Distractions are the bane of productive writers, especially those trying to work from the home office. Family member interruptions, email notifications, smartphones with Facebook messages, and that constant temptation to ignore your latest masterpiece in exchange for a few minutes desktop solitaire…grrr. Things get especially rough when you hit that one spot in your novel and everything seems like a better option to writing.
Unfortunately, if lack of willpower is your issue, I can’t help you. A writer needs to be passionate about his craft, and if you lack the drive to stay focused, it’s time to find another calling in life. However, if dedication isn’t your problem, here are a few tips to help minimize the distractions and stay focused on writing.
Start with the Work-zone
- Get Comfortable: It’s a simple fact that if you’re comfortable, you will be less distracted. Good ergonomics are important, but at the same time, everyone has that certain place to work where they can get into the zone. My wife enjoys working on her laptop while reclined on our bed, and seems to do her best work there. On the other hand, if I’m not sitting at my desk in the home office, I can’t write a sentence without getting distracted.
- Clean up that desk: If you have two weeks of soda cans and five hundred post-it notes on your writing desk, get rid of it. More clutter means more things to attract the attention of wandering eyes. A tidy work area also eliminates the urge to clean up when you’re supposed to be writing.
- Writing time is my time: Many writers and bloggers work from home. If there is one universal constant, it is that nobody (except others who work from home) understands that just because you’re home, it doesn’t mean you have nothing to do. This goes for family and friends alike. So set as a certain time when you can write uninterrupted. So let all of your friends, relatives and other contacts know that from time A to B, you’re working and can’t be disturbed with phone calls, emails or text messages.
- Make a general announcement to members of the household about your writing hours; hand a “do not disturb” sign on your home office door if necessary. For those of us with young children, getting this message across can be especially difficult. As an alternative, try writing when the kids are either asleep or away from home. Early Saturday morning is great for this, and school time means writing time.
Stop the Electronic Madness
Smartphones and tablets can be great for your productivity…or they can kill it. When it’s time to work, shut down these devices, or at the very least set them to silent.
Thoughts on Computers and Software
Back in the early 2000’s, Microsoft Office had Clippy. He was an electric assistant who reared his ugly paperclip-shaped body just as you were getting in the zone. “Wow! Awesome letter! How can I help?” Grrrrr. Leave me the #*$k alone.
Clippy was the ultimate distraction tool. While no longer with us, he has been replaced by tons of other computer distractions.
- Turn off system notifications: Nothing breaks concentration like those annoying pop-up notifications from your operating system. Get rid of them! In Windows, you can disable balloon notifications via the Local Group Policy Editor (just do a search from the menu button). For Linux users, notification settings vary with your desktop environment.
- Close all unnecessary applications: We’re trying to get some work done, so let’s turn off email, Skype, Google Hangouts, and anything else that isn’t necessary while writing. Minimizing these applications isn’t good enough, because their pop-up notifications will rear up and kill your productivity.
- A dedicated writing laptop: For $150 or less, you can pick up an older laptop to serve a dedicated writing laptop. Yes, I know the older models are under-powered and lack the feature of today’s modern marvels, but we’re not looking for features here. It doesn’t take much of a processor or RAM to run a word processor, so an older laptop is more than adequate. Additionally, the lack of features is a blessing, because it’s one less thing to distract us.
- I’m in the process of a full write-up of setting up a writing laptop, and will post a link as soon as that article is finished. As a general recommendation, I would go with a business grade laptop from Dell (the Latitude line) or IBM/Lenovo (the Thinkpad line). Not only are these business-oriented machines durable, they also sport the number one feature a writer needs: an excellent keyboard. This is something sadly lacking on many modern laptops, even may current day business models.
- My writing laptop is a Lenovo X200 which I picked up on Ebay for $85. This is a 12.1” model from back in 2008, and is currently configured with only 2GB of RAM (unheard of these days) and the older core2duo processor. While these are pretty wimpy specs by today’s standards, this laptop has everything I could want out of a writing laptop. There’s no CD/DVD drive, so I won’t waste time watching movies. The keyboard is one of the best I’ve ever used, and I can get over 6 hours out of a fully charged battery.
- Distraction-free writing software: Your writing software may be the source of some distractions as well. Toolbars, menus and ribbons are all possible distractions; get rid of them when possible.
- Another option is a distraction-free writing software. I recently reviewed Focuswriter for my YouTube channel, and found this to be an excellent app. The writer works in a full-page mode, filling the screen with the writing page and background while hiding the menu. Different backgrounds are available, and you can even set up an old-school typewriter sound. Focuswriter is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and is free.
- Many writing softwares have distraction free modes. I personally use Scrivener, which has a full-page mode to allow you to focus on your writing.
Drown out the rest of the World
- Music: Drowning out the rest of the world with background music works for a lot of people. Find something instrumental in whatever genre you enjoy (jazz, classical, techno) and set the volume low. This technique does not work for me (I find it distracting), but know many people who do their best stuff with this method.
- White Noise: An alternative to background music is white noise. Technically, white noise fills every possible frequency, thereby dampening all other noises. To the human ear, white noise sounds like static or a low hum, and fades into the background while blocking outside noises. One great source of white noise is a small fan.
- Headphones/Earplugs: If there are others in the house, I often put in a pair of earplugs to block out the sound of the TV, radio, or the kids running up and down the stairs. Headphones will do this as well. The noise canceling models are the best, but even a standard pair will block out most ambient noise. As a bonus, I find people are far less willing to interrupt you if they see you wearing headphones.
- Reading Glasses: Low-powered reading glasses do more than help you see the computer monitor. By limiting peripheral vision, they act as blinders to the rest of the world. Besides, some of us are getting to the age where we need these anyway. Ahem.
No matter if you’re a full-time writer or just need an hour to writer a quick proposal, getting rid of distractions is essential to productivity. I hope you’ve found these tips useful. Have a tip you’d like to add? Tell us about it down in the comments section. Thanks for reading!