Today I’m writing about the link between creativity and attention span. I offer some tips on strategies I’ve embraced and routines I’ve developed that help me to be creative and get projects out of my head, onto paper, and into reality.
I am not proud to admit it, but for the last ten or twelve years I have begun most of my mornings by looking at a computer or my phone. When I was still a student I’d make a cup of coffee and then head back to bed, turn on my laptop, and lose an hour or so of my day to flicking through different feeds and streams of information. On days where I didn’t have to be anywhere, I’d rarely get going with my day much before midday, and when I did I’d feel anxious and overstimulated. My attention span would be so short I couldn’t focus on much more than reading half a journal article, checking Absolute Punk for music news and interviews, and going for a run. I always felt like I was running against the clock to get my work done, and I never felt like my work was as good as it could be if I was able to focus better.
I’ve written about how I establish new habits and routines before, but today I wanted to write about the importance of tracking your progress. I think that tracking your progress when trying to establish a new habit or routine is a really helpful tool to keep yourself motivated.
I’ve recently started using a new app on my phone to keep track of my progress with a few of my habits and routines, and I’m finding it really helpful. Over time, the data will be quite interesting, too. The app is called Loop Habit Tracker and you can find it on Google Play, F-Droid / Fossdroid (what I use as I don’t run Google on my phone) or any other APK directory. It’s a very simple app, but it’s beautifully designed and does what it needs to do. You can either set your goal to be daily, or specify the number of days you would like to practice the habit each week. The only downside is that the goals are yes/no based rather than numerical. There’s no space to say how far you walked, for example, or how many glasses of water you drank. That said, you can specify your own boundaries and rules to get around the design limits. You can also export the data as a backup in two formats, enabling you to create a spreadsheet in Excel or similar if you so please. Best of all, the app doesn’t require an account or any special permissions, so it’s nice and private.
At the moment I have a few habits I like to track. They are as follows:
Violin practice – daily, for at least 15 minutes
Piano practice – three times a week, for at least 15 minutes
Water consumption – daily, at least two big glasses
Walking – daily, at least 1km (Tesco and back is just 600m so it doesn’t count!)
Swimming – twice a week (on 50m nights)
Gym – once a week
PHP – study three times a week, for at least 15 minutes
As you can see, my goals aren’t super ambitious. If they were, I’d have weeks where I achieve everything and feel like a superhero, and weeks where I don’t do anything because it’s overwhelming. I’d rather do a little bit of everything I want to do, on a regular basis, than lots but sporadically. Of course I can and do go to the gym more than once a week, or pracice my music for more than 15 minutes at a time, but those benchmarks are what I have set myself to keep the habits ticking over.
I’d really recommend using a habit tracker to keep on top of your habits and routines, even if it’s just a pen and paper version in a notebook. It’s really satisfying at the end of the day to put little ticks in boxes and know that slowly but surely you’re making time for all of the things you want to do.
I am currently on a roll with sixteen consecutive days of violin practice. A practice session counts if it’s at least fifteen minutes long, though I’ve been aiming for closer to 45 minutes to 1 hour at a time. Last night as I was cycling to the gym I started thinking about habits, routines, and how we make ourselves do the things that we want or need to do in life.
Before going to the gym yesterday evening, I’d almost stayed at home instead. It was 3C outside, dark, and I wasn’t sure that I’d charged my bike lights. On top of that, Ed was training locally rather than at the stadium, and so I knew that he’d be back an hour earlier than usual. All of my temptations and excuses were lined up in a neat row, but I went through the motions of getting ready to go to the gym all the same. Over the years I’ve found that getting started is the hard part.