Halfway through writing the title of this article, I got distracted and started jotting down the words you’re reading now. That’s right - halfway through writing the very first few characters of this blog post about distraction, I got distracted.
I need help.
You may have noticed that my blog posts have slowed down a little recently, and whilst we can partially blame Keiran having time off work and basically ~ forcing ~ (*cough*not even asking*cough*) me to stay in bed, my predisposition for distraction is also under fire. It’s not that the ideas aren’t coming to my head - the opposite, in fact - it’s that I’m only getting a chunk into writing before another task or title pops up at the forefront of my mind and flutters my fancy. “I’ll just quickly write that down”, I think, before inevitably “well, I better jot done a few lines in case I forget the idea.” Then I start typing, another wild thought appears, and the cycle continues.
At this rate I'm going to have to impose a 10p charge on myself, because my laptop is absolutely LITTERED with abandoned articles. I’m like the serial Fuck Boy of blog posts, keeping every one of my victims hostage. I promise the world with these groundbreaking titles, then as soon as I pay any attention - WHOOSH - something else has caught my eye and I’m off, chasing my next fancy. I might come back and revisit these whispers of what could have been, but we both know it’s not serious.
Even when I do reopen an unfinished post and have a go at rethinking it, the damage is already done. I’m already out of love. And although we all sometimes publish pieces which we aren’t 100% besotted with (I can’t say writing about face masks excites me in the same way that talking about about orgasms does), it eats away at my soul to force words for the sake of having something to say. There is a lot of crap on the internet and I don’t need to be adding to it (as much as I love BuzzFeed, I do have to wonder if we really need a 38th quiz about which house we’ll live in when we’re older based on our choice of pizza topping). I want to care about what I’m sharing, or at least be galvanised to share it (interiors, for example, aren’t necessarily “important”, but they do get me excited af), and so if I don't have that excitement or intent, I'd rather not share anything at all.
With that being said, if I let writing fall by the wayside then my job title as "blogger" quickly becomes more dubious. That's why I'm on a mission to get less distracted, a.k.a., to learn how to focus more. With the help of The Oracle (ahem, Google), I've gathered a few different tips which are slightly less wanky than "drink more water", and just in case anybody else might be struggling to zone in, I thought I'd share them with you so we might embark on a little experimentation together. Let's get it.
1. Write a To-Do list (but be realistic, for Christ's sake)
Writing To-Do lists is one of those things which I know helps me to focus, but which I neglect to do nonetheless. When I wake up I have such a clear and coherent vision of what I want to achieve in the day, but by the time I get to my desk, I'm already chasing so many different threads of thoughts that I rarely ever get them down on paper. Sometimes I do, however, and I find my work-flow so much more consistent. Because I can see what needs to get done as opposed to trying to prioritise the tasks in my head, I don't waste an age umming and ahhing over what to do next, and my day also feels more achievable because I've broken it down into smaller, bite-sized chunks. This is not always the case, of course. Sometimes I get far too ambitious and my list goes from "send invoice to [x]" to "clean the whole house in under 30 minutes", which unsurprisingly goes uncompleted and leaves me feeling a little deflated. Note to self: write your To-Do list first thing, if not the night before, and for crying out loud woman, be realistic. Break larger tasks down into sections so the mountain feels like a molehill, and stop sabotaging yourself - if lists work, fucking write them.
2. Stop making excuses and have some more discipline
I am a huge advocate of taking a break when forcing it doesn't seem to be working, but I also know that personally, if I grant myself one too many breaks, then I'll fall down a slippery slope of just being lazy. Undeniably, I am a lazy person. On Sunday's I shower, go to McDonald's with my best friend and then sleep all day, and that's my idea of a day well-spent. You know that person who wants to have daily naps on holiday? Yep, that's me. And I'm the same with work. If I'm really struggling to get the words out or tasks are taking longer than I feel they should, my natural inclination is to give up, take a break, and come back to it tomorrow. That's all well and good if I'm only facing a wall every once in a while, but when it's happening nearly every day, well, I just wouldn't get anything done. Note to self: stop looking out of the window, stop checking your phone, stop wondering if you could skip this and just do it tomorrow - have some more discipline, and get it done. You know you feel good for it afterwards.
