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7 Tips for Dealing With Distractions

boats as distractionLast Thursday I  started to write a book of essays about some of my experiences. I wrote about 300 words and liked what was happening.

I let life interfere from Friday to Monday without writing another word and started to go a bit nuts. When I talked with a trusted friend about how I was feeling agitated, forgetful and afraid, my friend asked me to look at what was going on.

After a few false starts I told her about the essay book and when I committed to put an hour on my calendar M-F felt a tremendous sense of relief and excitement.

Monday and Tuesday’s writing went well. Monday was a full hour; yesterday was about 45 minutes but I’d come to a really good stopping place and new what I was going to write next.

Today I’ve started three times and have managed to write 40 words!

First I distracted myself. I referred to a boat I’d sailed on and wondered if I could find out what kind of wood it was built out of. That led to several google searches all of which failed to reveal the wood but led me to lots of sites about boats. I love boats so it wasn’t long before I’d eaten up a good 25 minutes of my supposed hour, maybe five minutes of which I could claim as legitimate research.

I’d just pulled myself away from all those lovely websites and started to write when the phone rang. I looked at the caller ID and decided I wanted to take the call even though I knew it was a distraction. But I was honoring another commitment. Yes, it’s true, sometimes our commitments collide.

We got interrupted and she asked if she could call me right back. I agreed. In the two or three minutes I started this post.

For a variety of reasons Wednesday tends to be patchy in the mornings, my prime writing time. Part of that is because  I go play with clay from 10:30 – 1. Since I do want to get this posted before I leave I decided to finish this rather than work on the book.

Now I’ve just realized I also need to generate a draft contract – that one didn’t go on my calendar, always a mistake. This was a totally avoidable distraction. If it had been on my to do list yesterday it would be done.

I can see there’s no way I’m going to spend an even semi-honest hour on the essay book this morning so I’m making a conscious decision to postpone the hour until this afternoon. I’ll do an hour on the book starting at 2.

Here’s how you can deal more productively with distractions than I did this morning:

  1. Distinguish between writing for clients and writing for yourself.
  2. Schedule time to write for clients and to do the writing you want to do.
  3. Schedule the time to start and the time to end.
  4. Turn off the phone when it’s time to write.
  5. Turn off the radio when it’s time to write.
  6. Bookend if you’re having any trouble at all.
  7. Realize life brings changes and be flexible without giving up.

What’s your favorite tip for dealing with distractions?


{ 24 comments… add one }
  • Once I was walking in a park with some friends. One of them said, “Gee, the park is noisy today.” It was like someone had just turned up the volume on a radio. I was suddenly aware of people yelling, kids shrieking, boom-boxes blaring. I’d tuned out all the extraneous sounds, focusing on my friends. This is a very handy skill, if you can acquire it. I wrote my first book and third book in the living room with the TV on and kitchen noises near me.

    I recently had my oldest son set up a laptop for me with no internet capability, so I can get a lot farther than a mousestroke or two from the wonderful, awful Internet.

    I also believe in reminders that I post around my computer: “Stay focused!” “Think product!” “How important is it?” “You are NOT hungry!” “Better is the enemy of good enuf!” And so on. I haven’t gone so far as to plunk a memento mori on my desk as a paperweight, but there are times I need to be reminded that work not done today may never get done. It’s also a good prioritizer.

    Thanks for everything, Anne. I enjoy coming here and “seeing” you and reading your posts. Keep it up!
    .-= jorgekafkazar´s last blog ..Tenirax, Ch V =-.

    • Anne

      Love the “How important is it?” Covers a whole lot more than just staying focused on my writing.

  • Anne,
    Another great post full of tips. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who gets off on a google search that eats up valuable time. As my assignments are increasing I’ve had to learn to make myself a schedule so I can keep up with things. Priorities have always been a challenge for me and I need all the help I can get to stay on track.
    .-= Kathryn Pless´s last blog ..Demand Studios-My POV =-.

    • Anne

      And now I’m having great joy and great distractions from google earth!

  • Anne,

    Another excellent post and advice on a topic that most writers wrestle with! I find that I have so many ideas bouncing around in my head each day that I have trouble sometimes concentrating on the task at hand and I distract myself researching new things. Must be a common writer trait, huh? Been learning to schedule working on specific projects in 1 hour chunks of time and then challenging myself to get it done in that span of time. One thing I do need to learn is to turn off my cellphone when I am working and stop obsessively checking my emails and Facebook all day!

    – Tess
    .-= Tess´s last blog ..Controversy: Should you take a Writing Internship? =-.

  • Well, I got an early start. I’ve been working for a living since I was 15 years old, so I wasn’t coddled until my mid 20s before life came knocking on my door. The mistakes most people are making in their late 20s and the answers they are finding at the same time I was making/learning back in my late teens/early 20s.

    The school of life is the best way to go =P
    .-= T.W. Anderson´s last blog ..The niches you didn’t even know you had =-.

  • I don’t have a problem with distractions, because I purposefully have my office space set aside. When I go into work mode, I’m in work mode. That means no Facebook, no music, no games, no TV, no phone calls, nothing. Just me, my project, and my deadlines.

    I work from home for a reason, because I absolutely cannot concentrate in a public environment when it comes time to write. My day is very scheduled. I get up at 7. I spend 30 minutes waking up, then I do a 15 kilometer bout on the elliptical, have a shower, then I spend the next hour or so browsing the ‘net, replying to e-mails, and making posts while I drink 2 cups of coffee and have a light breakfast. I start work at 10 a.m. I work until 2 p.m. I only take a short break for lunch, usually 15 minutes at most. I do 25 crunches, squats, and situps every hour, so I end up doing 100 of each in my four hour session.

