I grew up listening to a story series on cassette tape called The Adventures in Odyssey. The thrilling audio stories kept my sister and me totally captured in the back seat on our family road trips. I honestly don’t remember any of the stories, except for one.
And I just downloaded and listened to it. Woah, the nostalgia of it all. It has to have been at least 10-15 years since I’ve heard it.
The story is of Isaac Morton, a young student who cannot keep his many commitments that include illustrations for the school newspaper, a presentation on the civil war, and research for a report.
The people relying on him end up disappointed to find that he was spotted putting his time and efforts to coming in first place at the local arcade tournament playing Super Zappazoids 3.
Just when everyone is about to pull their relationship from Isaac, a wise Mr. Whittaker decides to step in.
He leads Isaac to the diagnosis of Chronic Procrastinitus. A terrified Isaac pleads for some sort of cure. Whit takes him back into the office giving him a “lemony” powder which, upon drinking, sends Isaac into a burst of productivity.
Unsurprisingly we learn the truth of the placebo concoction and that the work ethic was in his heart and he just had to discover it. Isaac, in sheer excitement, runs off to take on the world. And the library.
If only it were that simple and heartwarmingly cheesy, huh? Unfortunately we can’t exactly trick ourselves, but there are techniques to improve.
Where does it start? Identifying the symptoms.
You know those moments where you stare at a word too long and it stops looking like a real word? Lemon. Lemon. Lemon.
After gazing longingly at the blown-up pixels of an outline that doesn’t quite mask right, or an illegible and illogical amount of client-supplied copy, you will start to experience what we doctors call tunnel vision. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor?
Don’t worry, it’s not too serious. But it is pretty debilitating if you don’t take care of it.
- Recommended treatment includes deep breaths, both physically and mentally. Taking a step backwards gives a better understanding of the entire story. Look at the full picture and how those tiny contributions will gestalt their way into the whole.
- You may just be getting desk chair-butt. Strap that Magic Mouse in and step out to a whole new world. Find a place that is just the right amount of bustle and tranquil. And if you can’t find it, try just adding Coffitivity to the earbud mix.
- When tunnel vision occurs no matter how you look at it, you come to the same answer. What you may need is another pair of eyes. Even talking to a non-designer could be enough to shift your perspective. Don’t take their reaction as objective truth but just another perspective to have.
Ask your doctor if asking for help is helpful.
It’s a real condition, people! At least for me. With the sometimes overwhelming stress of keeping everything in my head, like a not-so-magic bullet—grinding tasks, timelines and tomatoes into a mushy pulp.
Once my head gets spinning, it doesn’t stop. Every little task triggers the mental pang of realizing I’m not currently working on something else. Out of panic I spend about 3 minutes on each major task, fumbling what I’m supposed to be juggling.
My family has an 8-year old chocolate lab puppy, Audie. She’s a happy dog. Especially when my sister and I come home after several weeks of absence. She gets this goofy shake in her butt, slamming sideways into the legs of whoever came in first. Seconds later she sees that the other sibling is there too and darts across the room, nails hysterical across the wood floor. This process continues four or five times over the next few minutes.
This is how I probably look except much less adorable.
So how can we avoid ADHDing across tasks?
- The first treatment seems too simple and it’s something I tried to ignore for the first several months. A to-do list—not groundbreaking stuff here. But when we become an expert at our tasks ahead and behind us, the breakdown of the mini-tasks inside become much more bite-sized and tangible. And the simple pleasure of crossing out a line is addicting.
- Segment time. Just stop for a second and look at yourself jittering back and forth like an over-excited puppy. Yeah, definitely not as cute; and you have work to do. Make a conscious effort to work on one thing at a time and ONLY that thing. Spreading your hour out thinly across six tasks is a lot less productive than solid progress of one task.
Creativity is a muscle. We designers don’t always have a lot to show for biceps so just give us this one. But it’s true, a cold turkey start into sprinting might not accelerate like we would hope. Especially if you haven’t done any stretching, you might not get very far before you cramp up and distract yourself with something less thought-provoking.
As often as I try, cracking my neck and knuckles and slapping on headphones will not instantly send me into a brilliant rage. So what does?
- Being mindful of what you take in creatively will help keep you in shape. Scarfing down a whole pizza and a Kardashian marathon is most likely not your brain’s prime ingredients to take off at Usain Bolt speeds right off the blocks. Adopting the mindset and inspiration from the many brilliant creatives out there could be the protein shake you need to get going.
- Acknowledge and appreciate the endorphins. As little sparks of mini-successes begin shooting out, momentum will start to build. Celebrate the steps taken to get to this point, however small. Let that feeling compile over the next. Enjoying a sense of accomplishment can fuel you to keep going.
Though I’m not exactly Claritin clear yet, these tips help me day-to-day to make deadlines. Getting things done is hard, especially when those tasks are centered around creating creativity.
Mr. Whittaker said that Chronic Procrastinitus can’t actually be cured. But with a few techniques, some physical therapy and some lemonade, we can progress through life with the rest of the world.
*Side effects may include actually getting some stuff done.