Pesky Distractions Thwarting Your Writing Goal?

If your writing life was a work of fiction, endless distraction would be your arch nemesis.  And our world is a smorgasbord of potential distractions. How the hell are we supposed to focus our whole being on our project when there are fifty gazillion things competing for our attention ALL DAY LONG?

How are we supposed to write productively when things keep pinging and ringing – and demanding our eyeballs and time?

I discovered this little nugget in an Unmistakable Creative article recently…

“Every time you’re interrupted by a person, checking email, a social feed, or respond to a notification, your mind requires 23 minutes of re-focus time – just to get back on task! This doesn’t count the time you spend being distracted, this is just to get refocused again.

Which means, good people, that 30 minutes of undistracted writing is way more productive than 2-3 hours of distracted writing during which you’re constantly checking your phone, social media and emails.

When I’m taking a workshop – I sometimes see people spend 2 minutes doing the creative exercise I’ve set before reaching for their phone to start scrolling.  Here’s the thing – I personally don’t care how people spend their valuable creative time with me – it’s their time.  BUT it makes me kinda sad to think people can’t focus on creative work without seeking a distraction from it.

I find the whole short attention span thing quite sobering – particularly as I find myself being regularly distracted.  But what I’ve realised is that this is a relatively new development – I simply wasn’t like this 15 years ago. And there’s a pay-off to allowing yourself to be distracted.  Giving in to that pull to connect with others by checking texts, emails and Facebook likes feels satisfying – and it FEELS like you’ve achieved something.  But it’s not a productive pay-off.

But the GOOD NEWS is that we can unlearn those bad habits and get better at staying focused.

So here’s my best advice on how to start avoiding distraction TODAY – and, yes, I’m taking that advice myself.

  • Turn It OFF. When you sit down to write – turn off any distracting background noise, close open windows on your computer and turn off the ringer on your phone for a chunk of time.  Try placing your phone in another room for the amount of time you want to write.  You might feel twitchy about it initially – but it won’t kill you.
  • Do One Thing at A Time. Time block your tasks and focus on them one by one rather than multi-tasking. Write down a short to do list then allocate a small amount of time to each item – and spend that time working on that task only.  It’s a ploddy methodical way to get through your list but it works better than getting a bunch of stuff half done. The problem with something half done is that it sits in your head along with everything else you have to do.  Once you’ve allocated time to the things you actually have to do – allocate a chunk of writing time – and then focus solely on that task.
  • Time Block + Set an Alarm. Short on time?  Then set the alarm for an hour and give your project 60 mins of undivided attention.  You’ll be surprised how much you do and how quickly the time passes.
  • Learn a Calming Breathing Technique. Every time you start to feel like you better check one of your gadgets or start thinking about another task – stop and breathe.  Consciously draw your attention back to the work at hand – i.e the writing task you’ve allocated a block of time to.
  • Stop Browsing. Use the internet for specific tasks rather than just pottering.  You know how that goes – if you allow yourself to be distracted, 10 mins to research a piece of information easily becomes an hour and a half of mindless, time wasting.

Best of British with your new, focus habit!

© Kathryn Burnett 2018


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