    2 p.m. I’m off work. I do some more browsing, answer mails, scan some leads to see if I see anything worth chasing after, and wait for my wife to get off work. I head out, we go for a walk to the park (just about every day unless the weather is crappy) which usually takes about 2 hours, then we are home by 6 and spend the rest of our evening gaming, watching shows, and enjoying our evening together.

    I don’t work Saturdays or Sundays unless I’m getting paid some serious cash.And I keep the same schedule just about year-round outside of vacations, although I do take days off here and there just for the hell of it. It’s nice to be able to relax 🙂
    .-= T.W. Anderson´s last blog ..The niches you didn’t even know you had =-.

    • Anne

      TW, I get the biggest kick out of you… you seem to have solved so many of life’s problems at such an early age. As I explained today I got caught up again, although not as much as the other day. The research was necessary… the extra stuff wasn’t. I’ll never be as disciplined as you are.

      • Ha, me neither. Occasionally I have a day like that, where I finish my work early, make my daily goal, complete my to do list, and fit in a workout. I feel so accomplished those days, but they’re rare. I get caught up in the “web” too often, going from a relevant topic on which I’m writing to something completely silly to even be researching. Sometimes I do it in the middle of a sentence. I think I might be better off writing at the library or somewhere without constant internet access.
        .-= Autumn´s last blog ..Take Your Writing Destiny into Your Own Hands During Downtime =-.

        • heh, I can’t write in a public environment, Autumn. I can’t even write when my wife’s in the same room, even if she’s just sitting in a chair or on the couch, reading a book and totally not talking to me. I think you could call it an OCD type mentality 🙂 I just flat-out cannot write unless I’m 100% confined, 100% alone, and 100% zoned out. Any distractions just rip me out of the zone.

          My biggest motivation is travel and our plans for investment. We just moved here in 2008. Last year was establishing my rep, and settling into a foreign country. This year was making money, paying off our debt, and furthering connections. 2010 is major money-making mode, because 100% of what I make is profit (wife’s part-time job pays the living expenses). We plan on taking next year’s income and investing in a few things, and we are really hoping to buy some property in Spain in a few years. Nice little cottage in the countryside with a vineyard. We are also looking at property on the seaside in Bulgaria. You can still get a nice condo for 40-50k USD, right on the Black Sea coast.

          So every time I sit down to write, I think about our investments. I also think about our travel, because it’s our number 1 guilty pleasure, and we travel a lot. We have some big travel plans for next year, including a month-long backpacking trip through China in September, so every time I write I have very specific goals that I keep firmly in my mind to keep myself focused and away from Facebook and other distractions.

          What are your goals? They really do help!
          .-= T.W. Anderson´s last blog ..The niches you didn’t even know you had =-.

        • Anne

          Can’t be sure, but I suspect I distracted myself almost as much pre-web… with something, kids or something.

        • robert johnson

          I find it easy to use a to do list manager or web app for blog entries i write. Like at least the main topics. I used something very simple in the past like toTdo. http://www.totdo.com

  • Wendy, I blew an afternoon on balloon boy, too. I feel like I should bill his parents.

    Anne, nice post. A good set of reminders for a problem that we all experience from time to time.
    .-= Carson´s last blog ..By: Worth Reading: TechCrunch on Content Mills =-.

  • Wendy

    I can’t have anything on while I’m working. The TV and radio distract me way too much. I made the mistake not long ago of having the TV on and a special report came on about the Balloon boy incident. (before we found out that it was a hoax) I spent the next couple of hours worried about the boy and couldn’t focus on anything else.

    • Anne

      I didn’t hear about old balloon boy until it was a known hoax, but I know what you mean

  • As of this very moment, I should start dealing with distractions by stopping my reading about distractions. 😛

    I seem to get the most of my work done with I’m working in a coffee shop that does not have wifi or I actually flip the switch to shut off my laptop’s wifi reception. Not having access to the internet doesn’t bother me once I lose myself in the story’s that I’m writing. The second trick is to keep the internet off and don’t turn it back on, not even to do research. At least not while I’m writing the rough draft. Research is just a time waster at that point. The story only needs to be so accurate in the first draft anyway.
    .-= Jamwes´s last blog ..Does He Make You Happy =-.

    • Anne

      Turning off the ‘net sounds like a great idea… I got all caught up in Google earth this morning… found some things I needed, but flying around the planet is such a delight…

  • Anne, this article addresses a lot of specific issues most of us writers go through. I have basically been on hiatus since summer, and had planned to start back to work when my kids went to school. A lot of blah-blah got in the way, and now here I am having to start COMPLETELY back over again. I’m a big fan of fresh starts, so I’m looking at the new year as an opportunity for a fresh start for my writing business. I will definitely be addressing issues I recognize as time-stealers from when I was working. There is some great advice here, as always.
    .-= Trina L. Grant´s last blog ..Building an Enduring Blog Presence =-.

    • Anne

      Thanks Trina… I’m finding looking up stuff for my new book is delightfully distracting… this morning I had to almost slap my hands to stop 😉

      • Elizabeth West

        LOL! I love looking up stuff on the Internet. It’s a huge time-eater. When I was writing the book, I had to force myself to stick to an hour of surfing, no more, so I could write from about 7 or 8 pm until 11 and then go to bed so I could go to work in the morning. I’m going to have to discipline myself not to spend so much time messing around if I ever get to write full-time!

        Elizabeth West

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