Wednesday, May 9, 2018

How to Focus by Jenn McKinlay

JENN: Okay, I’ve been in crunch mode, book due in a week when I’m still 20,000 words out (yes, that’s four zeroes and a two with a comma). Naturally, life doesn’t stop or slow down or even wait just a freaking minute because an author is on deadline. Rather, the hooligans’ teachers go on strike, which I absolutely support but now, seriously, right now?, the pool pump breaks, the dog develops some weird skin condition, and the kitten forgets how a litter box works. Argh!!!

I noticed during this ugly stretch of writing that my ability to focus was a bit impaired, so I had to fight to keep my mind on the task at hand and not get distracted by hooligans under foot and in the pantry, the pool turning green, the dog rubbing her behind on everything, and the cat tossing litter like confetti, etc. and so forth. So, here is an infographic on my five best ways to keep my focus! (Yes, I found a website that gives you a template to make infographics. Why? I have no idea! Deadline avoidance leaps to mind.) Here it is, if you want it: 




How about you, Reds and Readers, what are your tips and tricks for staying focused on a task?

50 comments:

  1. Your tips are perfect, Jenn. I’d add, “Be sure to take a break regularly” and “Don’t procrastinate.”

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    1. Breaks are key! Procrastination to me becomes paralyzing.

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  2. Those are good! I might add, "Take an oxygen break" - we all need fresh air every day, and running/biking/stretching/power walking outside can help the brain focus for another ten pages.

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    1. Yes! I walk my dogs every day - I can't function without it.

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  3. Turn off the phone, email, social media, other people, and write without stopping for one hour. When the hour is over, stretch, do what you have to do around your home or workspace, then sit and write for another hour without interruption. Rinse and repeat.

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  4. I love that infographic, Jenn, and I bow to you for being able to keep this blog going this week while you're facing a massive deadline! I will sometimes set a timer for, say, 45 minutes and force myself to do whatever I need to do but don't really want to. My only commitment is meet that tiny time frame; often, when the timer goes off, I'm into what I'm doing and just keep going. #tricksofthemind

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    1. That's a great trick, Amanda. I may need to use it later today...

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    2. I haven't done the timer - must try that.

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  5. Noise-canceling headphones are my friend when I have to focus at work. I have ready access to a deep library of instrumental music, so I'll pick something beautiful and put on the headphones. Then, unless my co-workers all flee out the door in flames, I'm pretty much in my own world. While I'm there, it's good to have fresh water to sip on. This not only keeps me hydrated, it forces me to get up at least twice a day and hike a short distance across the park from my building to the Texas Nature Discovery Garden, where it's not only lovely, but the bathrooms are much nicer than the horror show in the basement of the Bandshell. That covers the exercise and fresh air parts of the day. If I REALLY have to get it done, I work from home, where the dogs make me get up and go outside from time to time, but otherwise people leave me alone.

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    1. It's the people leaving me alone thing that is key. "Mom..." I have trained them only to do this if there is blood or severed limbs involved.

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  6. This is so brilliant, and so important! The distractions are so constant , and it’s very difficult to keep priorities. I have a work sheet, where I keep track of my words per day, and I cannot live without it.
    I set a goal of 1000 words a day, but if I make 540 I pay myself on the back—I think it’s important to feel successful.
    I was talking yesterday to William Landay who wrote Defending Jacob, and he says he carves out to solid hours of uninterrupted “ deep writing time” every day. And that’s how he succeeds..
    And I know when I am at channel 7 if I put on headphones, I am much more productive. So it is completely quiet.
    So… I also set my timer for 34 minutes, and promise myself I will not do anything else, not anything, for that writing time. That really works.
    It is such a fascinating problem isn’t it?

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    1. It is a fascinating problem, and I think I can sum it up: Writing is hard. :)

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    2. I love the 540 word and 1000 word count goals, Hank. It's a great way to deal with the "all or nothing" approach.

