David Heinemeier Hansson

July 24, 2023

Clear the barnacles

The easiest way to squander your focus is by paying attention to a million inconsequential things at once. These little mental barnacles add up in imperceptible ways until you suddenly feel like you're getting nowhere, no matter how hard you push. You must keep scrubbing your mind clear of such attention-sapping colonies to remain capable of making smooth, swift progress.

These barnacles can accumulate from middling marketing initiatives, process theatre, and tolerance for mediocre performance. All individually presenting as more hassle to deal with than to dismiss, but combined killing the efficiency and focus on progress.

But they can also be things that actually appears to be working well enough, just not up to the bar of your very best. Those are the tricky ones. The base hits, the modest accomplishments, the things you might even have celebrated once. The past darlings.

It just doesn't matter. You can't keep stuffing your head with ever more things to pay partial attention to every month and expect to keep a clear eye on the horizon and the future. There's only room for so much.

The hardest part about this is not to wait until it's too much, until the drag is actually there. Keep your mind below carrying capacity, such that there's room for serendipity, at all times.

In short, be decisive about what you'll no longer do. Summon your inner Jack Welch to cut at least the bottom 10% of the stuff dragging your attention every few months or so.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.