“All right! I’m going to get so much work done today!”
That’s me. Every morning when I get out of bed. As I wake up in the shower, my mind drifts to all the ways I’m going to be productive that day.
And why not? I keep a bullet journal of all my tasks, I make reasonable expectations of myself, and I’ve got an audience chomping at the bit for new releases. All the stars are aligned for me to be motivated and focused on the work in front of me.
But breakfast took ten minutes longer than usual. And I had to make a cup of coffee after that, which takes almost ten minutes with my French press. When I finally reach my desk, I have to settle in, right?
8:00am becomes 9:00am. That’s okay, I think to myself. Still plenty of time to stay on schedule.
I open my Google Doc and stare at the writing in front of me for the day. My mind drifts for a moment. Who was the guy who did the voice of Raphael on the old Ninja Turtles cartoon from the ’80s? I feel like his voice was in everything back then.
Figuring it won’t hurt to get a quick answer, I open a new tab and look it up.
(The answer is Rob Paulsen, by the way. And it wasn’t my imagination – that dude really was in everything back then!)
Back to work.
I type out a few sentences, then wonder what is happening in my YouTube subscriptions. Then I might as well check out the news headlines. Then I want to see what is happening with my friends on Facebook.
9:00am becomes 11:30am.
I scramble to squeeze out some work for twenty-ish minutes, and then it’s lunchtime. I’m crabby now, because I’m not getting anything done.
Does This Sound Like You?
I wouldn’t be surprised. This is actually all too common. According to a recent study by Udemy, three out of four workers feel distracted during their workday.
When that resistance hits, we all crumble into a distraction cycle – hating ourselves, but also distracting ourselves more so we don’t have to deal with those negative feelings.
We know we need to work. Everything is in front of us. All we have to do is do it. But we don’t.
So what do we do?
As it turns out, there are lots of ways that you can address your distracted brain, steer it back on course, and get your work going. Here are a few tips to make that happen, so that you can stop putting off the work.
Lower Your Expectations
Even on my most realistic days, I stack up piles of work on my plate. A typical to-do list would include:
- Sending an email to my subscribers
- Working out the plot for my next book
- An hour of copy-writing for one client
- Finishing up a promotion for another client
- 2–3 chapters for my ghostwriting client
- A blog post for my website
- A 3–mile run to cap off the day
That’s… well, that’s a lot of stuff to do.
How can you possibly do it all? Just the sheer volume of that list feels overwhelming.
Distraction is not a logical problem – it’s an emotional problem. You can look at that list and say, “Okay, start from the top and see how far you get.” That’s the logical approach. You’ll still get a bunch of stuff done in the day.
But the emotional side of you, which is not dealing in logic at all, is going to subtly tell you, “Why bother? You’re not going to get it done so you might as well not even do any of it.”
So you open a new tab to distract yourself from your failure.
Rather than keep trying to force it, try dialing down that list. Pick one thing – one – and see if you can accomplish it.
When I see that list, I pick the most important thing and say, “I will be satisfied if I get that one thing done today.”
One chapter for my ghostwriting client.
Fifteen minutes of copy-writing.
Outlining a blog post.
These are much easier steps. And if you can get started, you might find yourself cruising along, knocking out more work than you realize. That’s the entire basis of the often-discussed “Pomodoro Technique”, where you set a timer and take breaks often.
It’s the same trick as saying, “I’ll just put my gym shoes on,” or “I’ll just go for a five-minute run.” Once you get a little momentum behind you, it’s far easier to keep working.
Build a Focused Environment – or Move to a New One
I work from home, and it’s incredible how many distractions are around here when I am left to my own devices.
Dishes in the sink. Kids who want to say “Hi.” A leak in the basement. A stack of papers on the desk. A package on the front step. Neighbors who talk too loud so I can hear them through the wall.
Each one of these distractions is another point of resistance. If I’m struggling to get through the day, I need to deal with these distractions immediately – or prevent them from happening at all.
Yes, I do work from home, so I have more control over my environment than most. But I also have plenty of wild cards in play that I have little-to-no control over, like toddlers and neighbors.
To build a proper working environment, I make sure my desk is clean and the door to my office is locked. Then, I pop in my headphones and turn on Brain.FM to drown out any other noise distractions. Physically shutting out the distracting environment can often be enough.
But what about those days when I feel like there’s just no avoiding the distractions? Then I pack up and go somewhere to work for the day.
Getting out of the house into new surroundings can often be the spark needed to put me on track for a productive day. I’ll go to a coffee shop and buy a cup so I can set up there. Or head to a local library or bookstore.
Being around books and among the living can reset my brain, making it easier for me to focus.
All of this, however, doesn’t stop digital distractions from creeping in.
Go Nuclear with Distraction-Busting Apps
Even with the perfect surroundings and the right headphones, there’s still a matter of that computer in front of you.
Your fingers on the keys can just as easily surf memes all day instead of getting the words on the page.
Fortunately, there are scores of apps out there designed to help you fight back against these distractions. Here are just a few:
This is my go-to distraction blocker of choice, and I am a Lifetime Premium member of the service. Freedom works on nearly any device ever since they finally added native support for Chromebooks (which I use). I can sync Freedom on my computer with the Freedom Android app and schedule my blocks in advance. I don’t have to do a thing except let it run, and all my distractions are blocked automatically. Highly recommended.
My second favorite productivity app, RescueTime allows you a lot of flexibility in how you set up your blocks. It also has a sophisticated tracking app so that you can see where your time is going. I would actually probably use RescueTime over Freedom so that I could use the more advanced scheduling features, but it doesn’t have support for blocking distractions on Chromebooks (booo).
This one comes up a lot when I start looking around for distraction blockers. Forest is an app that also works as a bit of a game. Set the timer and get the work done. The longer you stay on track, the more virtual trees get planted. If you give into your distractions, the trees get cut down and you have to start over. It’s a unique concept and many swear by it.
I lump these three together because they all do pretty much the same thing: you pop in a list of distracting websites and they’ll block them for you. StayFocusd goes a little farther in that you can set a timer for distractions (e.g. only 30 minutes of distracting activities per day), and then it blocks them. But they all work to varying degrees – it just depends on the platform you use and your preferences.
The Most Important Part of Dealing with Distractions
There’s a lot of information here, and it can be overwhelming to try to process it. If there’s one piece of advice I can give you, it’s this: be patient.
Solving the problem of distraction as a writer is not something that comes easy. Everybody is a little different. Take the time to figure out what works well for you and what doesn’t.
Eventually, you’ll hit on a routine and approach that will allow you to get your butt in the chair and start writing, regardless of whether or not you’re tempted to go check out Facebook again.