I mentioned this very briefly in my previous post, but I feel it’s worth expanding on — a large part of being successful at writing part-time is the ability to focus. Of course, the more you have going on in your life the harder this will be. Right now, even though I am supposedly on vacation, I’m busy developing two book proposals, scraping and repainting my back porch, preparing content for this website, and worrying that the weeds are taking over my garden.
So how do you keep your focus when you have too many things on your plate? Let’s pretend you’re not on vacation at the moment but juggling a full-time job with your part-time writing career. Here’s a few things you may want to keep in mind:
I’m not a fan of multitasking personally. Sure, I can handle easy stuff like doing the dishes while figuring out what my next blog post will be about. But beyond that, I need some kind of structure where I know what will be done and when. I also have a limit as to the number of projects I can handle. If I go over my limit, I find myself getting stressed out and my focus runs out the door screaming. When that happens, I put on the brakes and decide what projects I’m keeping and which ones I must let go or put on the back burner. This is when the ability to say no comes in handy. Yes, this can be a tough one for most people, including me, but it’s a skill you will most definitely need to perfect if you wish to succeed as a writer.
Sorting Out Your Work
Concentrate on one job at a time. Literally! As soon as I start driving to my library job, my mind disconnects from home. I begin thinking about the work that’s waiting for me, not the one I left behind. By the time I set foot on school ground, I’m totally there. I don’t even have pictures of my family on display. As much as I love them, I don’t want the distraction.
But what if you get an idea for a writing project while working for someone else? This actually happens to me quite frequently. When it does, I quickly jot down my idea on a piece of paper, stuff it in one of my pockets, then get back to what I was doing. I always keep a bunch of scrap paper close at hand just in case. Later when I get home, I make sure to empty all my pockets so my ideas don’t end up in the washing machine.
To keep your jobs separate you may need to set clear boundaries. For example, at my school I’m sometimes asked to translate or proofread others’ work. I’ll say yes if I’m able to fit it in within my working hours but not if I have to bring it home. It’s not that I’m unkind or unwilling to help, but I can’t afford to let school work interfere with my writing and translating. This also shows my colleagues that my skills are valuable and worthy of remuneration, and not something to be taken for granted. Anything I do for my school outside of working hours is not paid work. It’s volunteering. Knowing that saying no is my weak point, especially when kids are involved, I set my boundaries by making it clear that I can’t volunteer for more than one major event during the school year. Smaller activities that take an hour here or there are okay, but only as long as they happen during one of my slow periods.
In the end, what really matters is not how many projects you can start but how many you can finish. For my part, focusing helps me be more efficient, complete more work, and keep my boss and clients happy.
Now that this post is out of the way, I need to go figure out how to move my flowers so that I can get on with my painting project!
What do you do to stay focused?