today, continue to stay strong, stand on His word, and focus on Him. He'll never leave you. You're His daughter, remember.