This week on the Artzen Podcast we will be discussing the act of actually doing what you have planned. As I’ve been mulling over the topic in my head for a couple of days my thoughts keep returning to the movie Limitless. If you’re not familiar with this movie it’s about a man that is given a pill that allows his body to access 100% of his brain, making him super smart and rich. But the thing, I think, that actually happens is that when he accesses 100% of his brain it doesn’t actually make him smarter but gives him more focus.
Focus is a very powerful thing if you can harness it. There have been scientific studies that say that the human brain cannot, in fact, multi-task. What the brain does is switch from one event to the other rapidly that gives the impression of multi-tasking. This may not sound like a bad thing, after all if we can do more than one thing at a time shouldn’t we? But the problem is that we are doing more, but doing it poorly. You’re splitting your focus over multiple tasks thereby stretching your capacity to do each of those tasks well. Eventually your mind can’t keep up and you will begin to perform exponentially poorly.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not always important that we give all of our focus to each individual task that we do. I think most of us do a pretty good job of talking on the phone, writing an email and searching the internet all at the same time if we have to, and in our busy lives today, a lot of us have to.
When it comes to art and design, though, creatives really need to make a concerted effort to focus on one important task at a time. Last week on Artzen Podcast we discussed list making and planning. I am a HUGE believer in lists because they serve to organize the jumbled mess of ideas in my head so that I can clear them out and start generating more. Lists also help you focus more. The problem with focus is that it takes a large amount of effort to make it work. Hence the reason a pill that helps you focus would be pretty cool.
I’ve found merely making lists of all of your goals and plans isn’t going to get things done. Listing things is just helping you figure out which things to focus on first and for how long. The trick in focusing is to have the will power to start a task and see it through. I’m obviously no efficiency guru but I’ve stumbled onto things that help me focus better that I’ll pass on to you.
I include things at the top of my lists that are one time things to get done (car inspection, gift portrait, pay doctor bill, get print and digital comics online, etc.) I know that once these things are done I won’t have to worry about them again – or for at least another year. Next are simple repetitive things that need to be done right now (write a weeks worth of comics, take out the trash, answer some emails, draw a comic, etc.) I know that these things are going to continue to reoccur, but if I can go ahead and do them now I won’t have to worry about them again for another week or so.
I continue in this fashion until my lists are full of things that are important and can get done and out of the way now all the way down to hard things that are going to really require me to shut myself off from the world and work. When I get down to the real work part of my list – these things are the hard stuff – I find it easier to get myself moving and focusing if I just shut everything else out of my mind except for the task at hand. Remember, by this point in your list – which could take months to get to – you should have all the other important and urgent tasks out of the way so that the thought of, “Oh, I need to take the car to the shop for an oil change” shouldn’t creep into your mind. When I am ready to really get the hard things done I continue to focus only on that ONE hard thing until it’s done. It helps not to be a perfectionist too. You need to set a deadline to have that thing done and do it and move on.
So, to sum all this up. Focus requires planning and will power. But if you plan well enough and start from easy and urgent working your way to hard and important you should be able to find that will power to muster the focus you need to be productive. Just remember, perfection is the enemy of production. Do the best work you can in the timeline you set for yourself and move on. Mulling over a task too long, no matter how focused you are on it, will begin to eat your efficiency and production too. But that’s a whole other blog post