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Are distractions or other issues hampering your productivity (or creativity)? While searching the internet the other day (conducting research, of course), I came across a pitch generator that uses the letters of your name to determine how you should pitch your next book idea to publishers. According to this generator, my pitch using my first name should be for a “high-voltage tragedy about an exuberant ghost’s failure.” Well, that was so much fun I tried it again with my last name. Then my brother’s name, then my third cousin’s name… you get the idea, right? A session that began with a specific plan ended with letting distractions stand in the way of productivity.
It typically starts with the blank page, my biggest obstacle. But why? All that emptiness creates anxiety for me. While some see a blank page as an opportunity for total creative freedom, I just freeze. So how does one tackle distractions or other issues that hinder productivity?
To answer this question, I had to consider what actually works best for me, not what everyone says should work for me. Realizing that trying to fit within “accepted norms” wasn’t helping, I set out to determine three root causes behind the issues hindering my productivity and come up with a plan to create new habits to help me focus. Here is what I discovered:
I am a perfectionist.
That old “do it right or don’t do it at all” philosophy somehow became my mantra. It is challenging for me to write a first draft of anything, whether it’s a book review, an article, or an outline, because I have this unrealistic notion that everything must flow from my mind to the paper in perfect form. (You wouldn’t believe how long it takes me to write a book review, LOL).
To get over the fear of the blank page, I started jotting down my random thoughts into files on my computer and saving each thought in a separate document. This helps me in two areas: there isn’t a blank page to contend with, and since there is already the start of a rough draft on the page, it releases me from perfectionism. It’s not fool-proof, but it seems to work for me.
My inner critic is brutal.
There is a little “mean girl” inside my head. She’s messing with my creativity and filling my head with doubts about my abilities. This is tough. I find the key here is to set my work aside for a day or two when possible. This appeases my inner critic by acknowledging there may be some changes necessary, without immediately reacting. I usually find that I return to the project with a clearer head and am more able to see which areas need improvement, without using any negative self-talk.
Setting goals is counterproductive (for me).
What? This doesn’t even make sense, but as soon as I set a goal, that voice inside my head says things like, “You can’t do that,” or some other such nonsense.
This is not just a writing phenomenon with me either, as I discovered one day while exercising with my husband. We typically walk around the lake close to our home a couple of times each week. It’s really beautiful and is a pleasant change of pace from walking in our neighborhood. Anyway, I’ve been trying to build up my endurance by setting short jogging goals. It never fails–as soon as I say, “I’m going to run to the next tree,” the task becomes impossible to accomplish. It seems the tree actually keeps moving farther away. Mind over matter convinces me I can’t make it, my body starts protesting, and it’s gets physically harder to breathe. It’s the same with writing.
Yet, if I don’t set goals, how can I get anything done? Mind over matter again–I’ve found that by setting an “intention” to do the best I can rather than a “hard-fast” do it or die goal, I am more successful.
Give yourself a break.
The reality is we are all a work-in-progress. Just being aware of the things that stall productivity can help. If you find yourself in a situation that takes you away from your intentions, it’s time to take a break. Be gentle with yourself. Get a cup of tea or a snack. Go outside and do some yard work. Or just stretch. Whatever works for YOU. By moving the focus away from the things that aren’t working and concentrating on developing realistic long-term habits, you are creating the best possible environment for your own success.