3. Accept your work rhythm and make the most of it
For some reason, I work best at night. As soon as the sun starts to go down, people start to leave the office and we have every excuse in the world not to answer our phones, my drive comes alive. I feel free of external pressures, like I can focus in on the task at hand without being distracted by a WhatsApp or an email or a "would you mind just doing this now?". Those moments where everybody else stops working are the moments where I start, and whilst this is a canyon away from the typical 9-5, it seems to work for me. It's currently 4:20pm, for example, and I will undoubtedly achieve more in the next three hours than I did for the entire stretch of my "working day". Instead of fighting this, I need to let go of the idea that there is a "proper" way to work, and adapt my days accordingly. Note to self: if you work best from 8am-midday and then from 4pm-8pm, then work best at those times. It doesn't matter when it happens just so long as you're making it happen.
4. Meditate, and stick to it.
A month or so ago I downloaded the Headspace app in an attempt to see if meditation and mindfulness could help me focus. Turns out they did, but then my free trial ran out and despite adding 'renew membership' to my to-do list, it never got done (lol, who is really surprised?). Introducing meditation into your daily routine can be tricky because you're simultatenously learning a new habit (setting aside 30 minutes for quiet and calm), and unlearning old ones (waking up and instantly diving straight into your notifications), a process which undoubtedly takes longer than 10 free sessions. However I'm determined to pick meditation up again because it really did help me to make sense of the noise in my head, or at least to stop fighting it. During one of the sessions the narrator (leader? meditation master?) explained that the process of meditation is much like sitting by a dual-carriageway, with all of the zooming cars representing your thoughts. Rather than trying to chase just one and "fix" it, you have to sit back, and let them pass. That's what I need to get back into. And hey, if you're already subscribed to Spotify Premium, you can add Headspace for just an extra fiver a month. Note to self: renew your subscription - today.
5. Have an allotted time for tidying and cleaning
If the space in front of me is messy, I cannot work. It doesn't matter if it's an empty mug, a pile of fresh washing or one of Keiran's many discarded Doritos packets, if within my very limited visual range I can see a little bit of muck or mess, then it throws me off completely. The advice that a tidy space equals a tidy mind is abundantly true for me, but sometimes the idea of mess elsewhere in the house stresses me out to the point that I can't focus on the task at hand. And I'm not even a tidy person! I just know that a certain chore needs to be done and with that adding to my mental To-Do list, I get distracted. Trouble is, whenever I give up and go and organise whatever mess I've confined to a dark corner in a lesser-used room, I end up spending all my time cleaning as opposed to working. That's why I'm going to trial windows of allotted time, left completely free for tidying. It sounds far too strict a plan for me to ever stick to, but hopefully after I fail I'll be able to find the right balance so I'm not always wringing my hands about needing to change the sheets at 2:45pm on a Monday afternoon. Note to self: before you open your laptop, take 15 minutes to tidy the desk, wash up any used mugs and pop a wash in the machine. Return to your desk knowing that you don't live in a shit-tip, and that the chores are in hand.
6. Communicate, but be quiet
Some of you might remember that along with blogging, I also do a bit of freelance marketing on the side. This little part-time job began as a few minutes dedicated to posting on social media everyday, and somehow has blossomed into me hiring new team members, scheduling meetings here, there and everywhere, and processing payments on my company credit card. I know, I have no idea how I got here, but here I be. The freelancing side of things is quite busy at the moment which also explains why I may have been a little quiet on the blog front, but every now and then when I really need to knuckle down and start working through my inbox, I have to let my clients know that I'll be unavailable. There's an unspoken shame attached to declaring yourself unavailable to a client, as if since you're awake, you should be able to take a call, but communicating the fact that I need to channel my attention elsewhere means I can work without the anxiety of reply-expectation. Clients are more than welcome to message me throughout the day, but they know that they either won't receive a reply until much later on, or they'll have to wait until tomorrow. And do you know what? They never mind. Communication is the key here - as long as you explain why you're not responding to emails, then they don't really care when the work is done. They just want to know that you've heard them. Note to self: be more strict with your no reply policy on blogging days, and make clients aware the day before. Maybe work up a flexible schedule for set freelance and personal days...?
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