Getting It Done: Focuser or Flitterer?

What makes a person productive? Doing a little on a lot? Or doing a lot on a little?

It becomes clearer to me all the time that different people have different measures for productivity.

Some folks love to get a project done—finishing is how they know they are being productive. These people are focusers—they focus, spend hours on their project, and get it finished.

Other people flitter from project to project. I don’t just mean having multiple projects and moving between them, a day on this, a day on that. I mean flitting, hour by hour, from one endeavor to the next.

I am a flitterer of the first order.

To feel really good about a day, really productive, I seem to need to work on many, many projects, just doing a little on each.

A typical day will have me:

  • Working on Etsy—today I might add new listings and/or soak and iron some linens. I’d like to take photos for listings but it’s raining again.
  • Working on one or more quilting projects—today I might hand quilt for an hour and/or cut and trim some of the 200 HSTs I need for another current project. Or I might make some repairs on that <expletive written in CAPS and then deleted> yoyo coverlet.
  • Working on one or more weaving projects—today I might weave on the band loom and/or dress the big loom for a set of blue and white towels and/or throw the shuttle on more of the tab towels.
  • Working on the house and/or yard—today I will probably do laundry and clean the top of the stove (Don made spaghetti sauce yesterday!) I’d like to spend a little time on turning the compost pile or weeding but it’s very, very wet outside.
  • I always give myself extra pats on the back for working on a blog post and for exercising. So far today I’ve done both—yay, me!

I don’t do all of these things every day, of course, but I love a day where I can knock off several of them. I spend an hour here and an hour there, and move happily from one kind of a task to another. The more the better!

I never get bored and I rarely get frustrated. If either of those states of mind grips me, I just move on . . . because moving on is what I do best.

The downside to all of this is that I rarely finish anything. My stints of an hour or so are a drop in the bucket of what it takes to make a full-size quilt or weave 10 towels from a long warp.

Because I never finish anything, my list never gets shorter and that can be stressful. I always feel like I have SO much to do; it’s overwhelming.

I kind of envy people who are focusers, and the satisfaction they get from regularly finishing or making noticeable progress on a project.

I think I’d like to be a focuser more than a flitterer . . . but I’d like to be tall and thin, too. I have little control over either.

In the immortal words of Popeye the Sailor Man, “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam . . .”

How about you? Do you spend your creative time focused on one or two big projects per day? Or do you flit around and do a little on a lot of fronts?

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85 thoughts on “Getting It Done: Focuser or Flitterer?

  1. Me too; I am exactly like you, a flitterer through and through. Change the activities and you have described my day precisely! A good day, that is! 🙂

  2. Hi! I am sitting in the airport on my way to vavstuga for drawloom basics. I will be extremely focused this week as you well know! I am a finisher in my weaving but since starting to weave I find I am not a finisher of hand knitted items. Not having enough time is the main problem I believe as basically I am a finisher of all things at heart! Hi to Don!

    • Hi, Geri–great to hear from you! You better be focused this week at Vavstuga or you’ll be left in the dust! The drawloom weaving looks so complicated to me. Please, please send me some photos of your work when you get home!

  3. I tend to work on about two creative projects a day, and some house holdy things too. So today, I published a post, did the ironing, cooked moussaka, crocheted and am just about to swap to do some knitting. I have also done some prep work on a small volunteer project, read blogs, watered plants… guess I am a flitterer! However, I do write a list each week of what I want to accomplish and so do get some finishes in. It’s whatever makes you happy that counts I think.

    • You sound like a flitterer to me! I try to keep a big picture, too, of things that I really want to finish or make major progress on–and sometimes external deadlines come into play! Nothing like a deadline to get me focused . . .

  4. Yes, indeed, I’m in the flitter club with you. I think its a necessity as I work, have 3 kids still at home, a house, a garden and a blogging/writing obsession. If I focused on just one of those, lots of other things wouldn’t get done. I like writing a lot of different things, too – poetry, fiction, non-fiction – and flit from one genre to the next. I also admire the focusers but for now I’ll content myself with flitting. It fits my life right now. Maybe in a few years without the distraction of paid employment I can focus on writing more/better. Great post. Got me thinking about how I work/play.

    • I think you’re right–at your stage of life, flitting around may be your only way to survive! I’m lucky enough to be a comfortably retired person . . . and still I flit.

