I love love loved being at Wisdom 2.0 this weekend. One of the great highlights of my life.
Photo by Michael Dales
I’m naturally very distractible and messy – a “big-picture thinker, but not so much a detail person,” as my father would euphemize when I was younger. I’m often tempted to work on a lot of things at once, inefficiently, and without finishing much. This tendency can wreak havoc on my ability to get anything done as a writer.
I work from home most of the time, so the pull of all the things that I could be doing instead of writing is usually more powerful than any intention I have to just focus.
(Some of the things that tempted me this morning: the laundry, the breakfast dishes that didn’t fit in the dishwasher, chatting with my neighbor, retrieving the dog’s ball from behind the sofa so he stopped barking at it, e-mail, texts, a quick thank-you note, bills, yesterday’s mail, and chatting with my husband on the phone.)
I had to carefully construct a work structure for myself that would support focus rather than allow me to hop from one easy but not important task to another.
Forcing myself to stop multitasking was a process. I had to create a formal ritual to get myself into the zone. Here it is:
As I’m brewing myself a second cup of coffee or tea, I take a quick peek at my calendar and e-mail on my phone. Is there anything urgent? The idea isn’t to respond to e-mails; it’s a check that keeps me from worrying while I write that I should have checked my e-mail, and keeps me from wondering if there is anything on my calendar that I should be preparing for. Then I head to my office, with my coffee and a full glass of water. (I’ve also had a snack and used the restroom. I’m like a toddler going on a car trip.)
I do a quick cleanup, removing yesterday’s coffee cup from my desk, closing books left open, putting pens back in their place. I put all visual clutter in deceivingly neat piles. I put my phone in do-not-disturb mode, and close any unnecessary applications or windows that are open on my computer. I launch Pandora and choose the “listen while writing” radio station I’ve created (mostly classical piano because it doesn’t distract me like music with lyrics does). I tell Buster, my trusty canine colleague, to go to his “place” – a bed right next to me where he’s trained to stay while I work.
I write at a standing desk that has a small treadmill under it. When I’m ready to start writing, I start the treadmill. Walking slowly while I work has a lot of positive outcomes; one of them is that it more or less chains me to my desk. Finally, I launch the app 30/30, which times my writing and break time.
At first, I actually felt guilty for carving out such dedicated time to focus on my writing. Perhaps that sounds ridiculous to you – it’s my job, after all! But honestly, I felt like I should be more responsive to my colleagues’ e-mails throughout the day, and I shouldn’t be creating the scheduling nightmares that blocking off dedicated work time does because it’s basically at the same time every day. It’s very hard to schedule a meeting with me in the morning, when I do my best writing, or in the afternoon, when I pick up my children from school. This means that it’s pretty hard to get me to go to a meeting.
So how did I ultimately let go of the guilt? Instead of trying to conform to the norms of the ideal office worker (which made me feel a little terrified anytime I was straying from that path), I started to see myself as an artist. I read everything I could about other writers’ and artists’ work habits, and talked to a half dozen successful writers about how they get things done. Guess what?
They have writing rituals just like the one that I set up. Seeing myself as a part of their tribe made the whole thing easier for the part of me that is people pleasing and wanting to conform with what people see as hard-working.
Do you struggle to block off dedicated time to write? If so, I welcome you to join my tribe.
Having a bad day? Take a few minutes to listen to these truthful and poetic words. Let them uplift you and know that this too shall pass.
Cracking the Habit Code
registration open -- enroll now!
Private Event - Redmond, WA
First Presbyterian Church
San Rafael, CA
San Francisco, CA
NY Magazine,The Science of Us
Put the Boring Things In Life on Autopilot ...read
How to Achieve More by Doing Less ...read
Everyday Health with Dr. Sanjay Gupta
6 Ways to Be Happy Alone ...read
The Science of Being Happy ...read
The Dr. Oz Show
Happiness Boosters ...watch
What Makes Us Happy? ...watch