Are you easily distracted?
I can be, but it depends on what I’m doing. I can also have laser-like focus on things, putting blinders on until I’ve reached my goal.
More importantly, it depends on whether I really want to get something accomplished.
If I do, I don’t let anything stand in my way. I typically get like this when I’m on a tight deadline. The blinders go on, I either shut all forms of music/tv/other media out or turn something on to provide good background noise, and I chew on it like a hungry dog until I’m done.
Then I collapse in a heap, pleased with what I’ve accomplished, and move onto the next thing. Ask me about something a week or two later, and I may remember disturbingly specific details about it – or I may not, because my brain may actively be engaged in the next mode for the next thing on which I’m working. Like I said, laser-like focus. It’s both a blessing and a curse.
That’s when I have external deadlines. But when I’m writing for myself, it’s more difficult. Or it was until I realized my problem: I wasn’t setting deadlines for myself.
Could it really be that simple? Yes, yes it could.
I love David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. Put simply, I’m a lover of lists. But I don’t love when my lists get out of control, as frequently used to happen until I started using an app on my old Palm Pre that utilized this system. When I moved to Android, I found DGT GTD & To-do List [Alpha], which does the same thing.
Basically, this system takes one major Goal and allows you to assign it all the sub-goals you need to accomplish in order to achieve your main goal. You can also put those steps in order, so you have everything written down to lead you along the path you need to take to achieve your main goal. My biggest problem was letting myself get waylaid by worrying about all the little details that I didn’t have written down. Or else letting myself get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things I needed to accomplish to meet the goal I wanted to achieve.
That’s probably why I feel stronger writing shorter pieces, but less so writing longer ones.
By writing down all my goals and sub-goals, by assigning them contexts (work, home, errands, etc.), and by giving myself a small sense of accomplishment every time I ticked off another item on the list, I started getting larger goals accomplished.
This, in turn, snowballed and made me feel better about myself and my ability to get things done. All it took was a minor change, slotting my desired outcome into existing habits I already had. It may be different for you, because you’re not me. The key is to find that thing that accomplishes the same thing for you.
Also, stop running away from your brain. We all do it sometimes. It’s easy to allow yourself to become distracted when an onerous task presents itself. We all learned to do that as kids, when there was some chore we didn’t want to do (like cleaning the catbox). Recognize that you’re doing it, and then stop yourself. Giving in is how you hold yourself back from accomplishing just about anything.
Most goals worth accomplishing take many steps and loads of hard work. Some can take years, or even a lifetime. But you can’t get anything at all done if all you’re going to do is sit around and play Angry Birds or Triple Town or surf the Intarwebs or marathon things on Netflix. It’s good to take breaks once in a while, but you need to first take stock of what makes you most effective at your work, and then arrange your schedule around that.
Don’t let the breaks break your train of thought. If you think best when you lock yourself into a single mode and don’t let go until you’re done, arrange your schedule so you can do just that.
If you need regular breaks to keep yourself sane, do that – but give yourself a time limit for those breaks. Don’t give into the temptation to stretch them out. You only cheat yourself if you do.
At the same time, your best defense is to know yourself and how your brain works. That way, you can devise the cleverest ways to work your brain for all it’s worth.
I just took a break from a bigger project of mine to write this blog entry, because it was something I needed to say (both to myself and in general). Now that I’ve written it, I can go on with my larger project. It’s important to learn to recognize when a niggling side-thought isn’t likely to leave your brain alone until you give in to it, then get it out of the way and move on.