Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Linda Formichelli of The Renegade Writer.
If I were to keep a time log of my days, you would probably be horrified.
There would be hundreds of entries, as I tend to work on any given project for no more than a few minutes at a time. I’ll work on an article for 30 minutes, then update my LinkedIn profile for 10. Suddenly, I’ll remember I need to do laundry, so I’ll toss a load in the wash. Then it’s back to the article for another half hour — and then it’s to my Gmail account.
It’s always been like this. When I was around 7, I was diagnosed with what was then called “hyperactivity disorder,” which is now dubbed ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder).
I wasn’t able to sit still for more than a minute, the inside of my desk at school was a mess of crumpled papers and Star Wars cards, and getting sent to the principal’s office was a regular event for me. My pediatrician wanted to put me on Ritalin (yes, they had Ritalin in the 70s), but my mom refused. (Strangely, though, I was considered gifted and did great academically.)
Fast Forward About 35 Years…
I was rediagnosed with ADD (that’s the attention deficit without the hyperactivity) a few years ago. And yet — I’ve been earning a full-time income as a freelance writer since 1997, I’m hyper-organized at home and in my work, and I manage it all while raising a 3-year-old with only three days of child care per week.
When I wrote about my ADD on my blog, I started hearing from loads of writers who had the same problem, but who hadn’t developed the skills to cope with it and keep it from damaging their chances at freelance success.
Whether you officially have ADD or just have trouble focusing, here are three ways to either make your distracted state work for you — or control it so you can get your writing done.
1. Choose your system.
Many distracted writers try an off-the-shelf organization product or system and find it doesn’t work for them — so they give up and resign themselves to teetering stacks of research and misplaced computer files.
The trick is to come up with a system that you love and are willing to use, whether you get it from a book or create it yourself.
For example, whenever I have a lot of writing assignments on the go, I use a tweaked version of the popular Getting Things Done system to keep my to-dos from overwhelming me. I also created my own systems for keeping track of queries, naming and storing article files, and more. These systems are now so ingrained in the way I work that I do them automatically, and it saves a ton of time and stress.
2. Eliminate distractions.
It’s hard for us distracted writers to actually, well, write — especially when we feel the pull of Facebook, e-mail, and Twitter.
I nipped that situation in the bud by buying a piece of software called Freedom that disables the Internet for the amount of time I choose, from 30 minutes to 8 hours. To get online during this time, I would have to reboot my computer, which I’m not likely to do.
When I’m working on an article, I turn on Freedom for 30 minutes at a time. It’s amazing how much I can get done in just half an hour, especially since I’m a naturally fast writer. Then, when the 30 minutes are up, I can go online and do any bits of research I need to fill in the holes in what I just wrote.
Don’t want to block the Internet entirely? Look for browser extensions (like Block Site for Firefox) that let you block only the most distracting sites. And Anti-Social (for Macs only) blocks only social media sites.
3. Ditch the schedule.
During a webinar with Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing, a reader asked how we schedule our days and we realized that we both do the same thing: We do whatever we’re most passionate about every given moment.
This makes sense for the distracted writer who has a hard time sticking to a schedule. So instead of scheduling marketing for one day and blog posts for another and article writing for a third, I choose any activity that will move me forward in my career as I’m inspired to do it. And amazingly, it all gets done, and it gets done on time.
I encouraged one of my mentoring clients, who also has ADD, to try it — and it worked for her, too. Rather than kicking herself because she wanted to write a blog post on marketing day or send out a query on blog day, she just accepted her reluctance to keep to a schedule and did whatever she felt inspired to do. It turned out that everything she needed to do got completed on time.
If you’re a distracted writer and you have trouble with schedules, I challenge you to try creating a schedule-free zone for one week. I’ll bet you get it all done, too.
Are you a distracted writer? How does this affect your career? Have you developed any tricks for staying organized and getting your work done?
Linda Formichelli has written for more than 130 magazines — from Pizza Today to Redbook — and two dozen corporate clients like Sprint, OnStar, and Pizzeria Uno. She’s also the co-author of The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success. Linda offers an 8-week e-course on breaking into magazines, phone mentoring, magazine query critiques, a free packet of 10 queries that worked, and more than 1,000 useful posts on freelance writing at The Renegade Writer Blog. She earns a full-time living working less than 25 hours per week, and lives in North Carolina with her preschooler and writer husband.