During our Productivity Huddle the other day, we talked a lot about focus. What do you do when you’re working on one project and suddenly get the urge to explore something else? When do you hold your focus, and when do you try out that new fascination?
Many multipotentialites have been bitten by the delightful idea bug. This is a good thing. We’re talking about the same idea bug that brings you all of that wonderful creativity and makes your work so brilliant. The problem is that sometimes the idea bug has bad timing…
So what do you do when you’re working away on some project, and you suddenly get the urge to go research timber framing or hypnosis, or some equally intriguing concept?
What were you working on before the new idea hit?
Chances are you were working on one of your more long term projects. The new and shiny ideas tend to pop up when we’re working on something more long term, something we feel we “should” be working on, which has maybe lost a bit of the luster after working on it day-in-day-out or is just big and overwhelming.
I used to struggle with this. Often I would follow this new thread and abandon the project I’d been working on, only to feel guilty about not getting anything done.
I now have a really simple strategy for dealing with this scenario.
Step 1: Write down the idea and get it out of your head, but don’t entertain it any further
Jot down the new idea that you want to explore in your notebook, in whatever detail that requires. If this takes a minute or two to get all the ideas out, then so be it. Just get it out of your head, but don’t entertain the idea any further. No Googling, no brainstorming, just get it out.
Step 2: Return to the project you were working on
If that first project no longer feels inspiring, try to get in touch with the emotion behind your goal. Why are you working on this project? How will it feel once you’ve accomplished it? What drew you to it in the first place?
Take a look at the wall by your desk where you hang reminders of your priority projects, and try to embody how the attainment of this goal will feel. The more you practice inspiring yourself like this, the faster the process will become. I do it every morning to help motivate myself. It’s important to inspire, not just the rational side of your mind, but the emotional side as well.
Once that inspiration has been reignited, shift gears, stop thinking of the big picture, and become short-sighted. What is the action step right in front of you, right now?
Jump back in. You’re a professional, right? If you’re building a business, being a professional means that your job is to hustle. If you’re writing a novel, being a professional means that your job is to write. Take your work seriously.
If more new ideas pop up and distract you, continue to jot them down in your notebook without entertaining them, and then get back to your work.
Step 3: When your work is done, stop and give yourself a serious pat on the back
How do you define the end of your work period? Work time that isn’t well defined will make you feel unproductive every time. There will always be “more” you could be doing.
Every day, before you start working, define your goal for that work period. This might consist of completing one small action step, like writing a blog post or setting up your online shop. Whatever it is, once it’s done, stop and congratulate yourself.
If your project is more ongoing in nature, and those small action steps are harder to define, use a time period to define your end point. When I was writing my spec script, I used to set a morning goal of writing till I either finished one full scene or I’d been working for 40 minutes, whichever came first. This way, no matter what, I felt productive.
Step 4: Shift into “scanning mode” and explore your new fascination to your heart’s content
Once you’ve reached the end point for your long term project, feel free to switch to scanning mode and explore the new idea (or take a break and do it later. Remember, you don’t have to do everything RIGHT NOW).
You can also view indulging your new idea as a reward for completing your work.
This technique eliminates the guilt of feeling unproductive
By dumping the new ideas out of your head, and finishing what you’d been working on first, you’ll begin to feel much better about yourself. Now, you’ll be able to fully enjoy this new fascination of yours. You won’t be wracked with guilt about not being productive that day.
How do you handle focus when it comes to new, shiny ideas, versus long term projects?