As a wildly free-spirited creative, you can imagine how hard it is for me to focus and not get distracted by (brilliant) new ideas. I love brainstorming and starting new projects. But all of this excitement over new, new, new can leave my current projects and focus in disarray.
I have tried many things to alleviate the seduction of shiny new projects, and the one time-tested solution is simple list-making.
First let me cover what hasn’t worked.
First fail is scheduling the entire day. When working at home, it’s easy to blend personal life with work life. I have tried setting business hours, blocking out my day so that I follow a routine. But this was suffocating and unsustainable after a day or two. It immediately becomes frustrating and restricting.
When doing creative work, I have to be in the mood. I can’t force creativity…it just shows up when it’s time. I need to be able to flow with the inspiration, which could be in the morning, night or even skip a day. It’s much easier work in the flow than to force a schedule.
The second fail is having too long a list. I like to purge my thoughts on to the paper and the list can end up being pages and pages long. The list becomes an archive to which I never return because I don’t have time to read this encyclopedia of to do’s.
The third fail is having too short of a list because it needs to be done daily. That is just as challenging as the daily schedule because it is restricting and lacks flow. It is also more mental energy because the list has to be generated daily, by reviewing and prioritizing emails and tasks that have come in. It requires planning and strategy…every. single. day.
Here is what works for me.
Prioritizing a weekly list of tasks works best. There is no exact number of items on the list, just what needs to be done the soonest. I can check things off as I complete them, without feeling rushed or forced to work on something when I’m uninspired to do so. I add things to my list as they come up, but if they are not that important, I add them to my big notebook, organized by work, personal, etc. so that they aren’t forgotten and my mind can let them go. For now.
After about a week, I create my next list, on a brand new piece of paper, carrying over anything that I may not have gotten to. This gives me a sense of fulfillment as I check things off. It helps keep me focused, without being strict or rigid.
If you are a right-brained creative, or just a super busy person in general, who doesn’t want to be burdened with a lot of planning or watching the clock, I recommend getting a fresh piece of paper each week and creating a simple list of tasks that most immediately need your attention. You’ll enjoy seeing how quickly you can fly through them and feel great satisfaction as you start checking things off.
Your right-brained creative and hopefully more organized friend,