The highway, a quarter mile away, with cars moving from rough road ready for repaving to the bump as they speed up onto the freeway and its smooth pavement. The sound of a truck, the roll-up door up on the back, banging over the bump. The hum of the neighbor’s air-conditioning unit. The buzz of the fluorescent lights of my office. My coworker’s clicking mouse. My other coworker on her calculator. My own breathing. The sunlight, the wind, the seed pods floating on the breeze, the clutter of the yard outside my office window. The clutter of my desk. The unfinished to-do list on the board. The three different colors of markets on the white board. The faint shadowing of words not fully erased. A door opens, shuts. Another opens, shuts. Tires on our driveway. A motorcycle on the highway. The tightness of my socks. The edge of the laptop against my wrist. The bee that just flew in through the open window.
Everything I’ve noted in the last 90 seconds.
I’m easily distracted. I’ve clicked out of this window at least 10 times since starting this post only 3 minutes ago. My mind is one that likes to move quickly from thing to thing, often faster than I can even process it. I feel things like the tightness of clothing, the unevenness of the cuffs of my pants, the differences in the arch of my foot. I hear and see every little thing. And it can throw me out of the zone wherever I am: with my family, by myself, at my dayjob, while I’m writing.
Some techniques I’ve learned to help my mind find focus when I don’t feel focused at all:
- I wear headphones, even if I’m not listening to music.
- I wear glasses sometimes, because it helps with eyestrain/screen stress since I spend 15 hours a day at a computer, but also because the frames for me work like blinders on a horse. They help keep me looking at my screen and not at that one light at Barnes & Noble that flickers and drives me absolutely bonkers.
- I use SelfControl (a computer app) and Forest (a phone app) to help prevent me from clicking all over the place and not focusing out of sheer habit. I will still try to open websites I can’t get to on Self Control but Forest keeps my phone down and it’s not like I can bypass Self Control. I’ve talked about juggling, self motivation, and techniques I use here and here.
- I do a Pomodoro type of technique, but longer stretches. It takes me longer to get going (I’m like a Prius, not a Ferrari) so the 15 minutes and then break thing doesn’t really work for my brain. 1 hour followed by a 15 minute break DOES work for me. So I think that work interrupted by breaks is important, I do want to avoid being prescriptive about what that work time and break time looks like. Every brain is different. Experiment and figure out what works for you.
- Deadlines. Deadlines really help. I hate missing deadlines and even though I miss my self imposed ones more often than not, they CAN get me to the desk and getting my head down when I need to focus.
- My desk doesn’t face a window. It faces a corner. There’s literally nothing to see but my screen and my inspiration board, including a sign I made for it that says STFU AND WRITE. So. That helps. A lot. Even though I love natural light, everything OUTSIDE looks so INTERESTING and also now I’ve been watching squirrels for two hours and wrote 13 words (about squirrels). So I need to face the wall.
Best wishes for a productive week!
From a writer very much using this post to procrastinate, and very aware of the irony