I have attention deficit disorder. I’ve had it my entire life, and because of a heart condition, I can’t take medication for it. ADD makes staying focused one any one task for a long period of time very difficult (unless I’m really excited about the task — like reading a book from my favorite author).
In the past, I’ve tried setting goals in order for me to get my writing done. But word count goals didn’t work for me, especially when I was editing. Did I really write 1,000 words? No idea…too much cutting/pasting/adding. Plus, there were some days I just couldn’t sit down to write because real life intervened. And on the days I could sit down to write, I’d often stare at the screen, or after working for an hour, be completely distracted by the stuff on my desk or the emails that popped up on my computer.
Lately, though, I’ve started doing things differently. First, I turned off notifications, both on my computer and my phone (please don’t ask why I’ve never done this before…I have no idea). During the hours of 8 am – 3 pm, my phone doesn’t ding and I don’t get any notifications of new emails/reminders that have come in (I have had to adjust some settings so people like my husband will always ring through, but I’ve also told him to call the home phone if he really needs to talk to me).
I also started breaking my work into chunks. I’ve been doing this for awhile. Jeanne talked about big-chunk/little-chunk writers here, but my chunking is more about keeping my attention on something before it starts to wander, then letting it wander to give my mind a break, then reining it back in again, repeating ad infinitum, whereas Jeanne’s chunking refers to running out of creative juice after 500 vs. 2000 words. By giving my mind a break, I find it’s easier to get more work done–even with the break–because each time I sit down again, my mind feels fresh.
But even after taking away these distractions and setting myself up for focus bursts, there are still days where I just can’t stay on task. Especially now as I slog my way through (what I hope are) final edits before turning my book over to my editor. So I started doing a little research on apps that might help me focus and found an app I particularly like — because accountability is involved.
It’s called Forest. You can download it from the App store or Google store, and there’s even a Firefox plug-in (not sure about other browsers, but you can check). Basically, the goal is to grow a forest, one tree/bush/shrub/plant at a time. If you can meet your goal of not playing with your phone (or surfing certain websites, like FB or Twitter) for the time limit you set, your tree grows! If you don’t, your tree dies.
I adjusted the settings to make sure the app stays open on my phone, so I can both watch the time pass, as well as watch my tree grow. It’s been very helpful.
Another great feature, which I’ve only used a little bit, is you can invite other Forest users into a “room” where you all try to grow a tree/plant together. If any one of you uses your phone or turns off the timer, ALL the trees die! That sort of group accountability — even if it’s just to one other person — is really helpful for me to stay on task. Plus, I like seeing my little tree sprout up!
You can set the time limits anywhere from 10 to 120 minutes. As you earn trees, you also earn coins, which you can trade in for different kinds of plants. And the nicest part is the group who makes the app actually partners with organizations around the world to plant real trees!
What tools do you use to stay on track?