Hocus Focus

At latest count, I had a half-dozen projects in the works. Being the good little Franklin-Covey acolyte that I am (hey, don’t laugh, it works…at least for me), each of these projects is divided into its own sub-projects, which are divided into tasks, each with a priority level, a time frame and a whole bunch of sticky notes. So it’s no wonder that sometimes I have a bit of trouble focusing. For instance, I’ll be writing an article about the downfall of the Madagascar hissing cockroach when suddenly I’m ticking off a shopping list in my head and…hey, wait a minute. Mandibles. I was writing something about mandibles. Oh, hell, now where did I put that piece of paper with the anatomy chart…and don’t forget to buy quinoa…or maybe I should get millet this week…

You’ve been in this position, I’m sure.

Some days, focus comes naturally to me. I prioritize my tasks and knock them off my list, one after the other, a powerful feeling of smugness taking over as I lean on the pen for each checkmark. I’ll write an entire first draft of an article in one gulp. But because there are days when I am so easily distracted that the sound of Husband clipping his toenails downstairs bugs the pants off me, I have strategies to help focus my attention, even if I sometimes have to fake it at first. For instance:

1. Instrumental music, especially jazz, especially Miles Davis, can help me block out the background jibber-jabber in my mind.

2. When I’m feeling scattered, honing in on my mantra, “Be here now,” often reins me in. I practice mindfulness, which for a writer is like herding cats, and these simple words help me focus on the present moment.

3. Lack of focus can sometimes mean I’m trying too hard. I take a quick break for a physical task like tidying my studio, getting the mail or folding laundry. Then I go back to my project refreshed.

4. In The Wealthy Freelancer, Steve Slaunwhite recommends a great way to get through a task more efficiently: the 50 Minute Focus, originally developed by marketing expert Dean Jackson. For this, you make a bargain with yourself. If you can focus exclusively (no phone, no e-mail, nothing) on one task for 50 minutes, you take 20 minutes off to do whatever you want (assuming your schedule is that flexible.) So if I write my article about the articulation of Madagascar hissing cockroach mandibles for 50 minutes (okay, I’m starting at 40), I’ll have a cup of tea and a full-body stretch break. And maybe sneak in a few minutes of deep breathing before starting the cycle again.

5. Sometimes I’ll get squirrel-brain from too much external stimulation. Then I go into commando sensory-deprivation mode: shut Husband’s office door, shut mine, ignore phone, turn off e-mail and Facebook, and, if I’m especially fritzed, insert earplugs. I love my earplugs.

What helps you focus?

3 thoughts on “Hocus Focus

  1. auntbethany says:

    The mantra “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” applies to me perfectly. If I force myself to focus on simply a work-related task, I’m less likely to do it. I have to pepper my drive with moments of relaxation mixed in with hard work. Sometimes I’ll take a video game break, which frees my mind from anything and everything going on in my life. Other times, a relaxing shower or bath works. Mostly, just settling down with my laptop to peruse other blogs gets me in the mood to do more work. And sometimes…I just HAVE to get out of my apartment to do anything efficient. Otherwise, I end up on the couch, lounging in my PJs, and drinking wine!


  2. L. Diane Wolfe says:

    Music always helps me to focus. I find my writing is better when I listen to music, too. And sometimes it helps if I just remove myself from my office and go sit someplace else in the house.

  3. JenD says:

    It’s funny. Sometimes I can focus just fine when my husband and his friends are yucking it up in the next room while the TV’s on and the dogs are whining in my direction for treats and sometimes just the sound of both dogs snoring in the afternoon will make me want to kick them into the frozen tundra out back.

    When I can’t cope with squirrel brain, I get up and do something physical. Mindless chores work wonders because they allow my brain to purposefully un-focus, which is when I can most clearly see my way through to completing whatever I was working on. If that makes any sense.

    Wish the earplugs didn’t annoy me so…

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