How to Win at Creative Adult – Focus

Comments (8) How to Win at Creative Adult

You want to create something, but there are dishes to do, you didn’t eat lunch, and BEEP…new message.

Time to Focus!

Time to Focus!

Life is busy and there is a wealth of distractions around us all the time. Here’s a quick list of the things that I do to keep me on track. I hope they help you too.

Note: I don’t have ADD, ADHD, or anything related to that, so I wouldn’t know how to advise someone who does. I can only hope this is useful. However, if you do have ADD or something similar, I’d love to read about your tips and tricks in the comment section below.

1) The basic check up – I mentioned this in the post about handling frustration

Are you hungry, tired, thirsty, or upset? Exercise, have a meal, take a nap, and get a water bottle. I always work with water and tea within arms reach.

teaI know I’ve posted this before, but I seriously do make this much tea before a long drawing session.

2) Work with a timer – I’ve written a post about the Two List Method here. In my experience, it’s the best way to get your task list done after work. However, simply working with a timer will help you maintain focus.

I would watch this video from Pomodoro, and be aware that working with a timer will take practice. It’s well worth it.

3) Discover what music works for you, or doesn’t work for you. – There are a lot of differing opinions about this one. I honestly think it’s generational. Younger generations are used to working with noises around them. I always have headphones on when I work. For me, they act like the blinders on a horse. I can’t hear anything but my music so I’m not distracted by anything. If someone wants to talk to me, he or she can message me or tap the back of my chair. I have things to do. Art things.

However, it’s important to be listening to a type of music that enhances your process. If you find you’re being distracted by your music either listen to a different type or turn it off.

I break it down like this. Of course, you’ll have to find your own combo.

Gestures and fast sketches – house, dance, and techno
Drawing and painting – anything
Story planning – no music, and usually outside
Writing – classical or instrumental game soundtracks
Math – no music or instrumental
Running – anything that’s fast and mean
Lifting – anything

horse-423419_1280I have things to do. Art things.

4) Movies, audiobooks, or podcasts may help fight boredom. – For some people, enjoying one of these would create the opposite of focus, so it’s important to know yourself. I like listening to movies, audiobooks, or podcasts to prevent boredom. For example, I have gotten tasks like, “make these 100 blue UI elements into red, green and purple”. It’s a simple, yet boring Photoshop task. Listening to a book or movie keeps me on track and off social media.

5) No noisy phone – On the other hand, noises from the phone can be highly disruptive. This is why my phone is permanently on silent and vibrate. First, they interrupt your timed session. Second, they tempt you with a new shiny distraction like an email, comment, or phone call. Lastly, the vast majority of them are not urgent.

6) Participate in challenges which involve numbers and goals – I love these! Art challenges do two wonderful things: put you in contact with a group of like minded people and hold you accountable. INKtober is a great one. Make one drawing with ink everyday for the month of October. Your reward at the end of the month is thirty-one drawings. Awesome! My other favorite is the 100 in 10 Insanity Challenge , hosted on the forums for Oatley Academy students. For this challenge, pick something you want to study: hands, feet, gesture, cows, lighting, colors, etc and do 100 studies in 10 days. Its very hard and very rewarding, so it helps if you have some friends participating too. My next favorite one is 100 gestures in 1 day. This one is grueling but also very fun. Secure a day to yourself, and draw 100 gestures. Simple! Then go buy yourself something great, like ice cream, because you deserve it.

If these numbers seem daunting, no worries. Make your own version of the challenge: 10 in 10 challenge, 50 in 10 challenge, 20 gestures in one day, whatever.

Here are a few sketches from INKtober 2015.




7) Only check your social media feeds and phone after you’ve completed a timed creative session. – I’ve even used it as a reward to get tasks done: “If I finish the rest of the line art, I’ll check my email/social media during my five minute break.” If I didn’t finish the line art, I don’t get to check.

Alternatively, you could only check at specific times – ie. Email is checked at lunchtime, 4pm and 8pm. Social media is checked before bed.

