Everything can’t happen at once; it’s all a process, a one-step-at-a-time journey.
My brain is terrible at processing and accepting the fact that I can really only do one thing at a time. At any moment, if you peeked into my brain and asked what it was thinking about, the answer is probably, “Everything.” What do I want to write about? Everything. What do I want to paint? All the things. What task should I start to declutter and organize the house? Everything again. What project should I finish next for work? So. Many. Things. When do I want to do all these things? Right now. All of it. Now.
Did I say do it all right now yet? Because that what my brain thinks is possible if you ask it.
I have finally gotten proof copies of my book and read through it on paper one last time for a final edit, and it’s all ready to go for an official launch date of August 1. The hardest part of writing the book and getting it ready for publication was making myself sit down and work methodically. I spent probably a year outlining and researching, another two years after that writing the first half, one more year just getting the rough draft done already, and then it took me over a year to edit and format. It sounds like a labor of love that took time to come together, and there’s some small truth to that.
Mostly, though, my brain has the attention span of a fruit fly when it comes to finishing big things. I’ll get excited and dive into the deep end of learning everything I can about the new thing, and then, BOOM: shiny spot on the wall.
Time to learn all about that new shiny spot. But I still want to publish that first shiny thing and paint the shiny squirrel, and don’t forget about learning to play that instrument and organizing the sock drawer.
I understand that the shiny squirrel problem is common to writers/creatives, and I understand why if their brains are wired like mine. I love to tell stories in my writing and art, and everything around me has a story begging to be told. It’s hard to focus on just one at a time when I can hear so many whispering to me.
I also know plenty of non-writers who suffer from the shiny chicken affliction, and I understand them, too, if their brains are anything like mine. You see the possibilities of what could be done, and maybe you see most of the steps to make it happen. None of them are too hard for you to handle, and there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t tackle that project.
Unless you also have to operate in the real world, as most of us do…
We have multiple claims to our time even when we’re not running on a tight schedule. If you have family, friends, pets, a home, a job, a church, a hobby or two (or ten…), an illness to manage, or any other aspect of operating as a grownup, then you have competing demands on your time and energy.
And you have limits to your time and energy. It’s the ugly truth of humanity that we are limited creatures. Maybe in heaven we can do everything at once, but this side of the pearly gates, we have to manage with a linear time structure and limited energy resources. We have to prioritize and choose what gets those limited resources.
The frustrating part of that is whatever we don’t choose will suffer, or at the very least remain on hold until we have the time to focus on it. What do you do when you feel like the choice comes down to career or purpose or family? How do you choose when they’re all valuable?
This part is the silver lining to me. In making decisions about my priorities, I have to choose so carefully that I must limit my field of vision to just the most important things for that span of time. If I made the decision that those things were the most important tasks, it gives my shiny spot/squirrel/chicken finder permission to put on some blinders for a while so I can see just what’s in front of me. Prioritizing gets me over the hurdle of feeling like everything has to happen all at once.
Prioritizing makes me think harder about what my real values are and whether what I’m planning to work on or spend time doing reflects those values. I can say I value my daughter, but if I never spent time with her, my actions would demonstrate otherwise. (Sounds a lot like James 2:14-18…) Choosing my tasks with this big picture view ensures that I am intentionally living within my faith and moral code. It also limits my focus to a few big tasks each day so that I work with all my effort rather than in random spurts.
One step at a time isn’t all bad.
I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to completely ignore shiny spots on the wall, and it’s certainly inevitable that a shiny squirrel or two will run past the blinders. It’s not chicken-proof, but my mental tool to get back on task is to allow the thought to pop in my head for a second. Even if it’s ridiculous, I write it in an idea journal (or make a note on my phone if the journal isn’t handy) to save it for later. When I have time to take the blinders off, I can always go back and look at the shiny chicken later. The idea journal gives my brain permission to see a shiny spot, record it, and then get back on task quickly. I can let the new idea go for a while because I know it’s safe in the journal.