Note: This post is Part 3 of a multi-part series. Click here to read Part 1. Click here to read Part 2.
By now, you probably know whether or not you are prone to Attention Splatter. Here are the top ten solutions that have helped me (or are helping me) clean up my splattered attention. Keep in mind that this stuff takes persistence. I still work at it every day. And I still have days where I am splattered all over the place. However, the following practices have helped make these days less common.
1 – Lighten the load.
Consider having no more than one to three priorities for the day.
Let’s face it. There’s only so many things you can get done in a day and still enjoy the day. Get into the habit of spending five minutes each night deciding what top thing you want to get done the next day. Ask yourself, “If I only accomplish one thing tomorrow, which one thing would make me most happy to have accomplished?” (Or something less grammatically awkward.) Then, when you know that one priority, ask yourself the same thing about the next activity. Avoid insanely long to-do lists that make you short of breath before you even go to sleep. These only set you up for splatter.
This also goes for too many big goals all at once. For instance, if you’re a teacher, and you have four kids under age eight and you have the summer off, it might be too harsh to set a goal to write a novel this summer. Maybe instead, you could write the first chapter. Too many goals (or goals that are too big) are a surefire way to invite Attention Splatter.
2 – Know the task before you sit down at the computer.
This is a must for me. And I don’t always remember to do it. When I don’t, I can get lost in the millions of non-items that a computer has to offer. When I do, I actually get things done. Assign tasks. (i.e. “Clean out email folders”) Assign times. (“From 1pm to 2pm”) Stop as soon as the end time arrives. And then go lie on top of your dog and give her kisses on her nose.
3 – Create a NOT-TO-DO list.
Keep this posted near your desk. Make sure that “Worry” is one of the items.
4 – Put an end to bleedy activities.
How do you do this? You schedule them as actual activities. Instead of letting email bleed all over your day -all day every day – schedule email as an activity at a certain time each day. Instead of checking stats throughout your day every day, schedule them as a once-a-week exercise in building a better blog. Bleedy activities should be the number one item on your not-to-do list. Every activity should have a home – a space for its completion. Otherwise, you set yourself up for a full day of splatter.
5 – Use small chunks of time.
It’s easy to look up at the clock and see that you have, say, 45 minutes before an appointment and think, “Well, I don’t have time to do anything substantial. So, I guess I’ll just go on line.” This is when you do nothing but splattery activities. And it’s wildly unfulfilling. I have written so many blog posts by challenging myself to make use of the hour I have in between appointments. Learn to fit constructive things in to small chunks of time. I teach songwriting students (most of whom have jobs and other priorities) to fit 20 minutes in every day to write songs. It works.
6 – Set challenging end times.
The longer you think a task is going to take, the longer it will take. Here’s an example from my own life:
I suck at business travel. I don’t know why it’s so hard for me. Maybe it’s because I’m a Taurus. But every time I have a tour or an upcoming show, it’s just a big mess for me to get ready.
So, in an attempt to coddle my bad traveler self, I used to schedule the entire day before my departure as a “packing” day. Consequently, it always took me a full day to pack. I could get other stuff done, but I was so splattered, I never actually focused fully on packing.
So, this year, I started scheduling only an hour to pack. ONE hour. This might seem like a no-brainer to you, but it changed everything for me. Once I stopped allowing the entire day before travel to be consumed by the nebulous idea of “PACKING,” it ceased to be such a big deal. AND, I spend less time worrying and dreading and obsessing.
7 – Segment intend.
This is my favorite process in Ask and It is Given. Before you begin any activity, set an intention for that activity. Intend your desired outcome and how you want to feel during the activity. This works remarkably well. And you don’t have to get all woo-woo and fire up the incense or anything. You can just sit for a second and make the intention. It’s easy. But it’s powerful.
8 – Cut the fat.
Most of us have way too many incoming emails, group emails, magazine subscriptions, news aggregate feeds, TiVo-ed tv shows, memberships, and unread books. My theory is that humans simply weren’t meant to take all that in. It’s no wonder so many people are diagnosed with ADD. Get your life in order. Get rid of anything that doesn’t feed you. If you subscribe to it, ask yourself why. Start letting go of stuff. Doing this one thing has helped me create a home and office environment that is healthy and sacred. I am ruthless about keeping the incoming stuff to a minimum.
9 – Allow for splattering WITHIN an activity.
When I plan a workshop or write a song or work on a blog, I allow for splatter time. I call it “moodling.” Rarely do I just sit down and outline a class or a song or a blog. I allow for lots of thinking, imagining, and playing. From the outside, it might look like unproductive meandering. But it’s absolutely necessary. It’s where I find the muse. And even in left brain work, like planning my classes for the federal government, the muse has to guide me. I know that every teacher and writer is different. (I read bloggers who write about how they get an idea, then they outline it, then they write it. I am not that writer.) So, I allow for play-time. I add on about a half hour at the start of anything for moodle time. Then the creation of the thing is part moodle, part high-focus action. That’s a natural part of creativity. Delight in it.
10 – Be present in your down-time.
In other words, when you take a nap, take a nap. When you’re taking a Saturday off, really take it off. Turn off the computer. Get out of your office. Go away. I think most of us are so splattered because we’ve forgotten how to relax, have fun, rest, and stop working. Especially if you’re a blogger, you need to take time away from the computer. Self-employed people and bloggers and artists can always work. There’s always something to do. So, fully disengaging from all of it for fun is imperative. Plus, it will fill the well and allow you to return with renewed energy!
As always, your suggestions are welcome in the comments!
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