Monday, September 10, 2012

My "Secret" to Avoiding Distractions

The other day I posted about how I'm so focused on my writing that I haven't made time for any other experiences worth blogging about. My excellent reader Annalisa Crawford posted this question:

"I'm still struggling to avoid distractions, and I've been at it for almost three years - what's your secret?"

Readers are worth so much more than giving me an ego boost! They also give feedback, start discussions, get us thinking, and inspire new blog articles. You guys rock!

I'm certainly no master at this, but have two secrets that help me avoid distractions:

1. Ritalin.

2. I work toward my most important, long-term, life-fulfilling goal first thing in the morning.

The morning calibrates my focus for the rest of the day. Everything I do apart from that focus feels like a distraction. It doesn't matter if I only spend an hour doing something when I wake up; that's where my thoughts are going to lean for the rest of the day.

Example: When I first started working from home, I decided to clean my apartment at the start of each day. That way, I'd have a nice, organized work space. But then I'd spend the whole day cleaning.

Next I tried doing what I call "Real Life Stuff" first thing in the morning: paying bills, making phone calls, running errands. My reasoning was I'd get it all out of the way so I wouldn't have anything to stress about once I started writing. Instead, I thought about stressful things all day long.

Do NOT get on the internet first thing in the morning, whatever you do! Spending three hours online in the evening is better for your writing than 30 minutes in the morning.

If I write before I do anything else, nothing is on my mind apart from the writing. When something slips in asking me to change what I'm doing, it's easy to say, "Nope, I'm writing now."

Then when I'm done writing, I have just enough time to do real life stuff, clean, and cook dinner before Andrew gets home.

NOTE: Sleep counts as a focus-setting activity. When I sleep in - which is my greatest weakness right now - it's hard to calibrate my mind onto anything else.

Yesterday I had a ton of real life stuff to deal with, so I decided to spend most of my day on that and write when I found time (I never did). It was a very productive day. I finished my long to-do list, studied for a test I have to take, vacuumed all the floors, cleaned the fridge, planned a menu for this week, and went grocery shopping. 

But when I went to bed that night, I felt empty. Nothing I did that day will matter a month from now. I wish I had spent just a little time on something that will last.

That's it! That's my big "secret." It seems to be working well so far.


  1. I am the opposite! I do everything I can think of before I start writing at 2:30, knowing I have to leave at 4:15 for class. It's the deadline of leaving for classes that keeps me on target. On Fridays when I don't have class, I don't get as much writing done because I'm always thinking "well I can do it later!" But I think I will try your getting up and not even going on the internet routine, because I would prefer to get everything done in the morning (b/c I am a morning person).

  2. This is SO true-- as a stay-at-home mom, I can vouch for this. If I let my son watch cartoons in the morning while I lounge around on the internet, I spend half the day in my PJs doing nothing. Great advice, Teralyn!

  3. That image up there got a good chuckle. I know what you mean. I'm up between 5 and 6, and on the computer I go until my kids come down and drag me away. We home school, and I write music too (for pay--I'm still marveling at this recent development), so above and beyond house keeping and curriculum planning... Well, routine is key to productivity, eh?

  4. I know exactly what you mean about feeling empty at the end of the day if the writing didn't get done. No matter what else was achieved. Great post.

  5. I've just gone through the same process with the same results. Although it's first thing after I drop the children at school. If I start cleaning or paying bills, I never seem to settle. Yet once I've made progress on the writing the rest of life seems to fall into place.

    However there are those days when real life needs time too. On those days instead of trying to squeeze the writing in I just give myself permission to have a 'real' day and know I'll get back to the writing tomorrow.

  6. I don't think there's any one answer. Unlike you, my ritual begins with spending thirty minutes checking email, a few blogs and facebook. Thirty minutes, no more. Then it's writing time. If things go well I reward myself with those 'Devil's Timewasters' again at the end of the day. The most important thing is 'routine'. Irrespective.


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