“If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” Frank A. Clark
As we walk through our journeys in life, setbacks follow like shadows. We can be doing nothing, and the world will create troubles simply by spinning. It has always been thus. And doesn’t it seem that when we’re about to create something amazing, things get worse for us? A car breaks down, a family member gets sick, people attack.
I can’t—I won’t—allow hurdles to break my concentration. As my wonderful husband says, “Attitude isn’t everything. Discipline is.” And discipline, by the very definition, cannot take place without intentional behavioral efforts.
Here is my plan for staying focused, mainly with respect to my writing career, but also for other work-related tasks, household duties, and just about everything else. This guide is as much an instructional manual for me as it is a suggestion for anyone else.
Put Away the Distractions (within reason) & Multi-task Less
With hurdles, come distractions. If you need to keep your phone on to wait for that important call, just put it ten feet away from your desk. If you must check your social media to stay abreast of an occurring situation, designate a few minutes at the start of each hour to remain updated.
Focus on one thing at a time. If you’re anything like me, the moment your concentration is gone, it’s gone. This is especially challenging with kids present. I do my best to apply myself to my current chapter, article, or critique partner editing, even when the little mouths of my babes start chattering. I find that if I block out every other distraction possible—aside from the kiddos—jumping back onto the focus bandwagon once I’ve been derailed is manageable.
Carve Out Time
I call it my “fifteen-minute rule.” I can devote at least 15 precious minutes to anything. If I need to research agents, I’ll spend 15 minutes to the task. If I need to edit a handful of pages for one of my magnificent critique partners, I’ll set aside (you guessed it) 15 minutes at a time until I complete my notes. This way, when the fifteen are up, I can move on to the next task. Or, I can choose to devote another fifteen to it. Then another.
Make a To Do list, Then Put it Away
If you write down everything that needs attention, and everything that’s on your mind, then set it aside, two things will happen. You assure yourself that you won’t forget to do something, and you can focus. When I’m re-plotting, the last thing I want lingering through my brain is picking up new dog nail clippers. When you finish your fifteen minutes on the task, return to the list and obsess all you want. When it’s time for work, tuck it in your back pocket, not in the back of your mind.
Take Breaks & Be Kind to Yourself
You will need time to heal and process, whether you’re recovering from stress, guilt, pain, loss, or excitement. Yes, you need time to adjust to positive news, too.
Think of yourself as a tub. If you leave the faucet on, you’ll overflow and flood your world. Allow yourself time to drain. In fact, go ahead—get in a steamy bathtub, sink in some suds, and enjoy.
Procrastination only makes your list worse.
There are emergency situations that occur when you can accomplish absolutely nothing outside of the crisis at hand. Everyone understands. I’m not talking about those moments.
I’m talking about manageable problems. If you procrastinate on completing your needed tasks (i.e. paying bills), there are consequences (i.e. fees and debt collectors). The same happens when you put off working on your dreams. When the wind passes on the hardship in your life and the dust settles, are you going to come out from beneath your shelter with regret? Or, are you going to rise stronger because you went above and beyond, digging your heels, pressing in, and getting it done?
Dig in, my friends!