Distractions: Be organized in keeping them at bay
Last week we had a lively discussion about a piece by a Canadian writer who complained that you have to be rich to get into journalism.
Part of Alexandra Kimball’s point was that if you have to support yourself, it’s difficult if not impossible to find the time and energy to write:
I told myself I wasn’t trying hard enough, that I was too impatient. I saw this in my failure to pound out essays after long days at work, and in my weird, jagged career trajectory. I wondered if I was too lazy, too restless to succeed, not cut out for the kind of heels-dug-in effort that creative careers require.
Kimball’s essay is more of an examination of the role class plays in determining who makes it and who doesn’t in journalism than just a whine about how it’s tough to sit down and write after working your day job.
But it’s really tough to sit down and write after working your day job!
Right after I read Kimball’s piece, I happened upon some advice in the Harvard Business Review that’s a few years old and aimed at people in the biz world, but could come in pretty handy for anyone trying to squeeze a little work—however defined—into an overloaded schedule.
“Never before has it been so important to say ‘No,’” writes consultant Peter Bregman, referring to the avalanche of information and distraction that assaults us every day and makes it that much tougher to accomplish anything. “No, I’m not going to read that article. No, I’m not going to read that email. No, I’m not going to take that phone call. No, I’m not going to sit through that meeting.”
Bregman advises starting every day with two lists. The first is “Your Focus List.” Most of us have some version of this, even if we don’t write it down. “What are you trying to achieve? What makes you happy? What’s important to you?”
It’s the second one, Bregman writes, that few of us make:
List 2: Your Ignore List (the distractions)
To succeed in using your time wisely, you have to ask the equally important but often avoided complementary questions: what are you willing not to achieve? What doesn’t make you happy? What’s not important to you? What gets in the way?
If you’re trying to find the time to write, think about that second list. Fighting off distractions is a huge element in getting work done.
Now, distractions aside, if you’re trying to find the energy just to sit upright at the keyboard after a hard work day … this blog is in the same boat and has no useful advice.