The Costs of Procrasta-Distraction

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 24th, 20132013-01-24T09:00:25Zl, F jS, Y at 11:00 am2013-01-24T09:00:25Zg:i a

I definitely have Internet Age ADD. That’s ONE of the things that scatters my much needed focus, especially during Writing Time. And to prove it, as I write this post, I am going to literally record every time I pause to do something else and then return to blogging.

[Paused to turn on my NPR streaming news.]

What stops any of us from getting our writing done? Or, for that matter, what stops us from doing anything we said we’d do? Hint: it has four letters. L – I – F – E. That’s right. Life happens. But why is it so hard to create the –

[Glanced up at the TV, scenes from Beasts of the Southern Wild are on - the name of the little girl was who was nominated came up; I wondered how to pronounce it.]

- to create or control the conditions under which we can exercise more self discipline so that we can have that wonderful feeling of having gotten done each day what we set out to?

[Glanced up at my gmail tab; new email. Checked it. It's from JFEME competition coordinator Dianna. Read it, checked something in my DropBox to make sure I had completed a task. I had only half completed it. Emailed an attachment to someone.]

ASIDE: This is fun and also embarrassing. Look how many interruptions I have already had. But I go where few people have gone before, dear readers. (If you have read this blog over ANY period of time, you know that by now). Yes, yes, this is not a 100% realistic exercise; if I were really needing to buckle down, I would turn off NPR, turn off the TV and make more effort and be more focusedl. But with all this stimulus available, I think it elucidating to show just how often and how easily our minds are distracted!

Where were we? Time management is a big challenge for me. I try to use reverse psychology on myself. I have a homemade affirmation card on my fridge that says “So much time, so little to do!” but it does not always fool me into believing it.

[Googled Cafe Clockwork (that I heard on NPR) a cafe that charges by the hour but the food is free. Put the link on Facebook].

I have tried doing what a friend told me he does which is to write down the Big Stuff you need to do each day on separate “Accountability” index cards (or post its or whatever) and to put them somewhere prominent and to look at those Big Stuff/Accountability cards each day with the idea of being able to ask yourself whether you gave your attention to each one, even if for a little bit, each day. I really love that idea, since I often experience a kind of free floating anxiety about stuff I should be doing but am not. Stuff I don’t remember until the middle of the night, when I worry worry worry instead of take action.

[Paused to tweak my leaky sink. The sound was bugging me. While in kitchen, made a cup of Earl Grey, with lots of milk and sugar.]

Most writers suffer from a more or less permanent case of Procrasta-distraction. We are easily distracted and why would’t we be, when what lies before us can feel daunting?

[Clicked around to find and link to this GREAT article by the brilliant Ann Patchett about writers, procrastination, messing around and discipline.]

I do like the idea of –

[Replied to an email from a prospective client. ]

–those Big Stuff/Accountability Cards – sort of putting each of your ongoing tasks into different categories and then at the end of each day, just checking in with them – did I spend time writing? Yes. Did I spend time on House Stuff? Yes. Did I spend time on Taxes Stuff? No. But I’ll do it tomorrow because tomorrow I have no House Stuff. Get the idea? It allows you to –

[Paused, read a brief email containing a One Scene One Page entry, replied to the writer with my thanks and thumbs up.]

–avoid the general anxiety that STUFF needs to get done but you can’t even remember what STUFF it was. In my case, the Accountability cards also help me embrace rather than condemn how I work – flitting flitting flitting – and take inventory at the end of the day. I find that actually, when I list everything I did on a given day, the list is quite long and productive. It’s just that I work in a fragmented way.

Again, as I mentioned in the ASIDE paragraph, above, if I really need a block of uninterrupted time, I know how to accomplish that. But very often, I just suffer through working in a fragmented way. I wind up getting everything done, all right, but it takes me two to three times as long as it should.

Interestingly enough, focus is not a problem when I am working on YOUR stuff. Focus is a problem when I am working on MY stuff. Like my writing. My book, to be specific.

[Paused to open an email from a client. He got the cover art in for his YA book (I was his story editor). Cool artwork.]

It seems that I put myself dead last. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my job more than words can say. But I have my own writing that I –

[Glanced up at TV. Footage of the car bomb we had in Tel Aviv today. Security camera stuff.]

- tend to put on the back burner. Too often, I see colleagues of mine proudly announce this or that new book and I think HOW do they do it?? Well, to refer to Patchett’s article, above, they just DO IT is what they do. Books and scripts do not write themselves.

So what do we do, as writers? How do we establish discipline and routine? How do we put ourselves and our writing FIRST without beating ourselves up? How can we set ourselves up for success and embrace rather than repudiate our working habits?

Tomorrow right here in this space, we will interview four very accomplished writers and find out more about how they create and maintain discipline for themselves.

In the meantime, here are some things that help me get more done, stay more focused and avoid free floating anxiety:

  • Create and use Accountability/Big Stuff cards to keep the most fundamentally important ongoing tasks right in front me.
  • Set the stage for productivity: NO radio, tv or internet for chunks of time.
  • Keep a note pad handy to jot down Stuff I Suddenly Remember To Do later, so I can actually do them later, rather than interrupting myself when I think of them.
  • Get up earlier. Go to bed earlier.
  • Schedule time to do nothing.
  • Do my writing time in a cafe where I am enveloped in white noise and there is little else to do.
  • Make lists of what I DID do – I am always surprised by how full those lists are.
  • Just today, during some totally unscheduled Mess Around Time, I saw a great Tedx video about self control and discipline. It really left a lasting impression on me and prompted me to write this blog post. It made me want to do a better job of maintaining my focus.

    Like you, I am a fountain of creativity, love and life and potential. I plan to do a better job of channeling that. How about you?

    [Glanced up. Saw this quote on Facebook: Two excuses that bring no fulfillment in life: distractions, and what you "should" be doing. If there were no "shoulds" and no distractions... what would you be doing?]

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