Everyone can write and no one can stay focused on writing.
It’s a quirk of our connected universe that drives me nuts. Set out to compose anything longer than a tweet in this racket and your screen, your apps, even your dopamine-addled brain tries to stop you.
But there’s hope.
Below are 15 tricks to getting whole blog posts, essays and long workplace memos past the drip-drip-drip of digital distraction.
Some are mine but most are yours, shared courageously on a Facebook thread. Thank you!
Vive la resistance.
1. Kill extra browser tabs.
Especially the ones with the #$@ numbers.
They’re the devil, and ignoring them doesn’t work. When I have to write something but have to consult email or Facebook for material to write it (hey! like right now!), I put them in their own, quarantined browser window or take a screenshot and bolt.
2. Know your writing phase.
…and when you’ve left it.
Are you brainstorming? Finding your point? Actually writing? It makes a difference. Online distractions can be inspirations when you’re skipping from one idea to the next, tapping the Web’s wisdom and bouncing ideas off people. Keep clicking when you’ve gathered plenty and then you’re wasting time.
3. Put the phone away.
Don’t just turn it off; get it out of your sight.
Nothing triggers gems like, “I wonder who’s written me a really great email in the last 5 minutes?” better than a casual glance at your phone’s blank screen or the feel of it bouncing in your pocket. Give it a time out.
4. Get the apps.
Fight tech with tech.
“The Distraction Addiction” author Alex Soojung-Kim Pang swears by Freedom, Waste No Time and Leechblock to block distracting sites and stay focused. Author Virginia Postrel sets Anti-Social to 30-minute bursts when her attention span has “totally collapsed.” If these guys can actually write whole books, they must be on to something.
5. Try paper.
It still exists, and look — no ads!
I’ve found plain old pen and paper to be the best tools for the part of the writing process where I’ve already browsed a bunch of material and have to figure out what I’m going to say. For best results, shut the laptop. You and your brain have GOT this.
6. Toggle the sound.
Make it quiet. Make it loud.
Make it what you need at the moment. Donte Antonio Parks works best when he’s listening to the score from “Superman.” Jen Zug makes music loud to drown out mental distractions. Jacob swears by the ear protectors that block out all sound. Me, I like the buzz of background conversation. Find your key and turn it.
7. Toggle the scenery.
And keep it clean.
A change of scene supports a new intention, especially if it’s clear, like a clean kitchen before you cook. “This is likely why I am about 200 percent more efficient when I work in a hotel room or at a coffee shop,” writes Kristen Jacobsen, “where the only thing I need to clean up is my own cup.”
8. Switch devices.
Some cooperate easier than others.
Joey Trimmer writes on his iPad when he needs to focus. Its small screen, easy switch to airplane mode and ability to look at only one app at a time (not to mention his Bluetooth keyboard) makes it the ideal tool. Carly Slater, meanwhile, turns on dictation software as she walks, weeds or cleans.
9. Know your energy levels.
And work with them.
This might be the most important tip there is. Know when your willpower is strongest — over coffee? after lunch? — and tackle your toughest tasks then.
10. Try the early morning.
Plus, your brain is too groggy to chase shiny things. I write most all my columns in the morning on a fully recharged brain battery, doing in one hour what the previous night would’ve taken three.
11. Make distractions weird.
And you won’t want them.
Zachary Cohn inverts the colors on his Mac monitor when he writes (command+alt/option+F5 toggles the menu) to make it “really obnoxious” to switch away from his word processor. A neat trick.
12. Read something of yours you’ve liked.
Remind your brain you can do it
I do this when I’m stuck on something. Another lubricant: Open up a space where you write swiftly — like a compose window in email — and type out the knot.
13. Use a minimalist text editor.
14. Escape the WiFi.
It’s not going anywhere.
Joel Maxey goes to his car. Finnian Durkan, a WiFi-less coffee shop (they DO exist). Me, I’ve made a spot under my rhodies in the backyard my WiFi-free workspace, summer edition. Some can turn off their device’s Internet and leave it at that. But if it takes actual physical movement to get you to that next tweet or news article, you’re not going to chase it.
15. Get up. Stand up.
Now get to work.
Mónica Guzmán is a freelance journalist, speaker and award-winning digital life columnist for GeekWire. You can find her tweeting away @moniguzman, subscribe to her public Facebook posts at facebook.com/moniguzman or reach her via email. See this archive of her weekly GeekWire columns.