When I quit smoking, I took up juggling to give myself something to do with my hands. Though I will never juggle molotov cocktails or chainsaws (or for that matter, be as insanely good as my cousins), I did pick up something resembling dexterity and focus.
I could only juggle three balls at one time. Anything more and I would damage furniture and shatter glass trinkets; anything less, and I got bored. Three gave me just enough of a challenge to keep my attention, and to keep me engrossed in the action in front of me.
Likewise, I can only juggle three projects at a time.
To juggle three projects, there are three pieces of focus one has to have – focus on a single task, focus on a single project, and a focus on the wall on in front of you. Note that I don’t focus on the fact that I’m juggling three balls. That’s pointless and counterproductive (and gives into the antiquated “throw the hours at something, be proud that you don’t sleep, and wear your workhorse attitude like a badge of bullshit honor).
Focus on a Single Task
Pretty simple. I break down every project into individual tasks that have to be done, either doing them myself, or delegating them to whoever can do it better than me. Whiz!Bam!Pow!, while viewed as a single project, is actually seven distinct pieces, and within that, I separate it into single tasks. “Write copy for ad.” “Revise radio script outline.” “Cast old dude for trailer.” Along with the single task focus is prioritization. Which piece can be done now, which piece needs to go to someone, what am I waiting on, and so on and so forth.
I could spend my time thinking “Jesus Christ, what the hell have I done?” but that’s worthless. No matter the size of a project, every single thing is a task that needs to get done. The trick is getting them small enough and being able to delegate that which you can’t do.
As Anne Lamott says in Bird By Bird, one inch frames are everything.
Focus on a Single Project
Depending on where a project is in production, I divide my day into three segments, judged by my state of sanity, creativity, and patience. If a project requires a lot of writing (like Whiz!Bam!Pow! or “Big Mac” (fake name for my third project)), I work on the creative stuff in the morning. I function best as a creative up until 1:00PM and rarely take calls or talk to anyone before then. In spite of all the business stuff I have to take care of, I’m a creative first and foremost. While I don’t view business and creativity as mutually exclusive, I still like to get my creative juices flowing first, satisfying the creative in me.
A non-creative creative is a very unhappy creative.
Each day, I try to give each project I’m working on – Whiz!Bam!Pow!, “Secret Sauce,” and “Big Mac” – equal time. Focusing on a single project at a time, divided into segments throughout the day keeps the balance needed to keep the project balls up in the air. One slip-up results in balance being thrown off, and some deft handiwork to keep the juggling act rolling on.
Focus on the Wall in Front of You
There’s a lot of talk about “breaking through walls,” “going around walls,” “scaling walls,” all that sort of crap (of which I’ve been guilty of subscribing to). I’ve changed my focus on the wall to not having to break it down, charging forward, or thinking of fun ways of going around it, but instead looking at it like a gallery of work that’s been done. I focus on that work converging into a career doing something I love on my terms and living my life as I choose.
If a project doesn’t fit into that gallery it’s out. I’m curating my own career, and am one merciless sonuvabitch.
That’s the ultimate “big picture” form of focus. Not on breaking glass ceilings, but in shaping your own life into what you want. The wall is not your enemy – it’s only a brick wall if you don’t fill it with accomplishments and look at it proudly.
Breaking down a wall is focusing on a result that isn’t certain. Adding pictures of tangible results of projects done, and building that gallery will give you the focus you need to build in the now – which is the only moment we’re guaranteed.
And to juggle those chainsaws, you’d better be in the now.