Thursday, September 21

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, September 21, 2017 No comments
The biggest challenge to having a fulfilling creative life is mental clutter that keeps you from being fully present in your creative process. The last two months have for me been pretty much all clutter nearly all the time. Some of this is simply seasonal--summer home improvement projects, back to school shopping, meetings, schedule changes--but a large part of it has been the cumulative effect of poor planning and habits.

In the spirit of the twelve step groups, I admit I have a problem and need change. Specifically, I need to make mental and emotional space in my life to create again.

Of course, identifying the problem is just an early step. Next comes seeking solutions. So today I share some resources I've encountered that look to be pretty useful for overcoming my particular issues, because I suspect others will find them equally helpful

Attention splatter

I first encountered the concept of "attention splatter" through a blogging buddy who had linked an article by Christine Kane, a business coach.

She likens divided attention to a snacking/grazing approach to eating. You repeatedly open the fridge and grab a snack or two, over and over, but never have an actual meal. Along the way, you never, ever feel full, because you haven't truly fed yourself.

Bopping from one thing to another, especially giving little bits of attention to many things spread across hours will have a similar result. You end up feeling unsatisfied, like the day was wasted.

Working to your fullest potential, she argues, requires focused attention on the task at hand. Why?

Your attention ultimately feeds you. It feeds your heart and it feeds your mind. This is why it’s so important to notice what you give your attention to. This is also why splattered attention leaves you feeling strung out and unfulfilled. You never actually feed yourself.   ~Christine Kane

It's very easy to get distracted in our noisy world, but especially so if you are a woman with a family who expects you to carry a lion's share of the "mental load" of running a household. The creative tasks that feed you--writing and honing your fiction--can be pushed to the margins.

Kane recommends first identifying key sources of "splatter"--places where you get diverted by choice or circumstance.

Some common culprits:
~social media
~cell phones
~clutter/household messes
~magazines and newspapers
~video and phone games
~random Google searches
~obsession with metrics and stats
~calendar maintenance

Once you've figured out what things are stealing your hours a few minutes at a time, you need to eliminate them or  schedule them in discrete blocks. For example, if you check e-mail constantly all day, it will gobble up all your time. Instead, plan to deal with e-mail at certain times of day only for short periods, for example from 8:30 - 9:00. 1:00 - 1:30 and 4:20 - 4:50.

Another way to deal with splattering activities is to leverage small windows of time. Say you have 40 minutes before you need to pick up the kids from school. You might be tempted to poke around aimlessly on social media. Instead, tackle a few specific tasks, such as paying some bills and tidying high-traffic areas of your house.

Side note: if household clutter is your biggest foe to creativity, I recommend you check out the advice and tools available from FlyLady. She has lots of great ideas to get your home in shape using leveraged time in small, discrete blocks you schedule.

Plan your larger blocks. Try to be as specific as you can about what you want to work on. Rather than simply "write something today," you might instead plan to "write scenes two and three in chapter eight." Or if revising, "review chapters 10-14 for craft concerns" (see my helpful three-tier revision review process HERE for more on this.)

During your work blocks, isolate yourself from distractions: turn off the WiFi, mute the phone, notify disruptive people that you will be unavailable during certain hours (call it a "work meeting"). Let phone calls got to voice mail and return the calls at a scheduled time. If distracting sub-tasks come to your attention during your work session, jot them down on a list, then let them go until later, to be scheduled for one of your windows for this type of task.

You might find it helpful to have an accountability partner to whom you report when you're working, then how you spent your work block. For example, tweet or text "I'm working on chapter 8 from noon to 3:30." Then at 3:35, "drafted 800 words, planned out scenes 4 and 5."

To reward your efforts further, create an "I did it" list. Each day, simply list what you accomplished. This will become an ongoing source of encouragement as you give attention to what you did, noticing finished projects, not merely unfinished ones.

When you have down time, be fully present to it. This is one of my big struggles--never really resting. If you need a nap, actually sleep, don't beta read, clean out your e-mail box, or have a phone conversation. Do those tasks in their planned slots.

What things steal too much of your mental space? What techniques have most helped you to be fully present to your writing time?


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