Get Your Stuff Done By Controlling Inputs and Outputs


This is going to sound obvious, and it is, but when I’m able to really focus on my work I tend to do a better job.

I’ll bet it’s the same for you, too. When you’re really working on work, whether that’s writing, design or whatever your work is, it’s going to be better, and you’re probably going to enjoy it more, than when you’re distracted.

I’ve tried all sorts of things through the years to aid in focus and productivity, and there are a few things that really help when I do them consistently. And one of the major ones when I need to do writing especially is paying attention to inputs and outputs.

The Suck of Social

time suck rulebreakersclub
Graphic via the Rule Breakers Club.

Outputs are things you write or produce yourself, while inputs are things you read, whether that’s actual literature, magazine or blog articles or even just posts on Facebook or Twitter.

I think I always knew about this, but I really started thinking about it at BlissDom last year, when I heard Megan Jordan talk about how social media other other inputs create open loops in our brains.

Even if we don’t respond to people’s posts, we’re thinking about them with some part of our mind. Maybe we saw a link we want to read later, or we’re still thinking about something we pinned that we want to make. Even scrolling through social media feeds when we don’t respond to anything distracts part of our brain and gives us less focus for the things we really want to do.

The good news is, this is something that most of us can totally control. The bad news is that I suck at actually doing it.

I have, this year, been writing morning pages, and the girl has often been waking up late enough that I can get them done in the morning before I do anything else. But I rarely do any of my real writing work without first checking email and Facebook, often more than once.

And then I wonder why my work doesn’t feel as good as I think it should be. I know I’m thinking about what’s going on online in the back of my mind while I’m working, and I’m always clicking over to email to see what new (completely unimportant) message just popped into my inbox.

It’s not just a distraction; social media starts the comparison monster and makes everything we do seem a little less awesome.

What to Do About It reading list

The best thing to do would be to avoid social media and reading blogs and other material before we do our own writing each day. If that means getting up early to write before work (or at least taking a break from social if you do your writing in the evening) it may be worth it to try and see if there’s a difference in the quality of your work and how you feel about it.

That’s not realistic for everyone all the time, and I’ll admit that even with my totally flexible schedule I don’t do it very often. But I know that I need to do better.

Sometimes just opening up a new browser window instead of a tab will help me stay focused on my work. Setting a timer, too, is helpful. And sometimes I pick up a notebook instead of sitting at my computer so I’m completely undistracted.

Some people take a break from social media entirely. I’m not sure I could ever do that, both because I need it for my work and because it’s how I stay in touch with people.

But the important thing is to pay attention to your inputs and outputs and what helps your writing or creating to go better. Then, when you really want to create excellent work, you know what to do to set up your environment for success.

What works for you when you’re creating? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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