by Michelle Wicmandy
Most of what we say and do is not essential…Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’ ~Marcus Aurelius
Do you feel there aren’t enough hours in a day to meet your writing goals?
You’re managing a career, taking care of kids, handling the household, and more. While women have been juggling these tasks for years, you know life isn’t supposed to feel like you’re sprinting a marathon.
But how can you slow down to enjoy your cherished activity, writing?
Successful writers have long realized that being productive involves being able to focus. Learning how to focus will make you happier and relaxed so you can write more.
Focus Your Energy
What could you accomplish in 24 hours each day if you eliminated distractions?
Doing what matters is the crux of your focus. Remember, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do it. Otherwise, you risk squandering valuable time that could be spent writing your novel. For example, earlier in my career, I had to learn basic HTML and CSS to maintain websites. But today, my career has evolved as a consultant, writer and professor. Certainly, I can still do basic web maintenance. But, doing that work no longer supports my long-term goals.
Put another way, imagine your schedule was equivalent to a 10-gallon bucket. If you knew everything you wanted would not fit in your bucket, which items would you choose to keep? Which would you eliminate?
To help you decide how to fill your bucket, you could contemplate:
- What aligns with your goals?
- What results do you hope to achieve?
- What items help you reduce your stress?
- What inspires you?
- Which people or groups add value to your life?
- What (or who) drains your energy?
As you toil through your day, you may be unaware of inspiring activities. To overcome this, I keep a planner to track my activity and reflect on my daily, weekly and monthly goals. It helps me gain awareness of my strengths and weaknesses as well as likes and dislikes. I’m realistic that things may slip while juggling work, family, and my own learning. However, recording the activity allows me to evaluate my progress and adjust accordingly. Taking this action leads to self-improvement.
Reclaim Your Time
You may dream of waving your magic wand and becoming a highly productive writer overnight.
Unfortunately, no magic wand exists. Yet, a plethora of tips for becoming laser-focused exist. Following are 10 suggestions to help boost your focus and productivity.
- Plan your day and week. Using a planner, create 30-minute time slots throughout your day. Then, enter your daily tasks. Be as detailed as possible with all work- and family-related activities to learn how you spend your time.
- Schedule time throughout your day to check email and social media channels. For example, I now only check email for 30 minutes when I start my day, 15 minutes before lunch, and 30 minutes when I end my workday. While you may schedule more or less check-in times, make it a habit of only checking-in at certain times.
- Prioritize your tasks.
- Break larger writing projects down into small pieces. For example, I try to work in 30-minute chunks depending on the project. For a blog post, I spend about 20 minutes drafting the outline. Break for 10 minutes. Then, take 30 minutes to start the body. Then, take another short break. This pattern continues until the draft is completed.
- Include short breaks throughout your day such as walking around the room or stretching.
- Turn large or long-term writing goals into smaller, manageable weekly or daily goals so they’re easier to focus on and achieve. Remember to reward yourself when you meet your goal.
- Track your time.
- Analyze the results. Determine successes and areas for improvements.
- Eliminate unnecessary work. Delegate or outsource tasks that play to your weaknesses. For example, you could hire a virtual assistant to answer phones or a lawn maintenance service to care for the lawn. At one point, a college student helped me create a social media calendar and content so I could complete other projects. My daughter gathers basic research for me in exchange for her cell phone. If your budget is tight, be creative with your available resources.
- Create and stick to boundaries. Learn to say NO if the task will derail you. You could politely say:
- “Thank you for asking. I’m busy right now but know who can help you.”
- “I’d like to help, but my plate is full. Can we revisit this next month?”
- “I’d like to but can’t.”
- Find a quiet area free from distractions. For example, I often visit secluded coffee shops and libraries to write.
- Minimize clutter. Turn off beeps and pop-ups on your screen that signal new email. File papers. Put away books to avoid distractions.
- Set the alarm on your phone or use apps like Evernote, TickTick, Focus Writer, or another to raise your concentration and productivity.
- Be present. Avoid acting on impulse every time an idea pops in your mind. Research shows that immediately entertaining one interruption takes roughly 25 minutes from your schedule to return to the original task. Instead, write down these random ideas. Then, revisit your distraction list when you’re “off the clock.” For instance, checking Facebook and engaging in a friendly telephone chat can be fun but kill your writing productivity.
- Get an accountability buddy. Find a peer or writing group that also wants to improve productivity. Set a check-in time to report progress and announce writing goals for the upcoming week. For example, I report my progress to a colleague vie email each week. Experts agree that you’re more likely to accomplish your goals when make them public. Even more, you want to show your friend you appreciate her support and respect her time.
Work with Intention
You may feel overwhelmed.
You may even feel envious of other’s writing accomplishments and their ability to take a vacation or just enjoy life.
Know you can have this, too. Time is your most treasured commodity. Treat it with respect.
Once you start managing your schedule rather than let your schedule manage you, you will gain a sense of accomplishment and build self-confidence.
Determine what’s important. Prioritize your tasks. Work towards your goals. And, celebrate your milestones.
Remember, less is more.
Now Over to You
Have some tips to tame your mind and improve your focus? Please leave a comment in the comments section below.
Michelle Wicmandy has published articles on entrepreneurship and online marketing for business and trade journals including the Houston Business Journal and Website Magazine. Recently, she started a blog to inspire women entrepreneurs to pursue their passion and boost their self-confidence. She’s a marketing lecturer at the University of Houston-Downtown and working on her dissertation at the University of Liverpool, U.K. She is happily married with two teenagers and the proud owner of four carefree cats and one spunky puppy. You can connect with her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/michellewicmandy/), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/michelle.wicmandy), and the Collective Changes blog (http://collectivechanges.net/category/blog/)