3 Ways to Find Focus for Your Projects Today

3 Ways to Find Focus for Your Projects Today

Written by Claire Nyles Suer

Topics: Productivity

Earlier today, I counted up all my projects. I wrote down all of the personal and creative efforts I’ve been working on in my free time recently. The total: thirteen.

I wasn’t surprised by the high number—this is pretty much my natural state, and has been since I was a kid—I’m a simultaneous multipotentialite through and through!

But sometimes, having so many things I am doing at once makes me nervous that I’m somehow “diluting” my energy and focus. I have to remind myself that that’s a myth from our specialist-focused culture—maybe true for some folks, but not for everyone.

In the past when I’ve tried to work on only a small number of projects at a time, it’s made me feel much more sapped, burnt out, and bored—and made it much harder to finish anything. For me personally, it’s much better when I feel free to have thirteen (or more!) irons in the fire, overlapping in interesting ways and energizing different parts of my brain.

Still, it can be hard for me to get momentum going when there are so many things I’m trying to move forward at once. Often I feel like my projects are not moving fast enough, or that I get distracted too easily. And I think this is something that a lot of multipotentialites struggle with.

So here are a few strategies that have helped me find more focus with my projects. I hope they’ll help you get more joy and more progress out of your hobbies and pursuits.

1. Breathe and be in the moment

Most of the time when I’m feeling panicked that my novel isn’t written, or my embroidery patch isn’t done yet, or that the new type of workshop I hope to run isn’t planned yet, I realize that my brain has leapt away into the future. And of course, when I’m far away in the future, it’s difficult to focus on the next step of a project in the present.

It usually helps to remind myself that I’m doing these projects because I want to, and because I’m getting something out of them that isn’t necessarily tied to the finish line. Also, often when I’m in panic mode, I realize it’s because I’m feeling uncertain about which project to work on, and don’t want to waste my project time deciding.

So in those moments, I reach for a brief mindfulness activity to help me find some calm and clarity. You can find various activities for mindfulness and meditation all over the internet, but I usually keep it extremely simple. I spend about thirty seconds taking deep breaths and noticing, part by part, what sensations I feel in my body.

Getting mindful helps bring me back to the current moment and get in touch with what I want. Usually, after slowing my breathing and tuning in to my body, I can let go of unhelpful thoughts around “I should…”, and find that one activity holds more appeal than another at the moment. Or I can at least pare my options down to 2 or 3, and choose based on something else (like, “I’ll work on my embroidery, since I can do that quietly in the same room as my partner, while they’re working”).

2. Get a reward card!

Everybody knows that systems and structure can help you stay on track with your plans. But we often make the mistake of thinking those systems have to be really complicated, firm and inflexible, and/or involve a deep intertwining with the details of your schedule and calendar. And we also often forget that systems aren’t just to help you be organized—they can be set up to help you stay motivated, too.

Here’s an example. My partner is in school right now. They have a separate system to help them figure out what to do when, etc. But to help them stay motivated in actually just moving forward and checking items off their list, they created a “rewards card” like you might get at a coffee shop.

For every three tasks they finish, they get to use a fun hole punch to punch their reward card. And every time they fill the card with holes, they give themself a reward! With a little “fun money” set aside for that purpose, they get something nice for themself, to acknowledge their hard work and to propel them further in the next week or two as they fill their card again.

So how can you give yourself the proverbial “pat on the back” a little more often? You could create a rewards card, or you could keep it even simpler for today. Just think about a tiny but fun reward to give yourself—it could be a special food you enjoy, or some time doing that thing that brings you joy and pleasure.

Now attach that reward to a concrete, reasonable goal for the project you’ve been struggling to get back into. Chances are, that reward will get your wheels rolling and help you stay on track for the daily goal. Plus, it’s an excuse to do something nice for yourself, which many of us don’t do often enough!

3. Obliterate the obstacles

Sometimes, I realize I’ve been taking the long way around with various projects. Like when I want to do a specific thing as I’m learning digital illustration software, and I spend hours trying to figure out the keywords I need to google a tutorial video by some helpful person on Youtube… when all I really needed to do was ask a designer friend or acquaintance, who could tell me in two minutes flat.

So I ask you: what’s keeping you from making the progress you want? Is it something that’s relatively easy to change?

Maybe you keep trying to work on something at the wrong time of day, and you’d be fresher or more relaxed at a different time. Maybe you’re nervous about not having enough materials, and you need to buy a little extra for each project so you don’t have to worry about running out. Maybe you want to be someone who can code, or do complicated calculations, or write exquisite poetry, all with a giggling toddler or someone else’s music in the background… but if you’re honest with yourself you might do better with earplugs.

Here’s one more example that might help you: I sometimes struggle to move forward with drafting my novel because there are so many details to hold in my mind whenever I sit down to write a scene. There are worldbuilding facts, character backgrounds, plot arcs, thematic elements, all to be woven together in one. I keep all of this info on my laptop, which makes it easy to transport… but when I only have twenty minutes to write, it’s hard to quickly reference a bunch of different docs to review where the story is and where it’s going. Until recently, the whole thing felt overwhelming, and I wouldn’t bother opening the laptop at all.

