I was listening to a podcast on NPR from the series Hidden Brain. In this series, Shankar Vedantam was studying the concept of Deep Work. Essentially, how to really maximize projects you are doing and really, as the concept says, go deep. One of the things he noted with a researcher is the impact small little distractions can have on your work.
The specialist being interviewed noted how so many authors, to be successful, pulled out of society and found a great place to hide away and stay focused, Thoreau and J.K. Rowling found great successes by eliminating those distractions to get real work done. But the scientist went on to note that even smaller little distractions become huge impacts on that quality of work.
One of the things he noted were people who feel they are working well, but have to "just check in" on an email or a phone call. While this might seem like a quick check, the time it takes to get back into the groove of the bigger project is even larger. Essentially, think of the phrase "I am so on a roll now." We have all used that line before, but this is what they are talking about. If you are working that well and truly are "on a roll" stopping and trying to get that ball rolling again is even harder.
So, what are some ways you can eliminate those distractions in your life so you can write. Let's consider a few:
- Eliminate social media This is a big one! You don't need to have your phone right next to you beeping every time someone posts on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram. The same is true for having that social media running "in the background" while you write. Turn it off. I don't care f you have to shut down the wireless, but get off the grid! I don't know how many times my wife will be in the middle of a project, I will be in the other room and post something about the kids and hear her say, "Oh look, Scott updated his profile." Big mistake, she should have been working. In fact, as I write this and she is working on things for work, she has stopped three times to post something on Facebook, comment on an email that just came in, and checked her email three times. Not focused.
- Have your research ready ahead of time Yes, I know that the Internet has all of the research right there so use it. But, have it taken care of BEFORE you start writing. Know what you are going to need for that next block of writing you are doing (see next distraction below). Getting online to find something will lead you to looking to other things which may or may not have anything to do with your writing. You might say that this will be good for later, but now is not the time to slow down your writing.
- Plot out your story Sorry people, but I am back to this again. Plotting is the way to go. Knowing where you are going and what needs to get finished that day with your writing gives you the focus you need to succeed. My wife gets frustrated some days when we have some plans later in the afternoon. She will often say, "I'll get these projects finished while you run those errands." Now, in her head, she is thinking the errands that need to be run will take a large amount of time, giving her the time she needs to finish projects. For me, I streamline my work. I know the order of where to go to maximize the trip. I know where I can do "one stop shopping" to speed things up. The end result is that I am finished earlier than she is. OK, I get this is a gender thing, but in all honesty, I want to get on with my projects so I can do other things. The key is focus.
- Turn off the phones Like social media, having your phone near you when you write will be a distraction. Now if you have no friends and no one calls you, this is fine (well not the bit about no friends but you get the idea). Every time that phone rings, you get pulled away from your work. Let the answering machine take care of things.
- Clear off your desk Again, this may sound insignificant, but having things sitting around your desk pulls your eyes away from the writing that needs to be done. I just noted, as I was writing this, that my eyes moved off of this section three times since I wrote the word "Again" just three lines earlier. I looked over and saw my checkbook... this reminded me that I had a bill to pay and I needed to update the ledger. I looked over and saw my insurance paperwork and reminded myself that I needed to take that to the truck (I have been saying this now for the last 2 weeks, by the way). I saw my pad of paper with the EQUUS FOUNDATION projects on it and I was reminded to get some social media out on that. Those are distractions.
- Quit playing with the background music I watch my son and daughter doing this all of the time. They want music to listen to when they do their work. That's fine! But they keep their Spotify going and when they get a song they don't like, they pick the phone up and scan through for a new song to listen to. I scream, "Will you get back to work!" and their reply is "I am just looking for a new playlist. A) I interrupted (see last distraction in the list); but B), the time they took to look for that new song just took them "off that roll" they were on.
- Have all of your supplies ready to go This is just like the research thing, but have all of your writing tools ready to go. When you clean off the desk, have your note pad ready to go, have the pencils sharpened. Have pens that work ready to go. Bring your snacks to the table. Have a tea pot or your coffee in the room with you. DO NOT create a situation where you have to get up "just to get a cup of coffee!" you know what will happen... You start to pick up the kitchen, you check the email (see above of "just checking in"), and your have lost your roll!
- Find a quit place of solace to write Many major companies have changed how they set up their office spaces. By making the place nice to work, they maximize the productivity. You need to be focused. If you have an office to work in, shut the door. Keep it quiet. Keep the lighting perfect for writing. I know of several authors who have built little sheds in their backyards so they can walk away from the house and stay focused. When you are writing, you want to just think about the writing. Try adding plants. Light candles. Have a desk top waterfall flowing. Just be focused!
- Kill the family No, I am not serious about this, but when you write, your family needs to know that they cannot disturb you. They cannot have you there to intervene on a fight. They cannot have you there to fix them a meal, or to ask even the smallest question. This time is your time so use it! You need their backing!