Ryan McRae is the creator of the blog, The ADHD NERD, a blog dedicated to helping people be more productive, successful and happy especially if they have ADHD. He is the author of Conquering the Calendar and Getting More Done and it’s available for a free download today.
You know the drill.
You want to start something new—a creative venture. Whether it’s a business, a side hustle, a new book or a new skill, you get revved up. Ideas are brewing and it keeps you up at night. You talk about it all the time to whoever has ears.
You fill up your coffee cup, sit down in your chair, and start working on the project.
A few minutes in, Facebook starts to tempt you. You want to get caught up on Twitter and watch the most trending SNL skit. You start researching books about your business, and maybe you order a couple of them. You need to take a break, and you fire up Netflix or the Xbox and a couple of hours go by.
Your progress is just slow, not steady…if you made any at all. The days turn into weeks and hardly any progress has been made.
“It just wasn’t a great idea. It didn’t take off. I’m just not sure it was going to be right for anyone.”
This is the eulogy for thousands of great businesses that couldn’t get off the ground because when it came to focus, getting it done—it just didn’t happen.
I think we make a huge mistake confusing focus and enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is being excited before a big event. We are excited about birthday parties, weddings, births and launches. But when it starts or even ends, our blustering enthusiasm wanes.
But how do we instead maintain focus when it comes to a new creative project? How do we keep going when the work becomes almost dreary because it has lost its “magic?”
The Primer of Focus
Focus is staying on task for a significant amount of time. Whether it’s watching a movie or writing a novel, we need to stay on task to finish. And we combat losing our focus all of the time. Most of us have a device that can immediately update us on the world or keep us entertained. (Heck, I’m struggling not to grab my smartphone as I type these words. . . .)
We live in a highly distracted, high input world.
Multitasking is a Great (Depriving) Skill to Have
This is the equivalent of those doctors in the 1950’s recommending cigarettes. In 10 years, we will look at multitasking as a joke. Cal Newport in Deep Work states that multitasking drains us of focus each time we switch tasks.
When a plane has to constantly change direction, it burns more fuel than it would if it maintained course. When we are constantly answering the many pings of our lives, we are constantly turning our attention on and off. It starts to wear us down and de-motivate us from the task at hand.
When you are evaluating a task or project, decide how complex it is, how much you will have to learn as you go through it, and determine a time you will work on it. I suggest a time period of at least one hour and make that time sacrosanct. If you have to relocate to a coffeehouse (or even some underground bunker) to focus, do it.
You will have more done in that one hour than you do in four hours of multitasking.
Anticipate and Manage the Hurdles
When you’re starting a new task or project, try and figure out what the hardest part of the task is going to be. Renegotiating a contract? Learning a certain piece of code? Whatever it is, prepare to be frustrated about that part. Prepare to struggle. Imagine it like a cliff wall or rapids. Gather the necessary resources to tackle that particular area. Whether it is a friend who can either do it for you or teach it to you, farm it out, or dedicate more time to conquer it.
When I was learning how to blog, I could manage the writing, but learning how to navigate WordPress was an arduous task. So I called a buddy of mine and said, “Look, I’ll trade you 3 hours of editing and/or writing for a one hour overview of WordPress. Plus coffee.”
He couldn’t get to the coffeehouse fast enough because he hated writing. I learned enough WordPress to get by and hit “publish”. This saved me countless hours to figure out what button did what.
The Gamification of Focus
I use a couple of apps that turn my focus into a game. I use Forest, an app for iOS where you grow a “tree” over time. If you leave the app, the tree woefully dies. If the tree lives, it is added to your garden. When I need some serious writing time or a task that I loathe (like planning my blog calendar) I simply cue up Forest and grow a garden.
I also award points on my to-do list to get me in motion. I try to score 100 points as soon as I can: easy tasks are 5, medium tasks are 10 and difficult tasks are 20. If I get a big win (getting an article published, etc.) that’s 50 points. I know it sounds pedantic, but my proof is in getting my work done and staying focused.
The Focused Environment
Have your surroundings promote focus instead of detract focus.
Music: It has to be the same album or song on repeat. Words I already know (Fleetwood Mac Greatest Hits) or no words (Gladiator Soundtrack.) Your brain can’t parallel process, so it can’t take in new information.
Netflix: If I’m not in the mood for music, I’ll put on “SLOW TV” on Netflix and put on an episode where it shows a train just traveling around Europe for 7 hours. Yes, 7 hours. It’s nice background noise and it sounds like you’re actually on the train.
Clutter: Clutter receives NO QUARTER on my desk when I’m working. I take 10 minutes and just put stuff away. I wipe off the desk.
Phone: Like above, I put it on “Do Not Disturb” and I turn off all notifications on my computer and basically my life. I haven’t disconnected the doorbell, but I’m considering options around that.
Your focus is a currency, just like the limited amount of cash in your wallet. If you waste it on meaningless things, you’ll eventually want to spend it on something you truly want, and you won’t have it to give.
Would you like to have more focus?
Join me for a FREE webinar with Mike Vardy on Tuesday, January 17 at 1 PM EST/10 AM PST. I’ll walk you through how I turned ADHD into a strength that has given me insane productivity. I’ll also show you how to do the same (if you don’t suffer from ADHD, this works for you too!).