As someone who is constantly working on a dozen creative projects simultaneously, I know what it's like to get a little creative ADHD.
I've written before about how I wrangle with creativity when I'm feeling uninspired, but what about when I need to spread my inspiration around? When I've got two articles due, a screenplay that needs tightening, and that frustratingly unfinished novel poking me in the ribs, it's all too easy to say fuck it, I'm just gonna spend five hours binge-watching Netflix and call it “research.”
Over the past several years of working from home — where the only person to hold me accountable is me — I've learned that even the messiest of creative types can benefit from a bit of structure. Below are 5 tips for creative multitasking.
Utilize time blocking. I started using this focusing technique when I was in college, and it has done wonders for tethering my easily scattered mind. Every morning I look at what project(s) I want to work on that day, figure out how much time I have, and dole out chunks of time for each project. Sometimes I go by specific hours, i.e. from 9 to 11. Other times I block loose chunks of time, typically between 2 and 4 hours per project, and get to them when I can. This not only helps me create a structure for my work day, but also helps ease the pressure of feeling like I need to finish a project, allowing me to instead focus on putting in quality effort. In fact, I'm blocking my time right now — 2 to 4, start xoJane creativity post. Check, check.
Set a timer. Once I have blocked off my time, I actually set a timer. At first this idea felt a bit rigid, but I was amazed at how effective it is for keeping me focused. If I'm dropping into a two-hour fiction session, knowing I can continue working until the timer goes off actually keeps me from checking the clock every 20 (okay, two) minutes to see if it's time to switch gears. I know for some this has the opposite effect, but a ticking clock helps zen me out.
Separate your creative spaces. I have separate spaces around my house I use for separate creative tasks. I edit at my desk, write fiction at my dining room table, and storyboard on my couch. Having these individual creative zones helps me transition from one project to the next without my brain getting all swampy. For those who work in an office, the same phenomenon occurs when you enter your cubicle and suddenly your body knows it's business time. Or when you get home from a long day of work and your body just knows it's time to take off your pants. Same thing.
Create a LMTFA signal. There's absolutely nothing worse than getting in a great, sticky workflow only to be bombarded by your co-worker or roommate or significant other. One minute you're writing what could be the best sentence you've ever written, the next someone is offering you a muffin and poof! Your idea is gone. (But hey, at least you have that muffin to console yourself with.) When I'm getting down to business, I create a Leave Me The Fuck Alone (LMTFA) signal to let everyone know I'm not to be disturbed unless something important is on fire.
This looks different for everyone. If you have an office door, close it. Cubicle? Let your co-workers know headphones + resting bitch face = business time. My significant other and I both work from home, and for us, “home” is a glorified one room studio where interruptions run rampant. Nothing makes me feel like a bigger bitch than telling my partner to go away when all he was trying to do was bombard me with kisses. Sweet, sincere, distracting-as-fuck kisses. So, in addition to headphones (which often aren't playing any music at all) I have a certain work space that I move to when I don't want to be interrupted. It's my safety spot, and I'm not to be disturbed. Not even for kisses.
Make some sort of pre-creation ritual. I know some people meditate or exercise before going into create mode. I do the exact opposite. I let myself muck through all of my social media channels. 15 well spent minutes trolling Facebook or Instagram before I begin working helps negate the urge to find out, mid-project, what kitten videos are currently going viral. I also do a short social media binge when transitioning from one project to another. It's like taking a brain dump.
Allow for flexibility. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. Or, as Outkast puts it, you can plan a pretty picnic but you can't predict the weather. There are tons of idioms out there that all say the same thing: A plan of action is nothing more than a plan. Sometimes, shit just doesn't work out the way you want it to. Perhaps you've blocked out two sweet, sacred hours to work on a project, you've settled into your creative space, and yet you still cannot stop thinking about what you were working on earlier. You try to concentrate, but 20 minutes later you're still stewing on that other article or TV pilot or half finished blog post. When this happens I usually just say fuck it and work on the project my brain is clearly committing to at the moment. Super juicy I-Need-to-Write-This-NOW don't happen every day, so if one hits hard, just go with it.