Clients and other creatives I run into often tell me that they’re feeling scattered. Over the years, I’ve seen three different ways people are scattered, so I’ve learned to ask a few questions to see what’s at play:
- Are the projects you’re working on taking you where you want to go, or not?
- Do you feel like you’re bouncing around from project to project but aren’t really spending enough time on any given one?
- Do you have a general plan for the day, or are you reacting to whatever comes up?
The cause of feeling scattered in each case is different, so the solution needs to be different.
In the first case, you’re scattered because your projects aren’t aligned with your goals. Either you don’t know what you’re out to do (so don’t know what not to do), or you know what you’re out to do but aren’t doing what it’ll take to get there. Resolving this kind of scatter is a matter of goal-setting, planning, and taking action on the plan.
In the second case, you’re scattered due to a lack of time and project management. Time management problems are really priority management problems, though, so the way ahead here is making time to make time, specifically focusing on chaining enough two-hour blocks to make some progress on your projects. Those blocks aren’t going to make themselves.
In the last case, you’re scattered because you’re working reactively rather than proactively. This is especially easy to do if you process email before you review your weekly or monthly plan to get perspective on the day. The 10/15 Split can help out a lot here because it makes getting a start on the day a matter of looking at the plan that you made for yourself at the end of yesterday, after you got some perspective on the work.
Obviously, it’s possible to be scattered in any and all combinations of these scatter modes, and you can have degrees of scattered; it’s not like you’re either completely focused or completely unfocused. The world of creative work, as bright and colorful as it is, has a lot of grey in it. If you’re facing multiple kinds of scatter, you’ll probably need to work backwards from the way I’ve listed them above because, though having a good high-level view of where you’re going will serve you best, you’ll have to step away from reactivity (#3) and plan a chunk of time (#2) to get goal-project alignment (#1).
The next time you’re feeling scattered, I hope this post helps you get as focused as you need to be to get some momentum going.
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Harold Webb says
I`m feeling scattered now because of my PHD dissertation. I can`t focus on my research, I can`t decide what could be a thesis statement of my paper etc. I hope the next time I won`t be such a mess. And it will be, thanks to your advices
Charlie Gilkey says
Hi Harold. I so relate to that given where I am with my dissertation.
Charlie I googled this article today because I remembered reading it before. It helped then and it helped now. A great big breath in, out and now I know where to start again. Thanks for all you write:)