There’s loads of soundbite advice out there for how to make yourself really productive in a distracting digital age. I’m as poor as anyone at settling down on task and focusing for a long period of time, so wondered why this is. As someone recently said to me: “you achieve so much, but imagine how much you’d get done if you really focused on one thing”. Truth is, I have lots of strings to my particular bow and can’t really simply knuckle down to any one thing. Many others are doubtless the same, but among all the advice I’ve found six key elements which apply to me. They may not work for everyone but are worth a few minutes to consider.
It is important to work out what matters, what you hope to achieve. What matters to me at the moment is that I make serious strides with my book. However, I also have a hyperlocal website to populate and a life to live. What matters most and how can I divide up the time I have?
Margin and priorities
Having decided priorities, and effectively timetabling them in, we need margins. If your timetable is rigid, there is no scope for something going wrong. Prime example, working this morning I was interrupted by a neighbour with a problem which took half an hour out of my schedule. I also had to walk my dogs. Luckily, I’d woken up early and started moving early, so my day started earlier. Therefore, if I lost 30 minutes along the way, the margin was built in.
There’s a sense of flow with any creative work. If you are constantly being interrupted or flitting between activities, flow is impeded. It’s like the feng shui of creativity. You need spaces to have positive energy flows rather than blocks impeding energy. You can use apps to sort you out, such as SelfControl for if you have a limited amount of your own, or you can just switch off your phone, or switch off the wifi on your desk/laptop if you’re writing. Find a space where you don’t see the mess in the kitchen and become distracted by mundane tasks. It’s also that realisation that your time is important. If I could switch the dogs off from barking, that would surely help my flow!
Do we actually need to check our emails/facebook/twitter/instagram/WhatsApp umpteen times a day? No, but many of us do. The world will not end if we have an hour or two off from being digitally connected. Actually, very little will happen. Facebook is a good case in point. If anyone really wants to contact you, they will message you rather than assuming you are checking their Facebook.
Finding flow and being active
It can help to set yourself targets (whether it is word count, or tackling a specific aspect of your writing) so you actively set out to achieve it. Finding flow is much easier if you have an action plan. If you simply think “I must do some writing today” then you probably won’t.
We all like something shiny to reward ourselves. Our productivity might be an achievement in itself or you may decide to treat yourself to a walk, a nice lunch, or an hour doing something you enjoy, like a painting, reading a chapter of a book, watching the news, pulling up some weeds, whatever floats you. Always finish on a high note, too, where something comes to a natural end point. That’s that chapter finished! Feels good.