But with a little reflection, I realized there was an obvious solution. I printed some of my most important docs that I reference a lot, and put them in a binder. It’s so much easier to organize ideas in my head when I can simply spread out whichever sheets I need all over the table, and just have one thing on my laptop: the scene itself.

What’s keeping you blocked or confused when you go to make progress on your project? Can you attack that problem at the root?

You got this, champion.

I know focus can be hard to find. And having lots of projects can sometimes feel more overwhelming than enriching. But just remember to tap into why you love the project—why you started it in the first place and why you keep coming back to it. That internal motivation is the best strategy there is for focus. Now stop reading this distraction, and go make some progress!

Your turn

Do you have other useful strategies to help you tune in to your project of the moment? What are your stories of beating back anxiety and obstacles and making big progress?

Claire NylesClaire Nyles Suer (she/they) is an editor, writer, designer, and community builder. They work with systems management at a university library, and are working on their first novel (which includes a queering of the Rapunzel fairytale, and lots of character angst over choosing a career). Claire Nyles also likes hiking, facilitating workshops, working with youth, designing logos, and playing the ukulele. They’re all about empowering people by helping them communicate and connect – to ideas and to other folks.

19 Comments

  1. Ynne says:

    I don’t have much to add, but I just wanted to drop by to say that I found this article very helpful and encouraging. :)

  2. Akanksha says:

    This has been such an timely article to read … Going through so much of what you’ve mentioned above. Feeling much better after reading and knowing that the solutions might actually be simpler than all the over thinking I am engaging in! Thank you for all the great stuff you have put down for our help. Much appreciated!

  3. Vanessa says:

    This is very nice! I’ll start this today ^^

  4. Karen Joslin says:

    I definitely relate to feeling like I’m not making progress quickly enough on things.

    I highly recommend Scrivener for writing projects. You can import all sorts of research/reference files, including web pages, images, and videos. And you can organize your work into separate scenes, chapters, etc. that you can easily rearrange. So much easier than having to open separate files and cut and paste sections to rearrange. Check it out!

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      Karen thank you!! I actually use Scrivener and love it. It’s DEF better than when I was writing my first draft of my novel on Google docs several years ago! I just still find that my laptop screen isn’t big enough for me to leave open all the different pages within Scrivener that I want to reference…. I think it’s a personal preference problem, lol. Glad the binder is working for what I need it for, for now anyway!

  5. Julie says:

    I needed to read this today. The frustration is real and being surrounded by single minded taskers is sucking the energy out of me. Thank you

  6. Isabela Capeleto says:

    This is really helpful and a great reminder to keep working on/pursuing my special projects. Thank you :)

  7. Erin says:

    I love the idea of a rewards card. I’ve been working with celebrating my small successes, which so far has been consisting of sharing with a friend what my accomplishment is, and getting a “yay!” and keeping an accomplishment log in my planner.
    I’m going to ponder the card idea and what rewards I would give myself. This might be a good idea for the big projects I’ve been putting off because I really don’t want to have to do them (and there are so many other things I do want to do).

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      Erin those are awesome ways to celebrate small successes! I love that!

      The rewards card has been a really fun thing to do with my partner. I cut one out of cardboard and decorate it for them every week, and they share with me as they finish tasks and get “punches,” so it’s been a collaborative way to celebrate their successes together! I def recommend it, especially for big projects that have lots of small tasks and maybe some parts that we don’t like.

      Good luck!

  8. Anndrea Espino says:

    As I was reading this, I felt tears roll down my face (tears of joy:)). This is absolutely helpful!
    I was so frustrated and overwhelmed with myself for not having the motivation to finish all the projects that I started, that it made me feel depressed. I really love the reward card idea! I think that could really help me get motivated again to start my projects ! Thank you so much for sharing your genius ideas!!!

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      So glad I could be encouraging in this moment Anndrea!! The overwhelm is so real… take those deep breaths and take stuff one step at a time… you got this!

  9. Priscilla says:

    Hi Claire, what an interesting post and ideas you have written.

    I actually have my own way to keep myself on track when talking about my projects… I have recently found out that for me it is very helpful to wrote on my phone when did i start some project and to look up to that date whenever i feel like i am not in the mood or motivated enough to do them, so on that way i can say to myself, if i have done this for one month why i cant do it for two months, and so on…

    • Claire Nyles Suer says:

      Priscilla that’s an awesome idea! I do that with books I read (a mini project in itself I guess!). I keep track of when I started reading and when I finish. I might have to take a leaf from your book and try this for other things, too!

  10. I am currently making new doors for my kitchen cabinets, making jewelry for my web store, working on 10 or so quilts (all by hand) and trying to find time to work on my distopian romance for senior women (f which I am one). I find that if I sit quietly and mentally touch each project, I can “feel” a pull from one or the other and that’s the one I choose to give my attention to for that day.

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