Distractions like social media are enemy number one for the writer determined to finish. But distractions are only distracting because we let them – because they interrupt us when we’d rather be concentrating on the task in hand. Here’s our 5-step guide to keeping focused and beating your creative distractions.
Concentrating on your creative work is hard – especially when you’re starting out or if the ideas aren’t flowing. It’s all too easy to get side tracked and start tidying that cupboard or organising those paperclips.
But getting distracted can have a real negative impact on your work – and your determination to finish.
Psychologists tell us that we only have a finite amount of concentration every day (and everyone is different) and getting pulled away from the task in hand depletes our reserves a little more.
But research tells us that keeping focused and preventing distractions from cropping up is all about taking back control – over yourself. The more control you can have over your physical environment, your schedule and your writing mindset – the less likely your mind will wander.
With that in mind, here’s our five-step guide to beating your creative distractions and keeping your focus:
1. Build a distraction-free environment
One practical way to keep focussed is to audit your creative working environment and physically rearrange it to ensure you minimise distractions. This technique involves using ‘choice architecture’ and was first proposed by Professor Richard Thaler, scientist at the University of Chicago and father of nudge theory.
In the same way that dieters reduce the temptation of snacking by putting sugary treats away from view (or not buying them in the first place) writers can keep procrastination at bay by keeping their writing environments distraction free.
So, if you want to focus on your writing, turn off your phone, use an internet blocker and tidy the house before you sit down. Strategically place material by writers you admire the most on your bedside table or by the sofa and yes – pin inspirational quotes up where you’ll seem them if that helps you keep focused. Don’t give yourself the chance to get distracted or to procrastinate and you probably won’t.
2. Schedule focused time
Psychologist, writer and thinker Dr Robert Boice studied writers for decades and in his 1996 book Procrastination and Blocking: A Novel Approach found that the least distracted and most productive writers are also the most efficient schedulers and planners.
He discovered that writers become less likely to procrastinate when they find a regular slot in their diary – and commit to writing without fail in that slot. He concluded that giving yourself a specific time has a number of advantages.
Practically, it means that you don’t have to spend the mental energy ‘finding the time to write’ every time you want to do it. You don’t need to think about when to write – you just write.
Also, making writing a non-negotiable fixture in your weekly schedule means that you are more likely to develop a habit of writing – it becomes something you do unthinkingly.
3. Build in your distractions as a reward
Taking regular breaks isn’t necessarily harmful for your concentration but being unwittingly distracted is. The key is to take breaks on your own terms according to Professor Paul Dolan, a behavioural psychologist from the London School of Economics.
Dolan’s research reveals that the best way to avoid distraction is to cheat it by staying in control and deliberately switching to a pleasurable and therefore rewarding activity when you feel your concentration is starting to wane.
By taking control and deciding to spend 15 minutes flicking though your Facebook feed or playing CandyCrush rather than becoming unwittingly distracted – your reserves of concentration don’t get depleted.
4. Make it more ‘fun’
You’re more likely to get distracted if your writing is flagging or it seems like a chore so one way to inject a little levity into a writing project is to turn it into more of a game or a challenge.
For example, using the Pomodoro technique, writers splurge words in intensive 20-minute blasts followed by a five-minute break – and perhaps cake (cake is optional). Other writers prefer entering ‘extreme writing’ challenges like NaNoWriMo, NaPoWriMo and 29 Plays Later.
Some writers find that simply splashing the cash on snazzy stationery can make writing less of a chore. Alternatively, having your favourite snack handy when you sit down to write can mean you associate one activity with the other and so enjoy the process a whole lot more (and get distracted a whole lot less).
But if playing ‘good cop’ doesn’t work…
5. Punish yourself!
..then you might need to play ‘bad cop’ on yourself!
If you’re still struggling to keep your distractions at bay then it could be time to hold a threat over your head to keep you motivated and focused.
For example, why not set a bet with a friend that you’ll sent a first draft by a certain date. Makes the stakes high though – something needs to be at risk. Losing a sum of money’s always a great motivator to keep you focused.
Why not ask a friend to give a sum of money to a political party you dislike – if you don’t meet your goal. That’s a sure fire way to keep you focused. Use a motivational site like StickK to set a goal and keep you focused.