Busy kids, demanding dogs, grocery runs, alluring refrigerators, visitors, Twitter, the call of the sun through your window – all worthy adversaries in the battle for your concentration and productivity. As writers, we must guard against the constant intrusions that threaten to turn an hour-long project into a 3 hour-long project.
There are some distractions you can work through if you just can zero in on your focus. Parents become Jedi’s at ignoring the door-knocking, whining or ordinary play noises of kids and it is that selective hearing that will help you get through other distractions. Even if you’re not a parent, you’ve used your selective hearing skills to block out spouses, roommates or your boss’s yammering – all it takes is channeling that focus to blocking out the beeping of Twitter and the phone ringing.
Another way to block out and manage distractions – give yourself a time and a time-limit. If you’re an obsessive email checker like myself, you can easily spend hours checking and rechecking your email. The same holds true for Twitter, Facebook or any of the other social networking sites. Set a time, once every two hours, etc. to check your email, updates, etc., and then only allow yourself 15 mins to respond or surf. This also works for returning phone messages. Knowing when you’ll be able to satisfy your addiction will help you make it through getting actual work done.
Refocusing after an encounter with distractions can take almost as much time as the distraction itself. Often it’s not possible to shift gears and jump right back into the work, so find some focusing or breathing exercises that will work to zone you back in. I tend to use two that work pretty well for me:
I close my eyes and count slowly backwards from 20 to 0. This helps calms my brain and gets me ready to “go back in.” Or I use one of my work songs. Right now I have three on rotation and they aren’t the most politically correct or wholesome songs but they get me motivated. If you like hip hop email me and I’ll let you know what works for me. If not, find a song that motivates you. Two to three minutes of your favorite jam can be enough to not only get you inspired to keep working, but remind you why you’re working.
Got tips for dealing with distractions? Share ’em!
Sarah Townsend says
Awesome tips. I am victim to distractions all day long (only writer in an office of 30+ with no wall divides), and have yet to find a method that works for me. The only thing I can do is plug in my noise canceling earbuds and zone out.
Tricia Goss says
This is so helpful! Dealing with distractions and being sidetracked are biggies for me. This definitely gets bookmarked. I’ll set a span of time later to reread it! ;0)
I struggle with getting back in the groove once I’ve gotten distracted. My mind can’t seem to write a complete sentence and I stare at the same few words on the page. Just the other day I wrote out a paragraph then made some changes before giving in to the distractions. I did finally come back to it, but the only thing I had written that day was “words” and it was too disheartening to get me going again.
It’s days like that day that make me get up at 1, 2 or 3 am to work (because I KNOW I won’t be disturbed then)!
Terreece Clarke says
I completely understand. I’ve had those days, but unfortunately being able to stay up late and write a coherent article have since passed me by, 1 a.m. used to be my “time.” The creative juices were flowing and all that, now if I’m up that late I just waste time because I wake up in the morning and wonder “Who in the hell wrote this and what were they talking about?” Then I realize I wrote it – ouch. LOL!
Essay Writing Boy says
I struggle write an essay when somebody destructing me although I can get also an idea with that and turn in to writing. Nice post!
Jennifer Eden Cruz says
Great advice! Most often we are distracted by a lot of things, family, friends, kids and overloaded information and so on and so forth. The big challenge is how are you going to battle all this. Scheduling of each task and prioritizing is very vital.
David Dittell says
Great advice, and obviously something every writer deals with (if not everybody who works at a computer!).
One thing I do that works very well is I set miniature goals for myself. I can get to page 67, I can use the internet as a break (I’m actually checking Freelance Writing Jobs on such a break now). The benefit of this are multiple:
1) I have additional reasons to finish my work.
2) I minimize distractions not by removing them, but by co-opting them and giving them their “space.”
3) I get occasional breaks that give me some distance on what I’m working on. When I come back to it, my work benefits from the occasional brain-clearing break.
If this sounds like something that might work for you, I definitely recommend it.
Terreece Clarke says
Great ideas, I sometimes set goals for myself when there is something fun I want to get to like an extended shower lol! Thanks for the tips!
This is well-needed advice for me! Since kiddo #2 arrived, my mind’s been more scattered than usual. With the tips posted here, hopefully I say good riddance to “mommy brain” and hello to productivity. Thank you!
Kathryn, I’m like you. 1 am used to be prime writing time for me but not anymore. I also feel like I’m more distracted than I used to be. Time was I could work with the TV on and the baby fussing but now just the phone ringing sets me off.
I read somewhere that the anticipation of being interrupted is just as bad as the interruption itself and I found this to be true. My husband can be working in the garage for an hour and he’ll come in and say, there did you get a lot of writing done. But I didn’t because I couldn’t get into the groove knowing that any minute he’s likely to walk in and ask me something. I need an office with a lock – alas,not in the cards for me.
I used to work for a corporation before I started freelancing, and the atmosphere of the office always got me into a work mode: the sound of people talking about business, seeing quota reports and sales graphs on the wall, and walking past conference rooms. So when I’m working at home, I do things and surround myself with things that remind myself of my office – I turn on CNN in the background to have that ‘businessey chatter’ and do some easy admin work (filing, organizing, labeling, etc) until I get into my work mode.
If that fails, I go to Starbucks to work since I don’t have the distractions there that I would have at home (daytime TV and a couch to nap on); also, having the background talking and a relatively uncomfortable chair/table makes me feel like I’m in an office.
Facebook and Twitter are killing me on the distraction front. But I also use them to help me, so I can’t really demonize them.
I’ve found that knowing my young son has a finite amount of naptime has spurred me to be much more efficient and less prone to distractions. So if anyone would like an almost-three-year-old boy to keep them on track, please let me know…
On kids, it may be worthwhile to hire sitters, even if you’re in the house. When my kids were younger, I had to do that.
Of course, that’s not why some are freelancing — they want more family time. But, even if it’s one day a week with a sitter, it can help make deadlines.
My best tip: have tiny mini-projects available to work on when you expect to be distracted. Examples: deleting unneeded files; cleaning the office; applying for a gig; answering three emails; updating SEO on a website. That way, if you know you’ll be distracted or have only a few minutes or are super-tired, you can get SOMEthing done!