If you have a needy individual in your life, it might help to let him or her know of your new schedule. There may be an adjustment period, but it’ll be worth it.

8) Stream live or record your session – Nothing makes you focus more than people watching you make art.
RaffleWinner_April_Playtpus_SeenUnseenI drew this in only two hours since I recorded the first hour, and timed the second hour.

9) Draw in a public place. – Sometimes it helps to get out of the house. Go to a place with no distractions, like a forest trail or field and create anything you want there. Museums, zoos, and aquariums are also great places to draw because working from life or on location will make you a better artist while surrounding you an in environment that isn’t your distracting home. I’ve also worked in libraries, delis, and patios.

10) Shorten your working time, if focusing is still a problem. – So you’ve watched the Pomodoro movie, acquired a timer, used a to-do list, and kept this up every weekday for one month – since this is how long it takes for a habit to form.

If it’s still not working out, drop all your times down. It’s time to build up slowly, which is totally fine.

Try working for ten minutes and taking a one-minute break. Once that is mastered, go up to fifteen minutes and a two-minute break, and so on.

Forgive yourself. Don’t give up!

If you have any tips for staying focused, please post them in the comments section below!

FullSizeRender (2) (1)

If you liked this post, you might like these others
How to Win at Creative Adult – The Two List Method

How to Win at Creative Adult – Mindfulness and Fighting Stress

How to Win at Creative Adult – Exercise

How to Win at Creative Adult – Drawing at Zoos and Aquariums

How to Win at Creative Adult – Dealing with Frustration and Fear


These are items that I use to help me focus and get ready to create. The book, The War of Art speaks in depth about focus in a way that is far less kind than I. It’s a great read if you put on your thick skin. The National Park DVDs are some sort of magical zen temple in a box. If you listen to movies or documentaries, these are a must. The rest of these I currently own and use daily or weekly.

All of these Amazon buttons are affiliate links, meaning if you use one to buy an item, I’ll get a small commission. Thanks for the support! I hope these help you in the quest to become the best you that you can be. Stay strong. Stay awesome. Cheers!

*All images are either mine or public domain

8 Responses to How to Win at Creative Adult – Focus

  1. Kate says:

    The only place I have to workon jewelry in the house is at my desk, which is…suboptimal in a lot of ways. Specially the bit where my computer is RIGHT THERE. Recently (by which I mean yesterday) I tried working at the table in my van, which, it turns out, helps me focus a LOT better.

    I tried just turning the monitor off — out of sight, our of mind? — but yeah, nah. That didn’t work. I need for my computer (or me) to be somewhere else entirely.

    (Randomly, you might consider a ‘sign up to be notified of comments’ thing here — makes conversations more doable.)

    • Sarah Dahlinger says:

      Just making the decision to go work in another place is huge! Plus it shows your level of commitment. I did a same thing in Sept 2015. My story outline didn’t get written until I hiked 2 miles away from my house. 🙂

      It’s so worth it! Keep me posted on the van location and how much it increases your productivity. I’m sure you’ll just kill it now.

      I’ll look for a email notification plugin 🙂

      • Kate says:

        So far, so good — I did five pendants yesterday (in between wandering around the park where I’d found a nice shady spot to put the van) when I usually manage three or four in a day at home. One day is a small sample size but I’m calling it promising.

        I wish I could do more while out on walks & such — but there’s too much Stuff to haul along, alas. I’ve started bringing a notebook to sketch ideas in, though.

        • Sarah Dahlinger says:

          oh oh! I have an idea for you.

          I’m trying this new thing, maybe you can to, not sure. I’m calling it minimalist sketching.

          I’m taking 1 sketchbook and only 3 pens places to see what I can do with limited resources.

          Could you try something similar with your stuff? Maybe “I’ll take 1 bag worth of equipment with me?”

          I’m starting to like the process because 1) it’s lighter and 2) I have to think BEFORE I start anything.

          What are your thoughts?

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