RESILIENCE Staying Focused

Welcome to the final part in Kate Mallinder's series on RESILIENCE! This time it's about ‘Staying Focused’

I’m going to come clean with you. This is something that I’m struggling with myself at the moment. Here’s how it goes. Once the kids are at school and the house is quiet, I sit down at my desk. I check Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon (I know, I shouldn’t), then I think about all the things I’ve got to do. There are always a couple of blogs to write, this week I have a masters assignment due, my WIP is an idea that excites me but it badly needs my full attention, I ought to approach a couple more schools, there’s a load of washing that needs putting on, the dishwasher’s finished and the cats’ tray could do with new litter.

And what do I do? I check Twitter again. And maybe put the wash on.

I get so overwhelmed by the number of things that need to be achieved, that I don’t achieve anything.

Lists can help. I’m a huge believer in having one massive list of everything that needs doing. Just writing everything down clears so much brain space and stops the cycle of trying to remember everything. And lists are great if I need an easy win – I tick (or double-tick for that extra hit) off several of the easier things and I’m well on the way to a winning Tuesday. But, as much as I love this, it does not actually work if I’ve got something like ‘finish first draft of WIP’ on my list. This will only get ticked off after weeks or months of work, and so I’m finding it’s getting left.

Breaking the larger task down into smaller, more achievable tasks is one solution. If I’m drafting, then word-counting is certainly one way. I’ve experimented with After Eights – one after each 250 words. Or having each 100 words as a task, and ticking them off as I go. Or setting myself a daily word target. These are all great ways at getting words down. It’s not about quality or time. It’s about word count and nothing else.

But having a daily word count isn’t at all helpful if you’re at the editing stage. When editing, I often find I have a negative word count, and that’s demoralising if you’ve tied your job satisfaction to a daily word target. So, when editing, I’ve found that setting myself a chunk to edit, say a chapter, or a particular scene, works well. Or alternatively, a time scale; for example, editing for half an hour. I’ve heard lots of writers sing the praises of The Pomodoro Technique, which is essentially measuring time, rather than achievement, and this is excellent when faced with larger tasks, or lots of smaller tasks that you need to focus on in turn to get them done. It cuts out the faffing.

But getting even closer in, I still struggle with focus. I find my mind flits all the over the place, getting carried away by new ideas, what we’re having for tea, the post arriving. I find even if I’ve decided what I’m going to do, it’s still hard to really concentrate.

This is where I find mindfulness helps. Taking a moment just to sit. Be calm. Be quiet. Sometimes it takes a few minutes for my brain to get the hint and it carries on churning for a bit. But once I’ve found that calm, I then focus my mind on the job I’ve chosen and the limits I’ve set on it. My anxious mind buzzes, telling me that I’ve so much to do that I can’t just do one thing, I must do lots. But that’s a fallacy. Goals are achieved by doing one task at a time.

So once my mind is calm, I look at my task. If it’s writing, I get myself right into the story. I tune out the outside world, the ‘what if this story isn’t right’ thoughts and concentrate wholly on the characters, their story, and their world. If it’s editing, I focus on the sense of what’s written, on how it would read with fresh eyes, on whether the chapter works as a whole or on the larger ideas of character arcs and plots. Or if it’s emptying the dishwasher, only doing that and not getting distracted by the myriad of other jobs I can see.

I will openly say that this is infinitely harder if you have interruptions. This happens for me at the weekends, and during these times, I reduce my expectations, so that anything I get done is unexpected and there are no bad feelings if nothing gets ticked off the list.

It is a balancing act. But actually, when I do manage to focus on one thing at a time, I enjoy it more and I finish feeling calmer. Just encouraging my brain to focus on one thing at once is quite restful.

It isn’t easy, it takes practice and I’ve by no means got it sorted. But this way you can purposefully direct your life in a particular direction and that’s what resilience is all about; repeatedly choosing the way you want to go.

*Header  Image: Freepik / Asier-relampagoestudio

Kate Mallinder is author of the newly published Summer of No Regrets, and is thrilled that her story is being read.

If you want to read more, Kate’s writing blog is Her brand new website is Or you can find her on Twitter: @KateMallinder and Instagram: kate.mallinder

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