Here are 13 of my favorite strategies for artists and creatives who want more focus and more finished projects:
1. Track your time. Analyze the results after a week. At the end of the week you will see the truth of your relationship with time and you can get rid of what I affectionately call your time eating gremlins.
2. Plan your week. At the end of your week, find a quiet spot to plan out your weekâ€™s tasks. Write down key projects and the tasks associated with them. Donâ€™t forget to add in family activities that you participate in as well. I love doing this in my journal with pretty pens and markers. Make planning fun! This will save you time and eliminate overwhelm on Monday morning.
3. Prioritize your list. Break down your tasks from most important to least important. Use a calendar to mark out blocks of uninterrupted time (anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes) to work on each one. I find that my focus flows best when I block time in my calendar for each of my projects.
4. Eliminate what isnâ€™t essential. Outsource what you can for things you need to do but which arenâ€™t your strengths. This could be anything from mowing your lawn to hiring a virtual assistant to take care of your social media for the week. Hiring a housekeeper and a gardener were huge milestones for us in our family-owned business, saving us time, worry and the embarrassment of a weed-filled front yard.
5. Set your goals. Break down big or long-term goals into smaller weekly or daily goals to make them easier to focus on. Taking baby steps towards your big goals will create massive momentum without the burnout.
6. Set aside a specific amount of time each day for checking/answering email and social media. Use your timer on your phone or a kitchen time to manage your time. It could be the first 30 minute task 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. Donâ€™t be stopping in the middle of a task to check your email. The same goes for social media channels as well. Turn off all your notifications on your phone and computer to make this easier. This was truly life changing for me and allowed me to be more focused but also more present with family during non-work times.
7. 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. Watch for my next post on why multitasking is BAD for you and actually neurologically impossible.
8. Make a distraction to-do list. 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. â€śI wonder whatâ€™s happening on Facebook.â€ť â€śWhat was the name of the actor in that movie?â€ť â€śHow long will it take me to drive to the zoo tomorrow?â€ť 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 on a piece of paper. I like sticky notes buts I lose them so I started using Google Keep on my phone and computer to track reminders.
9. Learn to say NO. If you already have full dayâ€™s task list, donâ€™t feel like you have to take on another project for someone else. Setting clear boundaries is essential not just for focus but also for peace of mind and productivity. Itâ€™s challenging at first and takes practice but it is possible to say no with kindness.
10. 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. I can easily ignore clutter up to a certain point, my husband canâ€™t stand it. We donâ€™t share an office anymore thankfully. What one change can you make in your environment to help with your focus?
11. Take a break when needed. Short breaks help break up boredom and burnout when youâ€™re working on a big project. Get up and walk around the room. Do some yoga stretches. Check out the popular Pomodoro technique of working in short sprints followed by short breaks. Learn more at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique
12. 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. For example, letâ€™s say youâ€™re writing an eBook. Donâ€™t try to do the whole thing at once. Break it down. Take 15 minutes to write out your outline. Take a short break. Then 15 minutes to research the first chapter. And so on. When you try to sit down and focus on the whole project, your brain canâ€™t zero in on whatâ€™s most important. Create an outline and a timeline for your chunks of work in order to be able to sit down and quickly get to work without having to dig through your project idea to know whatâ€™s next.
13. Use an app on your phone to boost your productivity and concentration.Â Apps like Evernote or Google Keep can keep you organized and keep track of distractions. I love using the Insight Timer and itâ€™s beautiful Zen singing bowls as my digital timer. I also now use Google mail, calendar, and drive to keep all of my content and communications connected and accessible from all devices â€“ no more scrambling to figure out where things are or if I responded to an email.
Yes, 13 is a lot of strategies. Focus in on one or two that you sense will have the biggest impact for your creative life and work. If you know you need some community support, accountability and skills for managing your attention and your energy, check out my monthly membership The Focused Creative Studio.