Are you a writer who has trouble focusing on one project at a time?
See if this sounds familiar:
You have some precious moments to yourself. Your writing space is set. Your laptop and notebook are ready, and you have drinks and snacks within reach. You lean your head side to side and crack your knuckles like you’ve seen in the movies. Then you start typing furiously.
After typing your first few paragraphs, another brilliant idea smacks you in the face. You jot it down in your notebook and try to return to your original project. But that idea keeps rolling around in your mind anyway. Suddenly, you have a hundred different ways to develop it. You stop your current project to work on the new idea instead.
You take a swig of coffee, crack your knuckles again, and dive headfirst into this next project. That is until you remember that you haven’t purchased that book on Amazon. You need it to research one of your many story ideas. You add the book to your Amazon cart. Oh, and you forgot to update your blog’s social media pages. So you take another detour to schedule a few posts. Promotion is important, right?
Now you can focus.
Wait. What were you writing?
This is where you’re struck by writer’s block. Your idea doesn’t seem so brilliant anymore. You force a few more sentences onto the page before you decide it’s all terrible and stare at the screen.
I’ve played out this exact scenario a dozen times. It’s not because I’m a bad writer. It’s because I failed to discipline myself. I got caught up in preparation and promotion phases and neglected to actually write.
If you are a writer, you have to act like a writer. That means disciplining yourself to focus and write.
This might look like different things to different people.
Some writers need a set schedule so they can write for a specific period of time every day. Others take opportunities where they can and work until their ideas are developed. Some work in five-minute snippets and write as much as they can in their limited time.
Whatever writing method works best for you, stick with it. And use these strategies to improve your focus:
1.Stick to one project at a time.
It’s a struggle if you’re used to multitasking. While multitasking is considered a desirable skill in many professions, it’s a hindrance when you need to write. Don’t let yourself get distracted by many ideas or items on the to-do list. Pick the one thing you need to do and stick with it until it’s done. It takes practice to stay focused, but you will feel accomplished once you can cross that project off your list.
2.Get off social media.
Easier said than done, right? Social media is a key asset to your writing career, but it can also be an enormous time suck. Scheduling social media posts ahead of time and restricting yourself to checking at certain times can help you be more productive.
3.Track your ideas.
Keep a notebook or app close by to jot down ideas as they come. Jot down the idea and immediately go back to what you were writing. See the first project through before moving onto the next no matter how loudly that idea is shouting at you. A creative mind is a blessing and a curse. The ideas are there, but the focus is difficult to maintain. Force yourself to stick to it until the project is finished.
I keep a to-do list document open on my laptop as I write. If an idea hits me, I add it to the list and return to my first task. While I’ve been writing this blog post, I’ve had three other ideas for posts and books. I wrote them down and continued writing.
4.Prioritize your projects.
Work until you can cross the most important project off your list, and then move onto the next one. I repeat: Don’t move onto the next project until the first is complete. Unfinished projects can leave you feeling discouraged. Finishing even the smallest tasks can keep you motivated.
If you have multiple projects on your plate at once, try to focus on no more than one big project and two or three small projects at one time. Allow a daily amount to complete on your big project. For instance, if you are writing a novel, set a daily goal to write 500 or 1,000 words – whatever is most workable for you.
Your smaller projects might be short stories, blog posts, or emails. You can break those down into writing, editing, and proofreading phases.
5.Set goals for each project.
Write these goals on a list. Once your goal for a project is reached, cross it off, and move onto the next one. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted.
For example, every night before bed, I make a list of the top three things I need to complete the next day.
It might look something like this:
1.Write [client name] article draft
2.Edit Write Like Me blog post
3.Write novel – 500 words
The types of tasks vary depending on what takes the highest priority. Sometimes my priority is pitching potential clients. Sometimes it is crafting an email. Sometimes it is writing three different articles.
By prioritizing my top three daily goals, I can cross projects off the list and feel accomplished. Sometimes I finish faster than planned. When that happens, I pick another project and keep working.
6.Set a timer.
I love to use this method when I know I have time to work uninterrupted. I set the timer for ten minutes, twenty minutes, or thirty minutes and don’t stop writing until it goes off. I don’t worry about editing or proofreading or what I have to do next. I write until the timer sounds and sometimes beyond. (It’s great for cleaning too!)
I find that this race against time sparks my competitive streak and forces me to stay focused.
It’s much easier to lose focus when you get overwhelmed. Don’t take on more than you can handle. In a similar vein, don’t allow your to-do list to rule you. If I look at my entire to-do list at once, I tend to panic. If I focus on the most important projects first, I am less stressed and far more productive.
8.Take time for yourself.
I am guilty of avoiding things that relax me when my to-do list grows to the length of my kitchen table. I feel guilty if I spend time on me when I could be using that time to work on a project. The problem is, when I am stressed and overwhelmed, I don’t produce my best work. I find that if I allow myself some time for relaxation, I feel reenergized and am ready to work again. (In fact, I just finished reading a few chapters of a favorite book before I sat down to write this post.)
Always allow time to do something you enjoy. Maybe it’s reading a good book, going for a walk, or blowing away some imaginary people in Call of Duty. Do whatever helps you clear your head and brings you back to center. Your physical and emotional health and your writing will benefit.
If you are struggling with keeping your writing focus, get organized. Find a schedule and system that works for you and stick to it. It might take trial and error, and you might feel the overwhelming pressure to do everything at once. Go easy on yourself, take each project one step at a time, and remember to take time for you.