(Originally published September 2017) To write better and faster, you must avoid distractions and interruptions. Obviously, you’re going to react if the smoke alarm starts squealing loudly. If that happens, get out! But I’m not talking about interruptions that matter. I’m talking about interruptions that don’t. And you can take steps to keep those at bay.
Interruptions slow us down and make us stupid
Did you know it takes 25 minutes to get back on task after an interruption? That might not sound bad, until you put it into context. Let’s say you’re writing an important email to a vendor, and you only have half an hour to craft the carefully worded message before heading to a meeting. If you’re interrupted 15 minutes in, you won’t get refocused before you’re out of time…and the time you do have will be poorly spent because interruptions also make us dumber!
Distractions are the things you can control, like Facebook, and interruptions are the things you can’t, like phone calls.
8 ways to avoid distractions and stay focused on writing
To be a better, faster writer, find a way around distractions and interruptions—not for the whole day, but when you need to write something important. Distractions are the things you can control, like Facebook, and interruptions are the things you can’t, like phone calls. Here’s how to minimize both:
- Turn off notifications, those alerting you to new emails and also your social media notifications.
- Turn off the ringer on your desk phone.
- Put your cell phone on silent so you won’t hear it ringing, nor will you hear your text and other notifications.
- Close apps that you don’t need open, if you lack self control. (My new MacBook Pro lets me set up different screens, so I can have the “distracting” programs like my web browser open but in a different screen, making it a swipe away, which is enough to keep me away from it.)
- Close your door, or put up some kind of “Don’t bother me” sign to keep coworkers at bay.
- Move to a different location when necessary, to minimize interruptions.
- Just say “no” to yourself when you think, “I should text Susie about dinner Friday.” Just because you had the thought doesn’t mean you need to act on the thought. The text can wait until you’re done writing.
- Set a time limit. You can’t avoid interruptions all day long. But you can for an hour! And after an hour of writing, you’ll need a break anyway. After an hour, check your email, your phone, your texts…stretch your legs or get a cup of tea. If you’re not done with your writing project, get back to it after five or 10 minutes, following all of the above advice once again to minimize distractions—but only for an hour.
You can’t stop the world for 60 minutes of focused writing, but you can make it a more focused 60 minutes with these tips. And you’ll find you really do write better and faster when focused!