If you haven't noticed from my past few blog posts, I'm feeling very motivated to tackle 2016 in a more thoughtful, focused way than I have in past years. In other words, flighty writer me is trying to get her s**t together. It's easy, particularly when you're in a creative career, to just kind of ride the tide of life and see where things take you. As long as the words get on the page, everything else will work itself out. We're supposed to be opening our minds, seeking inspiration, chasing new ideas, right? That doesn't fit into business planning and structure and goal-setting. Wrong.
Writing (or any creative career) is a business like anything else. Plans are good. Structure in your day is enormously helpful. Good habits are key. All of that sets us up to have time and mental space to actually CREATE those things we're supposed to be creating.
So that is what I've been focused so far on 2016. I got myself set up with a gorgeous, functional paper planner. And I filled out my business goals in this workbook. And now I wanted to tackle another issue that has claimed me like a bad relationship. The internet/social media monster.
I know I'm not alone in this. It's part of society now. We're always connected. Our smartphones sit on the table with us at dinner, they live attached to our hands. We check FB more times than any of us want to admit. If we have to wait in a line even for a minute, we can't resist the urge to look at our phones. And if we're working, that itch to click and "just check" on twitter or instagram or pinterest, calls to us all day long.
I've been aware of it for a long time, but I've justified that it's a big part of my job to be online, to participate in social media, to respond to emails, to be available. And that's true. It is part of my job. And it's a part of my job I like very much--chatting with readers, connecting with other writers, reading blog posts about books and the industry. Plus, I work at home. Social media is my watercooler. I'd feel isolated otherwise.
However, by the end of 2015, I looked up and realized that the internet monster had morphed from being a part of my day to a creeping beast that was infiltrating and stealing other chunks of my time. Why hadn't I watched many TV shows this year? Because I end up scrolling through stuff on my phone instead of focusing on television shows that require more than 10% of my attention to follow along. Why had my nightly reading habit slacked off? Yep. Because I'd get caught up in Pinterest or my blog roll instead of picking up that book. That was a biggie. Reading is my FAVORITE thing. And I was letting something steal my attention from that.
In addition to that, I realized it was my crutch while I was writing. As soon as I hit a tough part of the manuscript--a sentence that wasn't working, a plot snag, an issue I hadn't considered--I'd click over to twitter and get caught up in chatting. Twenty minutes later, I'm back to writing and have wasted that time and broken my concentration. I'm not ADD, but I was starting to feel that way. The checking had become unconscious. Motor memory to click through icons. And if you're a writer or creative person, you know that the key to writing or creating is finding FLOW--that uninterrupted time where you're totally focused on what you're doing and totally IN it. That's when the best work gets done. And I was constantly thwarting any chance at flow.
So now that we know the extent of my addiction, lol, here's what I'm doing differently in 2016. Hopefully, these are tips you can incorporate if you're having the same issue.
3 Steps to Reclaiming My Time and focus
1. Schedule internet and social media time during the part of the day that is not my optimal creative/deep work time. And by schedule, I mean, WRITE IT DOWN as an appointment.
I don't want to give up the internet and social media and go live in an off-the-grid cabin or anything. (Okay, maybe some days I'd like that.) But I need to corral the time that I spend doing the online thing. After enough years of doing this job, I've learned that I hit my writing stride in the afternoon. We all have peak creative times, and mine seems to be in that after lunch slot until early evening. So I'm scheduling blogging, social media, and email during the morning time. (This pic is my Day Designer btw. Isn't it purty?)
2. Schedule dedicated writing time and use the Focus app to shut off all the social media and distracting websites during that time.
I've been using the Focus app. I've also heard Freedom is good. But so far, this is working really well. I have noon to 3 blocked off on my planner for writing time. Then I set the Focus app to block for a set amount of time--usually an hour. If you try to click on anything during that time, it will come up with an inspirational quote. And what's funny (sad?) is that I've found myself clicking twitter or whatever out of pure reflex. That muscle memory. That movement is built into me now when I pause in writing. So the app has been very helpful in basically reminding me--hey, dummy, you've blocked this, get back to work! And I've found that the 1 hour time goes by fast once I start working because I'm actually focusing and getting into flow. Then when one hour is up, I give myself a little break to get a snack or check email/twitter or whatever, but only for five minutes. Then I hit the app for another hour. I'm kind of in love. It's like a relief if that makes sense. (Like when you go on a cruise or out of the country and your phone can't work, lol.)
3. In the evenings, I'm putting my phone out of reach (and have turned off notifications.)
I can still hear it ring if someone needs me. But with the phone out of reach, I stop the mindless grabbing for it while I'm hanging out with the fam or watching TV or reading a book. It's amazing how just having it across the room can break the loop. And I've turned off all notifications for social media. That's an all day thing. I need to know when someone calls, when I have a text, and if there's a VIP email (agent, editor, family). Other than that, it's not urgent and I don't need to be notified.
I may add more layers to this as I go. I know as soon as I get into the meat of writing this next book, I'm going to be using Scrivener's Compose mode to make the distractions even more minimal. I use Scrivener exclusively but have never used this mode. Doesn't this look soothing? You can load your own background picture.
Right now, this system has been working for me. I'm deep in the brainstorming/story development process for Pleasure Principle book 2, so my writing time has involved a lot of random notes, lists, and staring at the wall and pondering. But it's work. Good work. And it feels great to get lost in it again and not constantly be dragged out by a cat GIF or the latest twitter ragefest or the vortex of Facebook. I know all that will still be there when my day's work is done. :)
I'd love to hear your thoughts. Are you struggling with any of these things? Any tips about things that have worked for you?