  5. I do some of both. When I’m close to the end of something I will focus on it to the detriment of everything else that I should be working on at least a bit. This is especially true when the project has been around for a while and I just want it done and gone. I flitter more when I can’t really decide what I feel like working on, or when I have small blocks of time in between bigger time commitments. Flitter isn’t usually as productive as I’d like so I try not to do it too often. But some days are just “Squirrel!” days.

    • You have outside incentive to get things done, since you make your living at your craft! I admit, too, when I get near the end of a big project, I get more obsessed with finishing. There are a couple of things, right now, that I am EAGER to be done with!

  6. When I was working, I was focused, mostly two projects at a time, with some prepping going on for the next if I had time. Now I am fluttering quite a lot it seems, but it may be too early to tell! I may have plans for one project, but when my chores are done, I choose something else!

  7. I’m a total flitterer, too, although I really wish I could be a focuser – it seems to be so much more rewarding to set your mind on something and get it done. I can WANT to get it done as much as I like, I’ll always be flitterer…

    • Some days, I try to make myself focus just on one big project, because I have a deadline or am just tired of the project and want it over with. It’s really hard to focus! I find myself yearning to move on to the next thing . . .

  8. What a great post, prompting such interesting comments. I guess I am a bit of both – I like to have lots of things on the go so that I can choose my task to suit my mood/how well I am feeling etc. And then I am usually able to knuckle down to focus on a particular thing when it really HAS to be done – unless I can think of something else to do, of course. My husband and I always joke that our kitchen cupboards are never cleaner than when we are otherwise supposed to be finishing a project/following up on a difficult task etc lol 🙂

    • My mood plays a big role in which task I choose, plus time of day does, too. I find I do the hand quilting almost always in early afternoon, when I’m sort of tired and burned out. And, yes, deadlines come into play, too!

      • Completely agree – some projects, for some reason, just don’t seem ‘right’ for a particular time of day – I find it very difficult to knit before breakfast, for example, lol! More seriously, I find that I am at my most creative brain-wise in the morning, welcoming less challenging projects, like easy knits in the evening. What a luxury to have such a choice! 🙂

  9. I am a flitterer. I know I try to do too many things at once but I have always been that way, and to be honest it works for me. I think having many interest and things to do keep me occupied and happy. However I will say when I am closing in on the end of a project I get very focused and everything else goes to side until I am done.

  10. Um, yes. Sometimes I focus and sometimes I flit. To me, the main thing is to do *something*. If you can count 10 things you did in a day, it was a pretty dang productive day. They might be 10 things on one project, or they might be 1 thing on each of 10 projects. You might have to get to the micro level to count up that many, but even so, it was a good day.

    I have a number of aspects of my life that are important to me. As long as I’m moving ahead on some number of them, every day, it’s okay.

  11. Flitterer, for sure. Inside the house and outside. I’ll go out with the intention of weeding and a short way into that I’ll decide the firethorn bush needs a little trimming. And after that I spot some of that invasive bittersweet vine somewhere and start tackling that. I might go back to weeding, but again might not. But at least I’m doing something positive, right!

    • Right! It all needs to be done! I cannot believe you’re still battling the bittersweet or is that, truly, a war that will never end? Is it impossible to eradicate it?

      • Unfortunately, it is a war that will never end. Even if I pull the rhizomes up, tiny little pieces will regenerate. I could spray with Roundup and then everything would be dead and I bet after time that bittersweet will rise up from the dead.

  12. I think I’m alone here as a focuser. LOL I don’t know how I got this way, but in general I work on a project and get it done. Maybe it is also because we downsized years ago, and I became somewhat of a minimalist so I don’t keep a lot of stuff and maybe that’s why I don’t want too many things going on at one time. I think I need a shrink to diagnose me. 🙂 I received my key fob yesterday. It is lovely. Thank you so much. You made my day. 🙂

    • Oh, thanks for letting me know you got the key fob! Glad you like it! And, yes, my flittering approach does mean that my house is pretty chaotic–if I am going to do a little quilting and weaving and ironing every day, I don’t see the point of putting everything away. My house would make you twitchy!

  13. I like to putter, as I call it. Some of this and some of that. But when I have had a project going too long, or it is near to finishing, I will shift over and focus hard on it until it is done. nd then I am likely to start several different projects in reaction to that focus. But I do feel like I get things done, puttering. All of a sudden a few things are done! I love it.

    • I think we’re a lot alike in this. I have to admit, though, I’m usually a little surprised when I actually finish anything, like, how did that happen?!

