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!
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?