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Keeping up with keeping up

Posted Jan 21 2010 12:00am

As time goes on, it never ceases to amaze me, how easy it is for me to be pulled off track in all sorts of directions. Distraction is a huge trap with me, and the cumulative effects can be pretty brutal.

I start out knowing I want to get from Point A to Point B. But all around me, there are tons of distractions… Little things I think are important, but really aren’t… Big things that may be important, but are keeping me from focusing on reaching my ultimate goal, one step at a time.

I start out wanting to go from Point A to Point B… but those other things look so interesting… and I end up getting pulled in all sorts of different directions.

And sometimes I never get to Point B. It’s just not good.

So, what I have to do, is just block out everything outside my main goal, and focus exclusively on that. I can’t afford to be distracted, I can’t afford to be pulled off in different directions.

I have to keep myself involved and invested in what I’m doing with myself, so I don’t get pulled all over creation, chasing after this and that and the other thing.

But how? How do I build a proverbial wall around the things I’m working on, to keep focused and involved?

I’m still working on that, but one of the things that works for me, is resisting the urge to go off and do something else, when I feel as though I have just completed a task, and I want to change up the pace.

I say “feel as though I have just completed a task” because a lot of times, I’ll get the sense that I’m done with something, when I’m really not. There are extra details that are left hanging. Loose ends that need to be tied up. But in my constantly restless brain, I get antsy, and I get pulled off into other things. I tell myself I’ll come back to what I was working on later, when I’m more rested and relaxed.

The thing is, when I’m antsy, I tend to get pushed into high gear, which has me frantically doing the distraction-thing (like picking up some other piece of work that’s pretty involved), and in the process of distracting myself from my prior agitation, I fatigue myself even more, and I become even more prone to distraction and poor attention.

Which sets me waaaaay back. It’s not good.

This impulse control business is just nuts… And the attentional issues… oh, please. It’s just too much, sometimes. If I’m not careful, I’ll end up ranging far and wide, thinking I’m being productive… and I’ll get nothing done in the process. It’s a downward spiral of worsening distractions and increasing workload. Crazy. Crazy-making.

So, what I’ve been doing lately, which has been working out really well for me, is when I’m done with a very demanding task which has either upset me or tired me out, I’ll just step away and take a break for a few minutes. Gather myself back in, catch my breath… and then I’ll go back to following up on what I was just working on before. I’ll write up my notes from the experience, highlight the lessons I can find, and I’ll mark any follow-up items that need to be done.

I have to do this right away – or I will forget the things that are important, which need following up. If I wait, I am lost. And it’s no good trying to reconstruct the experience, days — even weeks — later. My brain thinks I can do it, but it’s wrong. I can’t.

I also have to keep a calendar pretty carefully, showing what I’ve worked on in the past. I have to not only keep a calendar of what I need to do in the future, but also keep one for what I’ve done, so I can keep track of the balls I have in the air. I tend to literally forget what I’m working on, and then I get distracted and wander off in all directions.

A retrospective calendar is key for me. Without it, I get into real trouble. And it needs to be in monthly format — with 4-5 rows of 7 squares, one for each day of the week — so it’s more visually meaningful for me.

Keeping up with keeping up is not always easy. And it requires specific tools and techniques:

  • Sticking with tasks until they have been completely followed up on.
  • Taking breaks when I am tired, and always coming back to what I was doing before.
  • Planning my time carefully, with an eye to what I need to accomplish.
  • Keeping a calendar for my past and my future, so I don’t forget what I’m supposed to be working on.

The most important technique of all? Keeping in mind the possibility that I might be forgetting something, and I might be letting something slide… and doing a reality-check to make sure I’m correct. I can check my notes, I can talk to people, I can consult my project list. Whatever I do, I dare not forget that I’ve got things going on.

The main thing is, not to give up. Not to quit. Not to abandon the job before it’s done. And to remember, my brain might be telling me I’m good to go, long before that’s the case.

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