      • Lol and other times I am amazed that ravelry thinks I started something last year. Could it take that long to knit a shawl?

  14. Kindred spirit with Judy today. Not a flitterer. I do not like clutter in my living space, figuratively and literally speaking. I do have a few projects going but this is more practical : knitting in the car, knitting in front of tv and a really big project of work that needs silence and focus. Walking is medicine for body, mind and spirit on a daily base for myself and my lovely Charley. having said that, I am able to spent an entire day just reading and sipping tea when the book is so perfect that I need to stay in that world. And I certainly do not disapprove of other people flittererness!! I like happy people who do as they please. Cheers Kerry!!

    Ps and I do like my job, its very busy and a big adjustment but so far so good! Thank you xoxoxo

    • As I just said to Judy, my house would make you and her twitchy–I have a constant jumble of yarn and fabric and stuff, all close at hand for when I want to flit to something different. But, as you say, we all know what makes us happy and need to be true to that. I am SO glad to hear the new job is going well but, yes, what an adjustment. I hope, when things settle, you’ll get back to your artwork!

  15. Oh dear Kerry, you’ve been in my head again! I had a big discussion with myself last night just because I used to be so focused, then I became a bit of a flitterer and now I think I’m just a messy dabbler…… I have so many ideas in my head of what I want to make that settling to make one thing successfully seems to be impossible – I start off with one medium, half way through wonder what would happen if …. and voila, there’s the mess. Nothing to blog about here folks, move along! 🙂

    • You’re make me smile, every time! I see you as a MUCH more adventurous flitterer than I. You’re out there exploring and trying and pushing the envelope. And some of your experiments are so productive–like those cards you made with the drops of ink and the doodles. I think your approach suits you perfectly!

  16. I think I’m somewhere in-between both! I like to get a few hours on a project in a day but at the same time I take regular breaks from the main thing I’m doing to do a little bit more on other things otherwise I get bored with my main task. But I also like to see results so need to put a good amount of time in on something.

    • I think I am much more process oriented than product oriented–I am almost sad when I finish a big project and will sometimes look for ways to make it last longer!

  17. I consider myself a focused flitterer. Often my projects are at different stages, so I mull over the design phase of one project while I sew down the binding of another. The latter doesn’t require much creative thinking. Of course, deadlines turn me into a focused person.

    • J > Reality is always more complex – more sophisticated, than simple question-and-answer, isn’t it! A ‘focussed flitter’ is I feel a degree of self-deprecation: I have always thought that when something important needs doing, but you’re not yet certain how to proceed, get busy with something simple – which settles thought, but also leaves it free to ponder. Not the sort of thinking that goes down well in corporate environments and said to one’s manager demanding progress, but that’s why I became self-employed – and more productive as well!

      • I love the opportunity to get busy with something simple–and have certain tasks I know I can count on to give me that chance!

  18. J > Just love the photos on this post. They summon all that I love so much about fabrics and working with them. They also summon up you – your distinctive style. How do we find you on Etsy – are you KerryCan there, too?

  19. Flitterer, keeps me from getting bored 🙂
    I also like that when I change projects every now and then, returning to the original project, I may see it in a different light, and that brings better ideas sometimes!

    • That’s an excellent point, Marieken! I see that happening, too, even if I’m crossing crafts, say from weaving to quilting or even to working with the vintage linens!

  20. I’m a flitterer, too, but I focus on my flitters 😉 And I keep the number of projects to a manageable level.

      • I’ve been thinking about this, and what I like is variety. I don’t want to do one thing all day long, no matter how much I might love that thing. But it’s a fine line because too much variety can lead to a frazzled feeling.

        My husband is one of those who focuses. He can sit all day and work on the computer.I have to say, he doesn’t accomplish any more than I do 😉

  21. A flicuser? Sometimes I flit, sometimes I focus. I had to focus in the work world, so I’m enjoying the retirement freedom of flittering when the mood takes me. I tend to get distracted, too. I might be heading out to do some gardening and get lured into taking photos of birds. It took me a while to vanquish a little nagging guilt when I diverge from plans–but I’m pretty much over that now!