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    3. Exactly! Yes, I'm needy and neurotic--:-) --so why not allow myself to succeed and be happy? And yeah, so "something" is also good. xoo

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    4. I'm setting the timer for 34 minutes now...

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  7. Great advice, Jenn! For me, most essential is TURN OFF THE INTERNET. And yet, here I am :-0

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    1. LOL. We all have that problem, Hallie.

      Jenn, I like the noise-cancelling headphones idea! Do you tell your kids not to bother you when you are wearing them? (Except for dire emergencies involving fire and spurting blood, of course.)

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    2. Exactly, Cathy! Blood, severed limbs, you know, the big stuff.

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  8. Before I begin: Check King George for a UTI. Cats will sometimes not use a litter box if the associate the box with peeing pain. or have the holligans clean it promptly.

    My daughter is a digital artist sharing this roof. I had to train myself to not interrupt her mid thought. I will tell her "I won't speak to you until x o'clock". unless the hurricane is here. That way she knows her time is hers. Could the family, minus the pets, do the same for you?

    Work using "counseling" hours. That is, 50 minute hours devoted to the task with 10 minute breaks. During the 10 mins I can stretch, day dream, whatever. The final part is allowing myself to stay present to the present - not wandering in thoughts while I am on task --or cheat a bit and let day dreaming be one of the tasks.

    I concur with Amanda, so grateful you have stayed with JRW's this week, despite the 20,000 - now 16,000 word deadline? Perhaps you could have a rock roll, and roll and roll some more down hill adding to the word count? naw. you are too much of a professional for that cheat.

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    1. It's not the peeing - it's the pooping. His attempts to bury it are, shall we say, unsuccessful. We now clean it twice a day and that seems to help. Should have named him Felix the Fussbudget. LOL.

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  9. Headphones are a brilliant idea! I will have to try that, though my writing space is a room upstairs in our house that's remarkably quiet. But headphones would block or at least muffle the ringing phone, which yanks me out of my zone. Don't know why, but I have a Pavlovian response whenever our land line rings, though most of the time it's opinion pollsters or people selling timeshares. Note to self: (1) dig out headphones and (2) consider losing the landline.

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    1. We got rid of our landline a few years ago - once the hooligans were able to have phones of their own - and it was a huge help.

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  10. Great list, Jenn! I use the noise-canceling headphones, too, and a worksheet, where I cross off my goals for the day as I reach them. I have also learned to adjust my work 'day'--I find I can be way more productive when the distractions, er, nephews, are out for their afternoon/evening activities. I also try to get outside for a walk--and that often coincides with the period of mass distraction--of course, we don't have days and weeks of 100+ temps, so getting outside is easier. And just so you know you aren't alone, my day started with getting up to the cat throwing up.

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    1. Oh, cat puke it the worst! You have my sympathy.

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  11. Jenn,

    Great list!

    Do you open the blinds or draw your curtains to let in the sun? I wondered about the daylight in the room. When I was a kid, I could not understand why my classroom had lights on during the day. LOL.

    Although I support the teachers going on strike, I am not sure about the timing of the strike. At the University, many employees are going on strike and although I do sympathize, I feel the timing stinks because people are graduating and taking their finals. One commencement speaker cancelled because of the strike. IF I was graduating this year and I was looking forward to the commencement speech, I would not go through the ceremony.

    Diana

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    1. The timing has been whacky. Luckily, the kids won't have to make up days (the teachers will), so vacations weren't ruined but I look at it as another life lesson for the dudes. As in, you can only push people so far before they push back. AZ teachers needed to do this - for years - so it was time.

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  12. Ten pages a day? That's crazy, Jenn! Don't put yourself through too much stress. Editors will bend deadlines for their good (and bestselling) writers. But I think your list is perfect, especially no internet for me

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    1. Thanks, Rhys. You're right. They will bend - thank goodness!

