How to Focus On Your Projects

You have an idea for a creative business, or you already have one up and running. But you just can’t seem to find the time to get things moving, and if you have found the time you’re wasting it.

As someone who is easily distracted, I can not only relate but have done tons of research into this topic.

Before we dive in to some techniques that I’ve found to be helpful, let me quickly tell you who I am. My name is Elliott and I’m a creative coach. I have worked in two careers, one in sound and interactive media and the other in digital marketing.

I want to help creative people launch projects that are close to their heart, and I do this with workshops and one-on-one sessions. Ok let’s dive in!

Focus is a multi-faceted concept. We can approach it from the macro level where we try to understand how we are spending our time overall, and on the micro level where we look at what happens when we sit down to do something. From either vantage point, we can probably agree that focus is difficult when there is clutter in the picture.

Big Picture Focus

Taking a look at how you are focusing on the big picture requires a larger investment of your time, and I won’t glance over it in a blog post. However I will recommend a book called Designing Your Life, which has great exercises at the end of each chapter.

Diving down a little bit to how your days are structured, if you are working at a 9-5 job, you might be tempted to blame this arrangement for not being able to make some progress on your creative project. As someone who left a 9-5 job at the end of last year, I can tell you that it is possible to be just as productive with a side-project as when you have all the time in the world.

If one thing is certain, I find it really hard to focus on a project coming home after a full day of work. No matter how much I tried, my body would find itself on the couch by the end of the day. So to help this issue, I recommend stopping by a coffee shop on the way home to work on your project. Investing in a coworking space near your home might also help offer you a supportive environment to focus and get some work done.

Typically I don’t recommend drinking caffeine in the evening, but once or twice a week isn’t the worst thing in the world if it means you will get sh$t done.

Focusing in your environment

We can be really finicky with getting the environment right, mainly in how it relates to sound. Too quiet and we fall asleep, too noisy and we’re just distracted. Wearing headphones with some soundscapes or brown noise in them should help you focus anywhere, but just make sure to keep the volume level down. Noise in your ears is stimulating, and when overdone can cause hearing loss.

A handy tip from writer Michael Chabon is he listens to repetitive music from composers such as Steve Reich – Music for 18 Musicians, which sort of puts him in a trance while he works.

Earplugs are also helpful in this regard. Lately I am using these ones intended for musicians. Just make sure to keep them clean and don’t wear them too extensively, as earplugs can cause ear infections from either bacteria or wax buildup.

Focusing in Your Computer

This is the toughest place to focus. It is so easy to click back into Facebook, Google News, or whatever your Achilles Heel is.

One of the best techniques for focusing is to set a timer for ten or twenty minutes and work on your tasks. Take a break to address some nagging distractions or temptations, and then get back on track with the timer again. This is known as the Pomodoro Technique, and lots of people use this technique to stay productive at the computer.

If you have trouble exercising self control, there are a range of apps that help block distracting websites. One is called Cold Turkey, which runs in the background of your Mac or Windows, and another is the StayFocused extension for Chrome. News Feed Eradicator for Facebook lets you use the platform to stay in touch with your friends, and also get updates about events, without seeing the feed which is fairly distracting.

Focus is up to You

Ultimately using different tools such as timers and website blockers will only take you so far. At the end of the day, you have to be accountable to your vision of starting a business or creating artistic projects.

To help with this, I started a series of workshops for people in Toronto called Confident Creatives. Our next session is on Wednesday, November 29th at CSI Annex.

We’re going to be discussing how you can come up with a plan for marketing your online shop, and develop some strategies for staying accountable to that plan.

You can find out more info about the event here, and otherwise you can stay up on my other articles through my newsletter.

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