  22. I don’t even need to reply to this as you know who I am! I had a college friend who did ONE thing at a time. She usually did counted cross stitch and started from the top (!) and worked her way down. I was amazed.
    I am rarely bored either, but I agree that it is stressful when I think about all that I have going. At least if you and I did one craft, but, no!
    I have been in a “cleaning frame of mind” recently, which is rare, so I am keeping at it. I always unearth a thing or two in the studio that I had completely forgotten about….now that is too many projects.
    {sigh…}

  23. I am truly a focussed person but I have to flitter sometimes just to show some progress on certain tasks. Flittering makes me feel uncomfortable; I get a nagging voice in my head telling me about all the unfinished tasks. I love to immerse myself in a project and get it done as thoroughly and completely as possible. I like detail and order too (just a little bit of OCD!) My husband is more of a flitterer and gets bored very quickly so has a number of things he can flit to during the day.

    • Maybe it’s good you and your husband balance each other! My husband flits as much as I do so we have trouble, sometimes, getting big, necessary projects done around the house.

  24. Tall and thin .. hmmm I’ll take the thin but not to worried over the tall though. Lol, delightful post that had me chuckling as I often flitter. Sounds like there are really more flutters than focused.

  25. What a great post, followed by interesting and thoughtful comments. I’m probably a bit of both, too. I’m also a minimalist, so I don’t have multiple creative projects going at once, but I do flit from project to project throughout the day. I still have one child at home and a part time organizing business, so today, for instance, I drove my son to school at 7, went to a Pilates class at 9, pulled weeds till the sun got too hot, transplanted some plants, signed a few birthday cards, corresponded with some clients, all the while composing multiple blogs in my head. I have a basket of crochet for the evenings, more for relaxing than anything else since I don’t really know what I’m doing yet. (I’m making a rectangle!).

    I like the satisfaction of a finished project, but I can relate to feeling a bit sad when something is done. I think some of the joy is in the planning.

    • A good deal of your flitting is based on your obligations to others, and to work! When I was working, my days often felt fragmented from having to go so many different directions. Now, even though I flitter around, it seems to have more of a unified focus . . . not sure I’m making any sense!

      • I imagine the beauty of retirement is that you get to focus on what you want to do as opposed to what you need to do. Of course we all have choices in life that lead to those needs and wants, but I think it will be freeing in some ways when my days are my own. When the boys were younger, everything had to get done around their needs. I”m not complaining, and have loved the years with them. But the next stage has appeal too. I want to travel more, craft more and volunteer my time. Ages and stages. I’m happy to hear you’re enjoying your retired life and so pleased that you started a blog!

  26. You get big points for working Popeye into your blog! Kudos! I’m mostly a focuser, but I feel like my flitterer friends have a much easier time seeing the big picture than I do. My ability to focus also keeps my eye on the details, which isn’t always good. Especially when setting big goals! I get overwhelmed trying to imagine every little step & then usually decide to ignore it all and go weave!

    • This is an interesting perspective I hadn’t thought of–I do agree that walking away from work frequently lets me come back to it and see it anew. That isn’t always productive, because sometimes I hate what I see, but at least I catch it quickly!

      • I would imagine the trick isn’t to change how you work – that’s innate to you. But, how do we each use that process to our advantage? You are definitely not alone in sorting that out!!

  27. Hmmm….. a difficult question. I am not good at coping with lots of unfinished projects; case in point a bathroom renovation which is taking far too long….grrr. I like finished and orderly, one thing at a time. But I also flit, particularly with dull chores like laundry and dishwashing. I’ll wash a few plates and wander off to read the newspaper, then put something to soak in the laundry and then come back to the dishes. 😀

  28. hmm. . . I’m not sure. It depends upon the situation. Is there a deadline? Am I happy with the progress that I am making? Is it almost done? . . .

  29. I am a focuser but still feel like I take a long time to get things done. It’s more of a balance in my free time between doing what I want to do creatively or for recreation and household chores types of things. That means that while I focus on one thing, other things get dropped entirely. Finishing makes me feel productive, but I don’t always care about being productive, I just like to be engrossed in something.

  30. I’m a focusser: I can only have 1 or 2 things on the go and if that’s what I’m doing I need to finish it. I really wish I was more of a flitter because then I’d have more to talk about, but the grass is always greener…

      • I do love a finished project! But my one project mindset means I tend to make smaller items as something large like a blanket feels like a long slog

  31. Hello Kerry! I’m visiting for the first time in ages, and it’s lovely to be here.
    This comment of yours made me smile and envious, too.
    “I never get bored and I rarely get frustrated. If either of those states of mind grips me, I just move on . . . because moving on is what I do best”. Being able to move on is such a great quality!
    Hope you are well!

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