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  13. 10 pages! WOW you ARE superwoman! Me, I'm figuring out how to print the list - I love it. Hang in there, you'll get it done.

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  14. Listen to ambient music designed to help you stay in alert, focused brain waves. "There are five categories of brainwaves, ranging from the most activity to the least activity. When the brain is aroused and actively engaged in mental activities, it generates beta waves. The frequency of beta waves ranges from 15 to 40 cycles a second. A person in active conversation would be in beta. A debater would be in high beta. A person making a speech, or a teacher, or a talk show host would all be in beta when they are engaged in their work." The brain, listening to this type of music, then follows along at the new frequency and produces brainwaves at the same rate of Hertz (Hz). This is a shortcut for getting your brain in the zone. :) Youtube has good options, some even lasting for several hours.

    Here's a 24/7 channel during just beta music as an example
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJoPMp6l3bk

    I also use this method in theta waves to help relax or fall asleep. Works for me.

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    1. Wow, you just made me ten times smarter than I was when I did this infographic! Thanks, PK! I do try to find movie soundtracks that match the scene I am writing if I am struggling - it does help.

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  15. Go, Jenn!!!! My deadline is September 1st and I am panicked--but I have a lot more than 20,000 words to write. I have no doubt you can do this.

    I'm working really hard at the "calendar anorexia" thing we talked about the other week, keeping every day possible clear of other commitments. I'm setting a daily word count goal in my weekly planner--absolutely essential if I'm going to get a book finished. But, like Hank, I pat myself on the back even if I don't quite make the goal, because I have written SOMETHING. I set a morning uninterrupted writing block, and another one in the afternoon, leaving the middle of the day for chores. And NO INTERNET while writing.

    Seconding what Coralee said about King George. I know you don't need another chore right now, but could someone else take him to the vet to check for a UTI? It's really common in male cats about that age.

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    1. I will most definitely have him checked if he seems distressed about peeing (so far that's fine in the box) it's the other where we a re having burying issues. We've started cleaning twice a day now, so fussy boy seems happier. He is a king, after all. :)

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  16. PS Jenn, I am so impressed with your graphic! We all need to print it!

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    1. Thanks! Mostly, it was an excuse to see if I could make an infographic which I could then use for...I have no idea what...but it was super fun and easy. www.visme.com for anyone interested.

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  17. I've tried to train my kids to text me when they want to talk. I'll write until I reach a breaking point, and call them back.

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  18. For those of you looking to turn off the internet, I highly recommend Freedom. You can buy it for an annual fee or by the month; it is quite reasonable. You can program it to deny all internet access for a certain amount of time, or block certain sites that you know will get you in trouble, like Twitter, and Facebook, and the news. I highly recommend it.

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    1. CS Harris just told me about this app! She said her productivity soared since she’s been using it!

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  19. I like it so much I "highly recommended" it twice! D'oh!

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  20. I have a list of ways to focus, too.

    1....
    Oh, look at this great link. I'll wander down this rabbit trail for a while now.

    (You know, if I could focus better, I'd be even more productive than I am now.)

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  21. Great list. I'd love to add "quit the day job" to my list. Unfortunately, my household budget would not appreciate that technique. =)

    Mary/Liz

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    1. I seem to get more done when I have more to do - but it is easier without the day job.

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    2. My biggest problem is that I'll be motoring along "in the groove" then I get an email or someone shows up at my desk with something that has to be addressed "right away." =(

      Mary/Liz

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  22. Right now I'm focused on celebrating the Jungle Red Writers' nomination for the Anthony for online content. Congratulations Reds! It's such a well-deserved nomination, and I am thrilled for you all. The whole list of Anthony nominees is a star-studded one.

    Jenn, I love that infographic, both the format and the content. Thanks.

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    1. thanks Kathy, we are celebrating like mad and plan to continue! and love having our friends on the list too!

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    2. Thanks, Kathy, for the congrats and the kind words!

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