What did I come in here for?
I stand in the kitchen for a minute before I can rewind my brain to the reason I went in there. Oh yeah…I wanted a napkin.
Sound familiar? Or how about when you pop onto to Facebook to check something, get distracted by your news feed and close it before you remember why you opened it in the first place.
We are so distracted these days that completing simple tasks, let alone our writing, has become more time consuming than need be.
So how do we reclaim our focus and get the writing done faster and better? Like everything I talk about, it begins within.
Too often while writing we have multiple browser windows open and so periodically peek at social media and email while listening to music and thinking of our to-do list. Maybe our phone is nearby, too. I do this and believe I’ve lost some of my ability to focus. It’s time to get it back by practicing.
Set a time to focus on just one thing with the intention of doing so for a set period of time. Keep it short at first. Try 15 minutes. At first you may find your mind wandering to other things. Keep coming back to the task at hand. You’re training your brain to focus.
Without the ability to focus you won’t be able to reach your potential.
“’People think that they can multitask and check these things without losing their focus, but we have lots of studies showing that task-switching leads to mistakes and back-tracking, and that it wastes a lot of time,’ Miller says. And all of these interruptions seem to be getting in the way of more creative, profound insights. When your brain is bombarded by distraction, ‘your thoughts are more superficial, and you’re not getting as far down that path to where new ideas emerge.’”
-- From Time article: You Asked: How Can I Use More of My Brain?
Here are a few things you can do before you sit down to write in order to have a focused and successful session.
Prepare your environment
Turn off all other possible distractions. This means no Internet while writing or if you’re using it to do research while writing, make sure you open only what you need. If possible, do your research before your writing session.
Music can help you focus, but it needs to be the right kind, instrumental works better than songs.
You can also limit interruptions from others by letting them know you are writing now and help them understand they need to leave you be unless there’s a real emergency.
Take a look around your writing space as well. Are there things that will distract you there? Do you have bills or other things needing attention within sight? Clear you space of anything you know will distract you.
One thing that helps me focus is to know exactly what I’m going to work on before I start. It saves time and energy during your writing time.
Another way to prepare is to learn how to switch tasks. When you switch from one task to another, there is a tendency to carry what you were working on over to the next task. It’s hard to shake what you were working on, and the more tasks you try to fit into a short period, the more clutter accumulates causing internal distraction and a decline in productivity.
So, before beginning a new task take some time to fully close out what you were working on.
Let’s say you were paying bills and now want to write. Do a quick rundown on what you accomplished. Make sure you are finished. If you need to follow up on something, make note of it and a time and date to complete it so your brain knows you’re done for now.
Take a break between tasks. A walk or some other movement can help your brain through the shift and will enliven you.
Don’t use your break to check email or social media. Give your brain a true rest. Stare out a window or meditate for a few minutes. It will help you focus better on the next thing.
You can also prepare yourself by dropping the drama around the work. I sometimes get tied up in thoughts of self-doubt about a project or wondering if I have time and all kinds of other stories that are simply distractions.
When you find yourself doing this, bring your focus back to the writing and get to work. Tell yourself you’ll work for the allotted time and you’ll worry about whether it’s any good once it’s done. And really, we all know it can be and will be made better during the revision process.
Once we have increased our ability to focus, we’ll accomplish more in less time. We’ll feel calmer and less stressed because we completed what we wanted to complete. More peace also comes from being in the flow state. We just need to practice focusing long enough to get there.
Remember, less time isn’t about working faster; it’s about working focused and not wasting time in distractions. Rushing is a stressed, unfocused state motivated by fear. Working steadily is a calm, focused state motivated by engagement in the work itself or the vision that pulls you.
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