Reading time: About 4 minutes
Is distraction free writing something that eludes you? Read on to learn about five practical tips for achieving it…
Here is a scary number: The average person is distracted every 40 seconds when working at their computer.
Isn’t that mind-boggling? We can’t work for even a literal minute without being interrupted or interrupting ourselves.
And worse, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on task, after these interruptions.
No wonder we don’t get any writing done!
If you’re determined to buck the trend and find a way to achieve distraction free writing, I have five easy-to-implement strategies for you:
1-Reduce your goals
Yeah, I know this sounds crazy and self-destructive but hear me out. Those of us who get discouraged or frustrated — and therefore, easily distracted — by writing usually do so because we’ve become intimidated.
That book we want to write? It needs to be 75,000 words. Yikes! How the heck are we ever going to write that many words? Or, that blog post we need to produce? It may be short but we have to finish in an hour. Is that even physically possible? We become scared, anxious and…blocked.
These feelings lead to what I call an internal distraction. In other words, the problem comes from within ourselves. We’re uncomfortable so we don’t allow ourselves to write.
I learned the secret power of reducing goals when I met with a client several years ago. She told me she’d failed to write that day but, no problem, she was going to double her output the next day. She even sounded cheerful and enthusiastic when she made this wrong-headed suggestion.
‘Please don’t do that,’ I suggested to her. ‘Instead, try cutting your goal in half.’ Initially, she resisted but eventually she agreed. And when I had trouble writing myself the very next day (at the time, I was working on my book Your Happy First Draft), I realized that I needed to do exactly the same thing.
And here’s what happened: I cut my word count goal in half for the next two weeks. To my huge surprise, I met my original goal most days. And on those days I failed to, I didn’t feel bad about it. Which left me in a more positive state for writing the next day.
You can accomplish a surprising amount with small goals. If you can write for five minutes and generate 100 words, five days a week, you’ll have 26,000 words by the end of a year. And if you can bump that total up to 200 words a day, you’ll get an impressive 52,000 words by Dec. 31st.
I encourage all my clients to do their writing first thing in the day. I don’t encourage them to get up early — we all write better if we’ve had enough sleep. And I know that parents of young children often have their mornings too fully booked to consider writing at that time.
But schedule your writing (just five minutes!) as early in the day as you can. If you write first, your mood for writing will be better because things won’t have started going wrong. If you write first, you’ll get a jump on the phone calls and meetings that typically derail most of us. If you write first, you’ll be less tired and exhausted from the demands of work and family life.
Writing first allows you to avoid a whole host of external distractions.
If you write first, you’ll also get a gigantic burst of accomplishment. “I did it,” you’ll be able to say to yourself. “I’m a determined and successful person.” In turn, this will bolster you for other tasks during the day and for your writing, the next day.
3-Do your research before writing
Many people make the mistake of trying to research while writing. I did this all the time when I was a university student working on my honours thesis. I remember sitting at my library carrel and juggling multiple books and journals on my lap while trying to write. Of course, this was in the days before the Internet so the work was physically harder. Nowadays, you just need to click between documents. But however you try to multitask, it’s mentally distracting.
Trying to do two different tasks at the same time not only slows you down but it also makes the work of writing both unpleasant and uncomfortable.
So how do I reconcile point 2, where I suggest you write first in the day and point 3 when I say you should do your researching before writing? Easy. I suggest you research the day before you write. Yes, this requires some planning and coordinating, but the payoff is huge. It means you’ll have the chance to sleep on your ideas before writing, which seems to help just about everyone.
And if this feels like too much work, remember that you’re going to be writing for a short amount of time only, so how much research will you need to do for your 200 to 300 words?
4-Turn off your technology (except for the noise-cancelling headphones)
This is where you can truly obliterate external distractions. Draw a fence around yourself and don’t let anyone else come in.
Turn off your email — silencing any noises it might make, shutting down the app that makes the email momentarily appear in the top right-hand corner of your screen and turning off the little number that appears in the corner of the icon showing how many unread emails you have. All of this stuff is torture. Shut it down!
Turn off your cellphone or, even better, move it into another room. Refuse to answer your front door. (Put a note on it, if that makes you feel happier.) Some people will need to turn off their WiFi to be able to concentrate and if that describes you then consider using an app like Freedom or StayFocused to keep you off the internet. If your issue is you can’t do distraction free writing in MS Word, try Ommwriter, JDarkRoom, or CalmlyWriter.
Then, pop a set of noise-cancelling earphones on your head and listen to something pleasant — music without words, white, pink or brown noise, or nature sounds, like a burbling brook, rainfall or birds in a forest.
If you have to work in an open area office, the headphones (the bigger and clunkier the better) should keep people from disturbing you. But if not, tape a sign to the side of your computer saying something like “on deadline.”
5-Find an accountability partner
Having an accountability partner is like having a secret agent on your side. My Get It Done program operates that way for roughly 50 people each month. Members report their daily writing to me, five days a week. “I’d never have written today if not for having to report to you,” is a comment I hear every week.
But if you don’t want to join a group, find an accountability partner on your own. It will help you stay motivated, allow you to overcome procrastination, give you mutual support and encouragement and help you develop better discipline and consistency.
Distractions, both internal and external, are everywhere. But don’t let yourself be interrupted every 40 seconds! Learn how to achieve distraction free writing and you’ll be able to stay on track and achieve your goals.
My video podcast last week addressed how to write a family history. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.
Need some help developing a better writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.
Are you able to achieve distraction free writing? How do you do it? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by May 31/23 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!