Martin Luther King Day is an important holiday as well as a school holiday. I had planned to complete my usual work activities. Instead, I spent the entire morning working on one story and didn’t finish it. Writing the story felt clunky, awkward and pointless despite my knowing first drafts were supposed to be like that. Even though the kids weren’t loud or disruptive, the setting was different from my daily work environment.
It’s a scary situation because I feel like “I’ve lost it. I’m not going to be able to work the next day.” No matter what I told myself about the day being different, nothing comforted me. I couldn’t check off one thing on my task list; a nightmare for me.
Tuesday came. I fell right back into my routine. My fingers flew as I threw up words on my screen to create a few new articles. I checked a few things off my work tasks for the day. I felt in the zone and full of satisfaction. It was as if Monday had never happened.
This happens on holidays and days of personal appointments. The cruel cycle repeats. Can’t work or focus. Panic. Guilt. Next day arrives. Back to normal.
Even though my mental state would not listen to me and learn from the past, one thing is clear: Schedules make a difference.
Scheduling Activities to Create New Habits
I start my day with email, Twitter and blogging. Thanks to this habit, I rarely write a new blog entry in the afternoon. I exercise after 11:00am on most days. Sometimes it’s 11:30am. Sometimes it’s 1:00pm. 1:30pm at the latest. Whatever the time, it’s still a habit because it’s the mid-day / early afternoon time. Most of the writing I do occurs before mid-day with the afternoons devoted to research, revising and other activities not related to starting from scratch.
I check in with social media a few times a day with the bulk of it occurring in the morning and evening. To make the most of my social media time without falling into the trap sticking around too long, I created a habit to check in for a few minutes and get out. I also figured out how much time I should spend in social media.
Since I do my best writing and focus in the morning, it works well. By the time the younger kids come home, I take a break, give them snacks, spend time with them and help with homework. If I had been more of a night person, I would have to work on creating a new habit. According to various discussions and books, it takes 21 days to develop a new habit.
I’ve also kept the same bedtime and wake up time for years, which ensures a good night’s sleep. I stray from the routine once in a while and it’s never for more than a couple of days in a row.
Habits Help Focus
Because I had the habit of working in a quiet home office with no TV, people noises and other disruptions, I could not focus when the kids had a day off from school.
Bet you’re wondering how I handle this in the summer when the kids have a long break from school. Habit. Summer has longer days, so it’s easier to work in the evenings after my husband comes home. I also schedule a few activities for the kids including visits with Grandma.
Christina Katz shares how she refocused. I did a review of my work and didn’t need to consolidate, streamline or refocus. For some, just the act of writing and brainstorming on pen and paper helps focus. Sometimes this works for me, too. But the best medicine for focus for me is schedule.
How do you focus?