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January 10, 2017

My 2017 Togetherness Goal: Stay Focused

Happy 2017, my dear readers. My break was truly relaxing. . . it started with this and then I got a cold and tried this (it worked!) and I wrapped things up containing the pieces and hosting this.  But that is not why you joined me today. . . You want to talk Togetherness, right? So here is what is on my mind – and yours! In my recent Together Reader survey, staying focused emerged as a big challenge. Not surprising, considering all this.

I’m also particularly interested in focus since it is my own personal #1 Togetherness issue. I say this as I face a blissful and unusual coffee shop writing day ahead, while my attention is also simultaneously beckoned towards any number of the following  . . . scheduling a playdate for my first-grader, ordering new Magnatiles for the kids, finally organizing school mementos, texting a friend about a movie, emailing a host site with a training date, and making spaghetti squash.

Basically my attention is being beckoned towards ANYTHING ON EARTH but writing.

Before you do anything to improve your focus, first try to figure out where your attention is actually going (and why). Track your “priority crushers” and analyze your data. When I did this, I quickly learned that MOST of my crushers were ummm. . . directly related to me. Whoops.

Here’s what’s helped me learn to improve my focus over time – and I’m still learning:

  1. Picture your tombstone. This is going to sound really woo-woo, but I was struck by a quote from this book: “No one’s tombstone reads, ‘She was a super-fast email responder.’” I want my tombstone to say, “She wrote at least five books that helped educators work purposefully.”
  2. Get the energy right. I KNOW when I am able to write. It has to be in the morning, directly after an extroverted event (like a conference or workshop or conversation). I used to block writing time on Monday morning and then stare at my screen blankly, awaiting inspiration. No longer!
  3. Know what you actually need to DO. This is where your Weekly Worksheet comes in. You need to have a sense of how you want to use your focused work time before digging in. In my case, this often means gathering up any materials (examples, photos, and quotes) that I need to use while writing.
  4. Use a Tomato Timer. Have you tried this one yet? The short version is that Pomodoro means “tomato,” and the gimmick is a 25-minute timer shaped like one. You set work blocks for 25 minutes with set breaks. Some research says to use 90 minutes, but most of the folks I work with do not get that much time (e.g. a typical prep period). So I like 25 minutes.
  5. Visual reminders. Somehow the people at Google suggested “Momentum” to me, and I kind of like the visual reminder on my Desktop. This is a Chrome extension (free-mium) that asks for your main focus for the day and then politely stares you in the face. You can also link it to Todoist, if that is another tool of choice.
  6. Internet detention. During a recent writing block in a hotel room in Mississippi, I (*perhaps* in procrastination) loaded Freedom onto my laptop. This one lets you block any sites that you may, ahem, peruse occasionally. For me, that weirdly includes Survey Monkey (workshop data), Amazon for book reviews, NY Times for news, and Feedly for my favorite blogs. It was LITERALLY embarrassing how many times I tried to click on them. I liked Freedom so much that I may even pay for it. Old-fashioned discipline does not work for me!

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