You might be a n00b on my blog so let me do a quick recap about myself. Especially since my career has a lot to do with today’s topic. FOCUS!
I’m Celia Kyle *wave*, a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author with over eighty titles published. *squint* I could be coming up on ninety if I’m honest. I’ve been a published author since 2007 and I’ve been writing full-time from home since 2012. That’s eleven years folks. Eleven years and if I guestimate ninety titles, we’re looking at roughly eight titles per year. To put that in perspective, the average traditionally published author releases one book per year. That said, I recently had two traditionally published books released that came out in 2018 which is a deviation from the norm. So, there are exceptions to every rule.
Does this mean I actually released eight books a year? No, absolutely not. Some years were more productive than others. There were years where I released two or three titles and then I went on to publish fifteen in the year after. It depended on what was going on in my life at that time.
It depended on my focus.
I think that today, we’re busier than we’ve ever been and all the tools we think make our world more streamlined don’t do a darn thing. We’ve been led to believe that if we don’t multitask the heck out of our day, we won’t be productive. If we don’t juggle a half-dozen plates, nothing will ever get done and we’ll be a failure.
Yeah, no. Not so much. You actually get 40% LESS done when you multitask. Seriously.
Being focused on one thing at a time allows you to do a better quality of work, more work gets done quicker, and your creative ideas flow easier. Which, as an author, creativity is a big deal.
That doesn’t mean focusing on one think at a time is easy. It’s difficult to remain focused on one task for a variety of reasons. I mean, we live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with TV, radio, cell phones, and social media.
It’s difficult to be completely free from these distractions, but you can always try. One way is to go to a room where you can shut your door and turn off your phone and email notifications. There are even apps and programs that will turn off your internet on your computer, only allowing you back onto the net after a specific period of time. Some won’t give in at all until the timer has expired or you restart your computer. I mean, you gotta need access to the ‘net hard core if you’re willing to restart your computer just to access Facebook.
For those that are sitting there thinking “OMG I NEED THAT.” I recommend Cold Turkey for Mac. Mainly because it has a free version. Hashtag free is for me. I work exclusively on a Mac so I’ve never tested anything for Windows, but I’ve heard good things from others about FocusMe which works for both PC and Mac. I’ll post some links once I’m done so y’all can take a look.
But those apps are useless if you’re still attempting to multitask. It’s important to focus on one thing at a time to become more productive, do better quality work and be less stressed.
Now you might doubt me. You might think that multitasking is the shits bananas and I’m a total idjit who has zero clue. Which is fair because we’ve been taught that being able to multitask is a good thing! After all, it’s a skill many employers look for in their employees.
Heck, at this point, you’re probably so used to multitasking that you don’t even realize when you’re doing it. It’s so ingrained in us that it’s hard to see that focusing on one item at a time gives you better results than trying to do it all at once.
Multitasking has you switching from task to task quickly but our minds don’t necessarily change directions as easily as we imagine. If you’re going from Facebook to writing, you have to transition from random relaxation to creativity with a snap of your fingers and I don’t know about you, it takes me a little while to get into a story before I can even add words worthy of being kept and not tossed in the trash.
Multitasking makes it difficult to focus entirely on each task you are doing. You are thinking about emails you have to respond to when writing a novel and the phone calls you need to return even while you are thinking about the edits you need to finish. This type of working environment doesn’t do anything but cause you stress.
Now that you know what you’re not supposed to do, let’s work on making changes that can help your focus and productivity.
- Track your time. I want you to keep track of every task you complete and how long it takes to finish. Every minute that you spend “working” should be tracked and cataloged. And I mean everything. If you say you’re writing from eight to ten but stop to take a twenty-minute break to look at Facebook? You better write that down. At the end of a week, take a look at the results and see where you have any time wasters. Now, dump them! Easier said than done but knowing your time wasters can help you avoid them in the future.
- Plan your week. At the end of your week, find a quiet spot to plan out your upcoming week’s tasks. Write down key projects and the tasks associated with them. Everything you want to get done should get a line on the to-do list. Even if it’s something like checking your book’s rank on Tuesday. If you need to get it done, write it down.
- Prioritize your list. Break down your tasks from most important to least important. Use a calendar (printed or online—I’m a print lover.) to mark out blocks of uninterrupted time (anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes) to work on each one.
- Set your goals. Break down big or long-term goals into smaller weekly or daily goals to make them easier to focus on. Instead of adding “AWESOME BOOK EDITS” for the week, get more specific. On Monday, your goal can be to edit chapters one through five. On Tuesday it can be chapters six through eleven. Listing the task as one big project without breaking it down makes it seem insurmountable.
