Creating a Habit of Focus By Cutting Out Distractions

We live in a world where we are bombarded by interruptions. Sometimes these distractions keep us from writing. Under these circumstances, how do we train ourselves to stay focused?

The easiest way is to develop a schedule based around your normal routine. If your schedule currently appears completely full—as is often the case with people who have both jobs and a home life—then try tracking your time for about a week. Tracking makes us aware of gaps of free time or areas where some fat can be trimmed.

After discovering places where writing can be penned in, we need to make sure that it is during times when we can stay focused. For instance, I may have a block of time after dinner every night that appears unstructured, but upon closer examination this is when I catch up with my friends and family or unwind after a long day. As such, it isn’t really a gap in my schedule, but some much needed relaxation. Therefore, to schedule writing into this “gap” would be impractical—I’d never be able to focus and my low levels of productivity would become disheartening.

Which leads to the next point. Since distractions are quite tempting, they can make our ability to stay focused difficult. Once this happens, we may be further tempted to forsake our writing goals. Then we may want to punish ourselves for slipping up. But punishing ourselves over our mistakes makes us less willing to keep going, so instead create a system of rewards.

For example, say I plan to write between the hours of eight and nine every night. I’m much more likely to stick to my goal if I plan to do something my “distractable” brain perceives as more entertaining when I’m finished. Then, every time I’m tempted to stop, I check the clock instead of switching tasks. Seeing that I still have another nineteen minutes to go until my “reward” motivates me to stay on track.

Finally, the best way to develop a habit of focus is to be aware of distracting thoughts. Say I’m typing and suddenly it occurs to me that I really want to Wiki the plot of the most recent superhero movie. Or, I need to check Facebook right now because something imperative could have happened in the last half hour. These are distracting thoughts. As soon as I become aware of them, I need to ask myself, which is more important? Is it more important that I check when the next season of White Collar will be on Netflix, or that I write for another six minutes? Is it more important that I stop playing my video game to write for my scheduled twenty minutes or keep on playing?

While asking ourselves these questions, an internal voice will counter with: I don’t really want to write right now. I’ll stop _____ (distracting thing) in five minutes. I’ll only take a quick break. It’s close enough to the time I was planning on stopping. I’ll eventually get to writing—just not right now. I don’t really care if I write today or not. It’s not a big deal if I don’t make any progress.

These are lies. Don’t believe them, because the truth is we do care about sticking to our writing goals. So push these thoughts aside and move forward with what needs to be done.

Next Week: Why We Need Objective Readers