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Unfocused Short-Term, Focused Long-Term

Words for the week: Perseverance, Begin, Success, Intention, Pain, Content, Confusion

It’s been a crazy week, and I’ll admit my focus got seriously fractured round about Wednesday the 6th. I’d like to believe it’ll get better (and it will, eventually), but I suspect it’s going to be a month or so before things quiet down on the political front. Yes, I’m following, even though I don’t discuss politics online. This is a turning point for our government and country, so of course I’m paying attention. We all should be.

I’ve been off work since last Thursday, burning extra vacation hours and healing the latest session on my Medusa back tattoo. Friday I took basically the whole day to write out and redo all of my routines, in order to accommodate my yearly goals. I still need to create schedules and deadlines for my writing, so I have an idea of how much I need to get done in a day, week, month, etc. And then…then I should be ready to move forward, finally. I feel good about that.

My writing class is done, and I’m itching to put my new knowledge into practice, but I signed up for several more that I can take at my own pace. So I need to figure out when to slot those in as well. I’m excited to take them, and expand my knowledge.

I’ve been easily distracted lately, which is probably a sign of both the times and hormone imbalance. I don’t think women give themselves enough leeway for changes in their bodies, because we’re taught to just “tough it out” and keep acting like nothing’s wrong. Thing is, even if nothing’s wrong and it’s just a normal up or down, I don’t think we should have to deny who we are and the physical challenges that come with it. My body is aging and it’s going to do that whether I want it to or not – why can’t I just acknowledge that some days, I’m not going to get as much done as I’d like, and *that’s okay*? I need to work on that – on giving myself permission to have an “off” day here and there, when my brain isn’t focusing as sharply as I’d like it to.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I want for the future – what my goals are for ten years from now. I like my job and the steady paycheck/insurance/pension that comes with it, but I freely admit that the only thing I’ve ever truly wanted to be was a full-time writer. I’ve never thought I could make enough money solely as a writer, but in ten years, I won’t be eligible for social security, but I will be eligible to take county retirement early, because I started with the county so young. Given that, and the fact that I’ve found a way to learn writing that is giving me new confidence, I think I’ll work towards the goal of being established enough as a writer in ten years to retire from the county and write full-time. I’ll be 55 then, and that seems like a good point in life to make a major career change to self-employment, barring any major issues that come up between now and then. And hubby will be either retired or ready to retire by then, so we could retire together (easier for traveling!).

Ten years seems like a good amount of time for planning and preparing for such a big step. So that’s the first goal deadline I’m setting. Now I’d better work backwards, and set the goals and deadlines that will get me to that point on time. Goals are good, and this one’s been in the works since I was 16 years old. It’s good to feel like the dream might actually become reality.

Time to plan!


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Finding Focus

I’m sitting here on my ottoman, a whole list of things I want to get done, not doing any of them (at least not until I started writing this blog post), and wondering why I spend so much time thinking about what I want/need to get done as opposed to actually *doing* it. I do this everywhere…though I am somewhat more focused at work when I can be (which isn’t as much as I’d like, because…other people).

That said, even here at home, by myself (well, just me and the dogs), I am…unsettled. Unfocused. I know what I want/need to do, but I can’t decide what to do first, or for how long, or what to do when I get interrupted, or…well, you get the picture.

Part of the problem is that I’m interrupted so often (even here at home), that I have trouble getting into anything because it seems futile. I know that happens a *lot* at work, and here at home with the dogs too. I’ve gotten so used to that, and it’s so disruptive to being “in the zone” with anything that I often just don’t even try. I pick at things, piecemeal, afraid to get too deep since an interruption is inevitably just around the corner instead of really focusing. It’s far less efficient and less satisfying than being able to actually put my head down and work steady for a good couple hours on the same project, but it’s often all I can do to actually make progress on anything.

Even just now, writing this post, I had to get up to let the dog in, but when I sat back down, I checked my email before coming back to this. Is there anything else that needs my attention? Do I need to shift focus again? Is it okay to try to get back in the zone for another twenty minutes or so?

I’ve trained my brain to be like this, to just work shallowly around all the interruptions throughout my day, and I get stuff done, but not nearly as efficiently or satisfyingly as I could if I were able to actually focus, even for just a full hour at a time.

Thing is, I probably could, it’s just that I hate being pulled out of the focus zone so much, and it’s happened so often, that the fear (or certainty) of it happening again keeps me from allowing myself to really delve into anything at all. And I’ve trained myself to give into that fear, unfortunately. Which means to “fix” it, there are a couple of things I really need to work on.

The first is planning. I’ve gotten lazy about both keeping track of projects and scheduling the smaller parts of the whole. The only way to be able to focus on anything is to first know what it is I wanted to focus on in the first place. I have a ton of projects to keep track of for work, and also a bunch for both the house and my writing. Today I wasted a ton of time just trying to decide whether to clean first, or write this blog post, or do some editing, or rearrange furniture…and that’s only four different things! If I had a running list of to-dos, and then either late last night or first thing this morning, I looked at that list and my day and actually scheduled when I wanted to do what, I wouldn’t have wasted all that time. I would have had a plan to follow, and even if I was interrupted or thrown off the schedule, I still would have been able to pick it back up from the last undone thing, and could have continued from there.

I have the tools to do this. I have a main calendar program and a list program that is easily used for automated reminders and scheduling. I also have a digital paper tablet that I can hand-write on (which often works best for me when making initial lists before they get scheduled into the automated one). The only thing I don’t have? A routine habit for maintaining the system.

The second thing I need will arguably be more difficult, and that is to somehow get over the fear of being interrupted, and learn to get into the “zone” of focused work more quickly so that even when I am interrupted, I don’t lose so much time. Part of that is knowing what I need to do when, but the other part is just retraining my brain so that when the interruption has been dealt with, I just check my list, figure out what I’m supposed to be working on next, and then just slide right back into it. That is a discipline thing, and it’s going to mostly involve using my to-do list to “trigger” my brain into focus-mode. It’s going to involve a lot of willpower.

I’ve been employing that throughout writing this post. Whenever I feel myself losing focus, I close my eyes briefly, remind myself that I’m writing a blog post, and then continue. I think what I’m going to do after I’ve finished this is to rearrange the screens on my cell phone so that my to-do list is the only thing on my home screen. That way, after any interruption throughout the day, I can unlock my phone, my to-do list will be right there, and at the top will be whatever is scheduled for the day and not yet checked off.

I think doing these two things – maintaining a to-do list/calendar and using it to trigger/ground my focus after every interruption, I can alieviate at least a little stress from my life, and hopefully spend more time actually focused on tasks rather than wondering what I should work on next or picking at things piecemeal throughout the day.

Next up on today’s impromptu to-do list: Update the actual to-do list, and schedule a time (either late night or early morning) to pick the priority items for any given day.

This sort of thing is why I should take vacation days more often. I have a hard time stepping back, looking at what’s causing me stress, and figuring out how to fix it when I don’t have time and space to just be quiet and think. Evaluation/re-evaluation days are important.


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