- Set aside a specific amount of time each day for checking/answering email and social media. It could be the first 30 minutes of the day, the last 30 minutes of your work day, or maybe the 15 minutes before your lunch break. Only do it once a day though. Don’t be stopping in the middle of a task to check your email. The world will not end if you don’t answer that email RIGHT THIS SECOND. The same goes for social media channels. The world won’t end if they wait. Admittedly, I don’t listen to this guideline when I’m waiting for an important email from my agent. Then all rules go out the window as I hit F5 repeatedly.
- Do away with multitasking. It takes a while to learn how to focus on one project at a time but stick with it and it will become a habit. Finish one project/task before moving on to the next one. Become laser-focused on one task at a time. This can really increase your productivity. I started working on the script for this workshop and would have been done in no time, but I stopped half way through to install WordPress for a friend. Then I had to go muck with their domain. Neither of those items were on my to-do list and it pushed back the making of this workshop. Had I just waited, I could have crossed this item off and had that warm and fuzzy feeling a bit earlier.
- Make a distraction to-do list. What? A list of things to do that ARE distractions? The Internet has made it easy for us to become quickly distracted. As soon as we want to look something up, we hop on the Internet to do a search. “I wonder what’s happening on Facebook.” “What was the name of the actor in that movie?” “How long will it take me to drive to the zoo tomorrow?” Anytime we get distracted like this it takes about 25 minutes to get back to the original task. So instead, next time you want to look up something or an idea pops in your head, jot it down somewhere and go back to it later.
- Learn to say NO. If you already have a full day’s task list, don’t feel like you have to take on another project for someone else. I know that being a people pleaser is a thing. I’m a people pleaser and saying NO has to be one of my biggest issues I struggle with. That said, it’s okay to tell people you can’t do something. My therapist once told me that when asked to do something I don’t want to do, I have to ask myself a question. If I say NO to this person, what’s the worst that could happen? Can I live with the “fallout” of saying NO? If I had said no to my friend who needed that WordPress site installed, what was the worst that could have happened? She would have been annoyed and sad, but we still would have been friends. She wouldn’t walk away because I couldn’t drop what I was doing and help her. Which means I could have had the script written and completed rather than the constant start and stop I’ve experienced. Next time, I’ll buck up and say NO.
- Create an environment that works for you. Do you need a quiet space, free from people, phones and television noise? Set up your office so it works for you. Decorate it in soothing colors, inspiring artwork and a comfortable chair. If you work best in a neat and clean area, make sure you put away or file papers and magazines. Get rid of clutter. If you focus better while listening to music or some kind of ambient noise, be sure to have a way to make that happen.
- Take a break when needed. Short breaks help break up boredom and burnout when you’re working on a big project. Get up and walk around the room. Grab a snack. Stop and do a few stretches to loosen up those muscles.
- Break up or Chunk it. Break your tasks down into smaller more manageable chunks of time with short breaks in between. For example, work on a task in 15 minute chunks. If you’re working on a book, break up your time into manageable chunks. I prefer writing for 30 minute blocks of time with a five minute break in between. Just enough time to grab a drink or take a bathroom break. Another way to break things up is the Pomodoro method which has 25 minute blocks separated by 5 minute breaks. I’ve got a Pomodoro tracker for writers that I’ll share with y’all so you have an easy way to track your “Poms.”
- Use an app on your phone to boost your productivity and concentration. Apps like Evernote can keep you organized and keep track of distractions. A site like Brain.fm allows you to stream music specifically orchestrated to increase focus and concentration. I actually use Brain.fm but if you prefer to purchase albums of what I call “concentration music,” I really enjoy Study Focus from Yellow Brick Cinema. There are 10 tracks with over 10 hours of concentration music available for you.
- Turn off distractions. I talked about this a little earlier, but grab an app or program like Cold Turkey for Mac or FocusMe for PC to turn off your access to the internet and other distractions. You can’t get lost on Facebook if you can’t get to Facebook.
- Make your tasks routine. Things that need to be done every day should be turned into routine tasks. So, for the first fifteen minutes of every day, you’ll check email. Then you’ll spend thirty minutes on Facebook. Then 15 minutes checking author forums. (Author forums are a huge time suck for me. Huge.)
You have to remember that, no matter what I’ve said, you need to take the hacks that work for you and then put them to work FOR you. No two people are the same so the way I plan my day might not be the same as yours, but as long as we both have the same result, that doesn’t matter. Results matter.
Want some Pomodoro worksheets to help motivate your writing? Be sure to submit your email address and receive two free pomodoro tracking worksheets and two pages of printable stickers. (Stickers meant for Avery 5167 labels.)