How to stay focused on a task?
In case you haven’t noticed, I write about all the stuff I suck at.
And here’s my worst struggle yet: staying focused.
But this discipline is a non-negotiable for a writer. It’s essential for anyone who is serious about doing great work.
I don’t care if you have to trick yourself into it. If you’re going to do stuff that matters, you will need to find a way to stop chasing shiny objects, sit down, and get something done.
That’s all there is to it.
Half-finished paintings don’t make it into museums.
Half-drawn blueprints don’t make for well-constructed buildings (or any building at all).
And half-finished manuscripts don’t make for much of a story.
Truth is: you can’t create compelling art if you don’t stay on track.
Getting your work done is essential to making an impact. You have to finish. Staying focused is how you do it.
In any type of creative work (especially writing) you’re going to need discipline to get you to the finish line. Here are a few tricks that work for me:
- Block out time to be creative. Most professionals agree that writing in spurts longer than four to six hours is unhealthy and unproductive. Instead, write less, but more frequently.
- Reward yourself with breaks. I recommend writing for an hour or two. Then give yourself a 15-minute break away from computer, notebook, whatever, and just have fun. Go watch TV, eat lunch, or take the dog for a walk. Just do something to switch your brain off. Make sure you make it it as restful an activity as you can. (Sorry, checking email and reading Twitter doesn’t constitute as a “break.”)
- Turn off all “noise” while you write (including social media and other techno gadgets). Write without distractions — as much as you can.
- Don’t edit as you go. (Don’t edit on your breaks, either.) Schedule blocks of time to edit at later. You need to just get some words down on paper (or screen).
- Be spontaneous. Don’t write what you think you should write. Write what inspires you, what you feel. This may fly in the face of what you think it means to “stay focused, ” but give yourself some room to be creative. Brainstorm, free-write, fail. It’s okay to have fun.
- Set a goal and meet it. John Grisham used to get up every morning and write one page per day. That was his goal. Some days, he exceeded it. Other days, he just scraped by. But the point was he set a realistic, attainable goal. If done every day, he knew he would eventually have a book. And he did. Setting and meeting small goals will build your confidence and do more for your writing career than you realize.
These are just a few ways to stay focused. I’m sure there are more. If you’re like me, you may have to bribe and cajole yourself into doing it, which is fine. Do whatever it takes. Just get your butt in the chair and do something.