I’ve never been diagnosed with ADD, but I definitely don’t have a long attention span. I know this about myself and so I have learned to focus my concentration for the duration of its limit and then welcome a productive break. The trick is to be able to get back to the work after the break!
For years I suffered with the clutter of unfinished projects until I finally figured out how to utilize the stops to my advantage and restart in a timely manner. The first step (after lovingly recognizing my own personal limitations) is to see projects as geometrically shaped pieces that when fit together, make my completed project.
I know that I can work really well for about an hour and fifteen minutes to two hours. After that I’m just dilly-dallying around and wasting time. I find that what gets done in each hour or so of quality time is a big enough chunk of material to qualify as one of the shapes in the end product.
The second step is to have all my materials organized, easily accessible, and easily transportable. What works for me is to have what I call a “portable office” or my “office in a bag”. I have a simple bag that is big enough to hold manila folders and my hard-backed journal, but not so big that things get swallowed up inside it. The bag opens out completely – this is an important feature), and has individual pockets for the following: 1) pens/pencils; 2) reading glasses; 3) postit notes; 4) paper clips; 5) thumb drives. These items need to be separated for me so that I don’t waste time or mental energy digging through one big generic pocket to find what I need. A cluttered bag leads to a cluttered mind and this is way more distracting than most of us will admit.
And distraction is defeating.
I usually work on several projects at a time, so I keep everything related to one project is a separate manila folder. Inside each folder the papers are grouped and paper-clipped together in the following manner: a) the original assignment and notes from the client; b) the original draft; c) research, resources and references. Note: in order to keep from cluttering my mind, I never keep more than 5 project manila folders at a time in my “portable office”.
For each chunk of concentrated time, I aim to work on only one project. Which project gets my attention is determined first by deadline, and second by inspiration. Inspiration always takes precedence however, whenever it gets a whirlwind of energy, and just between you and me, this is the real gem of a writer’s life – the exhilarating high is magnified by it spontaneous and unexpected arrival. You absolutely must honor inspiration!
So back to organization: I believe that because of the power of inspiration, and because of its unpredictability, you’ve got to be highly organized so you can work under the shelter of discipline in a steady manner. This way, when inspiration sweeps down and takes you on a flight, you are free to go without missing any important deadlines.
One more note about the manila folders: I mentioned that I never keep more than 5 project folders in my bag at a time. The word “project” is underlined to differentiate it from the other 3 folders that go everywhere with me: 1) Planning; 2) Inspiration; and 3) scrap paper.
The Planning Folder is where I keep my lists. I list what I have to do each day; I list what I intend to do; I list what I hope to do eventually; and I list all the things I simply want to remember, at least for awhile. For all you perfectionists out there, I have to warn you, as soon as you start doing something on your list, you will realized there are many more steps involved in that one task than you originally thought, so your lists will grow, often in sloppy, eclectic ways: that’s OK!
The Inspiration Folder is full of words, phrases, images, paragraphs and snippets of stuff that have no particular beginning, middle or end. There is no pressure attached to the things in the Inspiration Folder. These are like pretty shells you pick up on the beach – maybe I’ll do something with them and maybe I won’t, but they are my treasures.
The scrap paper folder is, well, I think this is self explanatory. A writer would rather be caught dead without her underwear on before being caught anywhere in the world without some paper!
So think about this stuff when you are doing other things this week. Give yourself about an hour at a time over the duration of several days and get your writing bag in order. Believe me, its well worth your time!