Monday, November 30, 2015

Help Me Focus!

A popular post from November 2011, very relevant today!

by Annette Lyon

First off: To all you NaNo-ers out there, keep pushing on this last day! Congratulations to all the winners out there; celebrate your accomplishment!

I have had a hard time focusing lately. That includes work on my writing, my editing, and even attention to housework and (worse!) to my family.

Many things can be blamed for it, among them the legitimate issues of ADD and chronic pain.

But life must go on. I need to write and edit. More, I need to make sure my family actually eats and has clean underwear.

I've found a some things to help, some of which don't make much sense at first glance. In hopes that some of them may help you, here's a list:

White Noise
Yes, Virginia, it really does help you focus. At least, it does for someone with ADD. My son (who inherited it from Mom, alas) discovered Simply Noise, which has several free options. The basic choices are all essentially what's known as "white noise" but which all sound slightly different. The variations are called white, pink, and brown noise.

Brown noise is my favorite (and my son's, too). I find myself able to focus on a project and get a lot more done in less time while listening to it.

The site also has other sounds, downloadable for a small fee, like ocean waves and a thunderstorm.

A To-do List
People who follow me on Facebook are aware of this one: I have a list of things I want to accomplish in a month. Yes, a month. Big-picture, yet concrete, goals are easier for me to handle than specific ones I have to get done today. With monthly goals, I can look at the list and decide what I can do now.

It's a hard-copy list in a notebook, so I have the bonus of using a bright orange Sharpie to cross out items as I do them.

Major sense of accomplishment!

I have a writer friend who has also become my accountability buddy. At the beginning of each month, we email one another our progress on last month's goals and our goals for the upcoming month.

This provides an outside source of accomplishment (getting ego strokes from someone outside my brain helps a ton), and it's also an extra motivation to reach the goals I sent her before. Saying, "Yeah, well, I totally dropped the ball on all my goals" isn't going to cut it.

Meeting with my critique group helps here too. I need to have pages to read when I show up, so I'd better write some.

Minimizing Distractions
For me, that means the Internet. I can sit at my computer with great intentions to do X, Y, and even Z on my to-do list. Then I check email, Twitter, Facebook, and news links, and next thing I know, I've blown two hours.

There's a reason a product exists where you pay for it to disable your Internet connection for determined periods so you can focus on your work.

At one point I wondered if a smart phone would help. (For years, I have a simple candy-bar style phone that did nothing fancier than text.) I figured that if I got online updates while away from my computer, I wouldn't feel as tied to it. Then, when I did sit down at my desk, maybe I'd get more work done.

It was just a theory. Until now. Due to a set of unforeseen circumstances, I got to open my Christmas present early: a shiny new iPhone.

It's done exactly what I predicted: I don't feel the same urge to sit at my desk just to make sure I don't miss something. My kitchen is cleaner than it has been in a while. I got more reading in today. And more writing in. And research. Oh, and I wrote this blog post.

I think this is the most I've accomplished in one day in, well, a really long time.

A Timer
One element I didn't expect to help me on my iPhone, but which has: setting alarms. I'll set it 30 minutes out, and suddenly I can stay on task. When the phone rings, I get to do something else, if whatever I'm doing feels hard. Or, on the flip side, if I have only X amount of minutes to accomplish such-and-such, I'll buckle down and work hard. Great tool, and one I'm sure I'll be using more.

What helps you focus?


T.J. said...

Awesome post.

And totally understand the ADD comment. I was diagnosed with ADHD a little while ago and it really explained why I couldn't-SQUIRREL!

Anyway, something that helps me is classical music. I can't have words or overly upbeat (Star Wars theme pulls me from my groove).

Another thing is to be home alone and in a place I'm physically comfortable.

Those are my focus aids. Thanks for the awesome--Oh look, it's snowing.

Luisa Perkins said...

Excellent post! And thanks for the mention!

As you know, I'm all about Write or Die these days. It's the best enforced focuser I've ever found.

Oh, and knitting. And yoga. Both soothe my brain and help me return to reality when my anxiety winds me up in knots.

Jordan McCollum said...

Oh the irony. I pulled up my Google Reader, mentally berating myself for not focusing as I should be, and yet so addicted, so sad.

Looks like I need to pull out that Nano timer to get through this chapter. (It's just reading, self. Work.) And then maybe we'll tackle the mess in the living room.

Great timing! Thanks!

Donna K. Weaver said...

*shudders* That simply noise thing just managed to seriously put me on edge. I tried all the colors and had to close the link. I like to listen to music while I write, usually music that fits the kind of scene I'm writing.

I discovered the benefits of a timer during NaNo. It's awesome. Forces me to stay put even when I might otherwise have let myself become distracted.

Annette Lyon said...

TJ, I use soundtracks too! Definitely need something soothing and without lyrics. I've been known to be unblocked many a time by popping in my favorite soundtrack, and of late, Pandora's been a great for finding new ones.

Donna, If the Simply Noise is annoying, then you're probably not ADD. :) Of course, use whatever works for you.

That's the beauty of this whole crazy thing we do--every writer and every method is a bit different!

Small Town Shelly Brown said...

I love my iPhone. I love that I can set timers, make to do lists, jot down WIP notes when they come to me, listen to audiobooks, read Kindle books, do quick research online, measure my running distance, etc, with one little device. Oh, and take phone calls and check my emails.
My hubby calls it my second husband. I think he thinks I love it too much.