It’s been more than a year and a half since I did a few posts about trying to get my easily-distracted mind under control. I’ve fallen off the wagon and climbed back on more times than I can count, struggled with my overactive imagination (not in a way that’s good for a writer, unfortunately), and fought to hold onto focus while I’m working.
This summer I gave up the fight for a while, acknowledging that having the kids home is just too much of a distraction for me, and the stress of trying to work when my brain doesn’t want to co-operate was only compounding my frustration and distraction.
But overall, I’ve been making progress. And I thought that over the next few weeks I’d offer some of the tips and tricks that have helped me get a little more organized.
I’m not completely organized. And I’m anything but optimally productive. But the fact is that my brain throws up a lot of obstacles, and I’ve had to learn how to deal with them. I mean, in spite of my inability to focus much of the time (or my brain’s stubborn determination to focus on the wrong thing at the wrong time), I’ve published three massive books and a few smaller ones in a little over two years. Good ones, too.
That’s not nothing.
And if my experiences can help any of you, I want to put the information out there.
For today, we’ll kick things off with a quick description of what it’s like in my head. Because for some of you, this is all going to seem really basic or totally unnecessary. Maybe you can remember what you need to get done in a day without writing everything down and strictly prioritizing tasks so you won’t get distracted by shiny things. Maybe you don’t naturally forget minor things like picking your kids up from school because you FINALLY got in a writing groove. Maybe you don’t forget what you went upstairs for ten times a day, and you’re totally capable of organizing a three year-old’s birthday party without becoming overwhelmed and wanting to cancel.
If this is the case, congratulations. You’re definitely not me.*
If you were me, here’s how it would be:
Let’s imagine that every one of your thoughts is a pigeon. Every item on your mental to-do list, every upcoming event and thing you need to do to get ready for it, every memory and anxiety and interest and idea… all pigeons. Many people’s pigeons seem fairly well-behaved. Trained pigeons, maybe. Easy to catch when you need them, not too hard to hold onto. Pretty tame. If a pigeon needs attention, these people can grab them, do what needs to be done, and release the bird back into the room where the others are contentedly roosting and cooing, waiting their turns.
My pigeons… they’re not so tame. My pigeons are flying everywhere. Inconsequential pigeons flap around demanding attention. I’ll grab one and start working with it, and suddenly another one will be flapping around my head. The pigeons I know I should be catching stubbornly refuse to let me get close to them. Their feathers are getting ratty, my hair is full of pigeon poop, and we’re all exhausted. But they won’t give in. Between their wily ways and all of the other pigeons who are begging for me to catch them instead, it’s a real battle to grab onto that pigeon that I HAVE to catch.
Maybe that pigeon is the story I’m supposed to be writing. Maybe she’s planning suppers for the week. Maybe she’s something as small as finishing one bit of housework before moving on to another.
It’s usually easier to jump from demanding pigeon to demanding pigeon than to keep fighting for the flighty-yet-important ones, but I can win the battle sometimes. And if I can catch the right bird, things can go well. I might be able to hang on.
I might be able to get into the story and get some good work in.
(Sometimes I’ll even be surprised by an easy pigeon I can hang onto and pay attention to for hours or days. Not usually a USEFUL pigeon… but I’m sure my extensive knowledge of medical oddities and homesteading will come in useful some day, right?)
In any case, at some point another pigeon will need my attention. The kids will need to be picked up from school, even if I’ve only been in my writing groove for 20 minutes after struggling three hours to get there. Maybe I have to make supper after I’ve FINALLY tuned the world out and got into reading a book.
At those times it’s hard to change gears. To catch another pigeon. And it hurts, because my pigeons are so frigging NUTS that I know that as soon as I release one it will flutter off, and it won’t return willingly when I need it again.
Does that make sense? Can you see why I’m mentally exhausted by 4:00 every day? I mean, they’re only pigeons, but chasing them down is hard work, and breathing in feather dust is hard on the lungs.
There was a time when all of this meant I let things go when they were too hard. I didn’t finish stories because they were too squirmy and got away. My house was a certifiable disaster area because the little tasks of housework were too much to keep up with. I missed meetings and appointments and shifts because I wasn’t paying attention and I FORGOT. We were eating out too much because planning a meal AND having all of the ingredients on hand was completely beyond my mental capabilities.
Between depression and my focus issues, my life looked pretty screwed up. And the worst part of it was that I thought I was just scatterbrained and lazy, and no one knew how hard I was trying to be NOT LIKE THAT. How it hurt to feel doomed to failure.
Things are better now. Over the past few years I’ve learned to get into a routine, organize my day, and use tools that guide me through it. Basically, I’ve equipped myself with gadgets to help me manage my pigeons. Thick gloves to protect me from the scratchers, maybe, or a stepladder to help me reach the ones in the rafters. Binoculars to help me spot the ones I should be catching.
My pigeons are still frigging NUTS. But as I learn to deal with them more efficiently, they’re at least looking a little cleaner, and I have less poop in my hair.
My house isn’t perfect, but it’s getting cleaned regularly. My family almost always has clean clothes when they need them. A year after we moved into this house, we’re actually unpacked. I’ve learned to save money. And yeah, I’ve got a few books out, though turning my creative outlet into a career has brought a whole new set of problem pigeons.
Over the next few weeks we’ll look at the following areas:
*Physical changes I’ve made that are helping me focus better (exercise and nutrition… kind of)
*planning (what I’ve tried and finding my planner peace)
*using cues and habits to keep me from forgetting things when I get hyper-focused on what’s going on in my head
*specific techniques that help me get work done when I sit at my desk
*…and something that I’m not able to discuss yet, but we’ll get there.
I hope you’ll join me, and that you’ll find a few shiny things to help you in your own organizational or creative life. These posts will have pictures, too, and
HAHAHA THERE’S A SQUIRREL** OUTSIDE AND HE’S…
Anyway. I’ll see you on Friday when we kick things off… unless that pigeon escapes and I can’t catch him in time.
*Though I should point out that being me is quite fun, in spite of everything.
**Not an exaggeration. I’ve actually had conversations derailed when I saw shiny things. It’s not good.
September 12th, 2016 at 11:26 am
Mine are flying monkeys. *sigh* What’s really bad is when they harass me during the dayjob. Looking forward to reading how you corralled your pigeons.
September 12th, 2016 at 8:04 pm
Those darned monkeys…
September 16th, 2016 at 9:43 am
[…] anyone jumping in here, I recommend reading that post. But if you don’t have the attention span for that (I hear you), here’s the gist: I […]
September 16th, 2016 at 11:28 am
Over the course of about eight years, when my kids were younger, I did all of this: coached their sports (meaning most weeknights were on the baseball field or soccer field and most Saturdays were dedicated to games), tried to learn the sax and classical guitar, got into running and ran four half marathons, cooked a lot, gardened, wrote two novels and the beginnings of three or four more and about three dozen short stories. Oh, and worked full-time. I did all of those things. And now? The kids are grown, off at college, I have all sorts of free time and I find myself incapable of sitting down and writing because of the distractions. There are other reasons as well, but the distractions allow me to “fill my time” and claim I have no time to write. When the reality is that I have far more time now than I ever did.
I look forward to reading more about your squirrels. 😉
September 16th, 2016 at 1:49 pm
It’s true. I know I need deadlines to get work done. I’m drifting now that I don’t have any. And I think having less
time is sort of a very tiny deadline. Now or never.
September 23rd, 2016 at 9:47 pm
[…] been talking about organization and how I’m getting in control of my flighty brain (Intro post, exercise, planners, if you need to catch up or refer back). On Monday I said that I’d […]