While juggling speaking engagements, social media, reviewing copy edits, and reading books for blurbs—or for fun—you may often find it difficult to focus on the part of your life that got you here in the first place: your writing! In this article, we give you tips on how to reduce distractions, increase focus, and get back to writing.
1. Identify your distractions.
The most challenging part of eliminating distractions is often identifying and acknowledging them. The next time you sit down to write, take note of what exactly pulls your attention away. Sometimes it’s technological—Twitter, emails, finding the right music—other times it’s related to family distractions (yes, that includes pets), noise issues, or uncomfortable temperature or furniture. Sometimes, you’re distracted because you’d rather be watching television or following a developing news story, which can feel equally compelling.
Write down each distraction you identify. Once you can visualize a list of what gets between you and your writing, you can start taking steps to eliminate or reduce these distractions. We may not be able to cover everything that affects you, but here are some general tips for eliminating common distractions.
2. Take a social media hiatus.
We give you a lot of social media tips in Author News, and we always stress the importance of having an online presence—love social media or hate it, it’s become a vital aspect of staying connected. But your writing, and your general well-being, should always come before social media. Regardless of how many followers you have and how many messages you get, you are always entitled to take an occasional break. Here are some tips for your social media hiatus:
- Change your display name. Twitter recently expanded the amount of characters that can fit in users’ display names. This gives you the perfect opportunity to change your name to “[Your Name] is on Hiatus”.
- Pin a post announcing your hiatus. On Facebook, you can announce your hiatus and pin that post to the top of your feed, and you can do the same thing with a tweet. On Instagram, you can mention it in a new post, which will stay at the top of your feed. This way, if readers or other authors reach out, they’ll see your message and know why you can’t respond right away.
- Delete all social apps from your phone. This one should go without saying, but it’s important to remember, especially if you have a hard time taking a break from your favorite platform.
- Give it time. Social media hiatuses are not easy when you’re used to visiting the sites multiple times a day. Acknowledge your urge to check Instagram or Twitter, then try to keep it at bay.
3. Turn off notifications and Wi-Fi.
Have you ever tried to write in a café, realized they don’t have Wi-Fi, and felt oddly free? Make sure you go into your writing sessions with everything you need: If you write with music or white noise, for example, make sure that’s downloaded to your computer; if you have research to refer to, make sure it’s pulled up on your browser, then turn OFF your Wi-Fi.
Similarly, turn off notifications on all your devices. Most smartphones have the option to silence all notifications at once. For example, swipe up on your iPhone and hit the crescent moon icon to go into Do Not Disturb mode. You can also go into your phone’s settings and remove different types of notifications one by one, so you can have only calls come through, for example, if you’re waiting for an important call. (But do try to keep email, texts, and social media silenced, as they’re the easiest distractions!)
4. Focus on one task at a time.
When you plan your day, try to focus on one goal at a time. We live in a society that praises multitaskers, which can easily split your mind into many different pieces. Bringing it all together to focus on starting—and completing—one task at a time helps.
Similarly, breaking writing sessions into tasks can help. If you schedule thirty minutes to write, stick to that schedule, complete the task, and move on to the next thing. If you’re halfway done with laundry while writing, cooking dinner, and responding to emails from your day job, you’ll often get less done (or more done poorly) than if you focused on one activity at a time.
5. Find a positive distraction.
For some, removing distractions is enough to get productive juices flowing. But for many others, finding something positive to ground them—something to keep the smaller distractions away—is the most helpful.
Positive distractions can include:
- Music. Many writers prefer orchestrated (wordless) music, like classical music or even background music from movies or video games, while others prefer listening to their favorite vocal albums on repeat. Find whatever music works for you.
- White noise. You don’t need to own a special machine (though you certainly can purchase one) to enjoy the benefits of white noise. A quick search on YouTube will bring up hundreds of white noise videos. From pure white noise to environmental sounds to soft electronic music, white noise can really help you focus—especially when paired with noise-canceling headphones. If you’re planning to turn off your Wi-Fi to stay focused, you can always download white noise music files in advance from your preferred music downloading platform, and they’ll be ready whenever you need them.
- Meditation. Purposeful (and ideally, scheduled) meditation can be a wonderful positive distraction. Scheduling five to ten minutes of meditation before or during a writing session can be a positive way to change up your routine while eliminating negative distractions.
- Get moving. Exercise breaks can be a positive distraction, especially for those who have pent-up energy from sitting for too long or drinking too much tea or coffee. Taking a scheduled walk is a good way to refocus on your writing once you return to your desk. Similarly, a walking or biking desk can be a great way to distract yourself. If you’re in the rhythm of physical activity, your mind is more likely to focus on the task at hand.
In the end, acknowledging that distractions are inevitable—especially in this day and age—is the first step in learning how to reduce them. There is no one right way to eliminate them, just as there’s no one right way to write a book. So figure out what works for you, and if you have any good tips, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.
Phil Stamper-Halpin is Senior Manager, Publishing Development & Author Platforms, for Penguin Random House.