Dr. Oz calls them N.U.T.S. They’re the “nagging, unfinished tasks” the nibble at the edge of our consciousness, interfere with our thought processes, and chisel away at our creativity. They’re the racing thoughts that keep us awake at night, and dog us throughout our busy day. Our thoughts scramble with endless to-do lists and we can’t focus on any one thing.Shrinks call them “intrusive thoughts,” and we’re all prone to them. I think that writers are especially vulnerable to NUTS because there is something intrinsically “unfinished” about the work of a novelist.

Stop for a moment and ask yourself what is on your “writing to-do list this very moment?” Do you feel yourself pulled in a dozen different directions? Do you wonder if you should be updating your website, doing a blog to promote your upcoming release, writing some snappy promo material to hand out at a conference, developing a new workshop? And oh yeah, how’s that synopsis coming? See what I mean? It’s endless.

 I’m fortunate to work with quite a few creative people in my psychology practice and here are a few strategies that might help.

 1) Prioritize. Do first things first. The blog is due tomorrow, the website can wait till next week. You need to send in that conference proposal immediately, the deadline is midnight.. And returning an e-mail from an agent or editor? That should be at the top of the list.

2) Make lists. Even if you don’t accomplish everything on them, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day as you check off various items

. 3) Do the toughest, most unpleasant thing first every day. In my case, it means writing a synopsis, your “most dreaded” task might be different.

 4) Break up large, unmanageable goals into chunks. If I can’t get the synopsis done this week-end, I can at least do a “quick-and-dirty” narrative, hitting the key plot points.

 5) Build in some fun time to relax and re-charge the batteries. This is probably the hardest thing for a type A person to do. Down time isn’t a waste of time. It’s a necessity. Otherwise, the well will run dry.

 6) Learn two or three relaxation techniques and pick the one you like the best. I teach my clients deep breathing, creative visualization, thought-stopping, progressive muscle relaxation and a counting technique. At first, they resist the idea as gimmicky. But they eventually choose one that works and their sleep improves dramatically. Try it! Make good sleep a priority in your life. I guarantee your productivity will soar and your general sense of well-being will improve.

Dr. Mary Kennedy is a licensed psychologist with FOCUS BEHAVIORAL HEALTH in Wilmington, Delaware and the author of The Talk Radio Mysteries for Penguin. She writes a health/wellness column for Gannett. Visit her at


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