Time management and focus are two key factors to maintaining momentum in any creative process.
Every day I have to battle the urge to put something off; whether it’s writing, exercise, choreographing, or some other endeavor. I am a slacker and it is my internal battle to overcome; to count down and do it.
These are a few things I do to try to keep myself on track and going.
3 Steps to Better Time Management
1) Learn to Batch Process
Typically batching involves setting aside a specific amount of time for a single process. This is often for repetitive processes such as e-mail, bills, photo processing, reading Twitter messages, and so on.
If I step out of my writing process for five minutes to check my Twitter account it will often take me ten or fifteen minutes to get back in the writing groove. Add in a couple times checking e-mail, Facebook, etc. and I’ve slowed down my writing process by an hour or more.
Batching out a block of time to check e-mail, read or respond to Twitter messages, etc. keeps me from interrupting my regular work flow by going back and forth between different activities.
2) List 3 Important Tasks
I find this one particularly helpful and one that I’m most often to lapse on.
It takes only a few minutes to write out these tasks the night before in my notebook but when I wake up the next day I have a manageable and effective list of activities to perform in my day.
These tasks should be ones that are going to (a) make you feel fulfilled having accomplished them; (b) produce major results; and (c) be reasonable in a days time frame.
With this list written down I’m much more likely to commit segments of my day to following through on these actions. Without a list my commitments are amorphous and it is hard to block my time.
3) Plan for Downtime
Lastly make sure you are reasonable with your time. Plan in some down time, whether it’s with family, friends or by yourself.
Free time and leisure time is essential to the creative process. Our brains work in the background when we take time to relax so don’t micro-manage your time. Give yourself some leeway in your schedule so you can take fifteen minutes to sip your cup of tea and decompress.
I am a huge fan of downtime, perhaps because I’m a slacker or perhaps because I just like enjoying my cup of tea, but it is essential to my day to have it. The challenge is just to make sure that my entire day doesn’t become downtime.
3 Steps to Better Focus
1) Minimize Distractions
Especially with the number of devices and services vying for your attention at any given moment (phone, e-mail, twitter, facebook, youtube, etc.) when it is time to focus let them go. They’ll be there when you are done.
So don’t have fifteen browser windows open with e-mail, facebook, and twitter all in clicking distance. Close those browser windows, turn off widgets which pop-up notifications, and turn off Outlook reminders.
The one that gets me all the time is my phone. I text a great deal with my friends. Yet when I need to focus and a text comes in I’m lost for fifteen minutes fiddling with my fancy iPhone. Turn it off, put it out of sight.
Lastly, be in control of your creative environment. Wear headphones. Close doors. Get in your zone and don’t leave it.
2) Be Prepared
At least the boy scouts had something right. Be prepared for when you need to focus.
If you need a piping hot cup of coffee at hand (like me) make sure you have a carafe sitting next to you so you can top up that mug as you drain it between paragraphs.
Take the time to setup your creative environment with the materials you need. It’ll pay off to have a few extra things on hand that you might need instead of interrupting your flow and leaving your workspace.
For some people this means having a particular mug, a special pen, their favorite kind of notepad, or other ritual devices. Make sure you have them with you.
3) The 5 Minute Rule
If you find yourself losing focus, use the 5 Minute Rule.
Say to yourself, “another five minutes,” and keep at it for another five minutes.
Often I’ll find that by the time five minutes has passed I’ve worked through that momentary disconnect and have gotten back on track.
Sometimes you’ll work another five minutes and still be losing focus. Then, maybe it’s time for a little break and some downtime to recoup. But usually pushing through that wall will open you up to a whole new field to run in.
Time management is my greatest struggle.
I don’t like having a set schedule most of the time, I’ve lived on my own terms time wise for a long time and it has been enjoyable yet detrimental to my effectiveness in various ventures. Using a few guidelines to keep me in check help me focus energies.
What are some of your time management and focus hacks or tricks to keep you on track?