In my ideal world, when I'm working on a writing assignment, I picture myself at my desk drumming away on my computer. My head is down, eyes focused on the screen and every thought is directed to the subject matter of my story.
Unfortunately, that is not my reality. To be honest, before I designed a distraction-free process, I would have checked my email, Facebook, read the news links five times before I completed the first paragraph of this post.
The world we live in is so connected, it's a struggle to stay focused on one thought. When we categorize everything on the same level, it's difficult to prioritize what should be done now and later. As the deadline looms, my quality of writing is in danger of declining all because I just had to check my email.
It's amazing how I can spend hours doing nothing but reading email, clicking on the sidebars and posting on Facebook or Twitter. An entire day could fly by and I would accomplish nothing, but feel like I'd been very busy.
If these were distractions like housekeeping, feeding the chickens or doing laundry, I could leave the house and go to the library. Unfortunately, the distractions are inside my work tool... my computer.
So, in the interest of survival, I've worked up a strategy on my way to becoming a more efficient writer with excellent time management skills. I've road tested this technique and it works for me.
Set realistic time blocks
It's not realistic that I'm going to sit for three hours writing. First of all, it's not healthy. Either I'd have to get a standing desk or jump up every 30 minutes and walk around the house. Once I do that, it's all over. I'll start cleaning the kitchen counters.
The one hour block
A realistic block for me is one uninterrupted hour -- no email, no Facebook, no Twitter. For some, even shorter blocks of time work well. It's called the Pomodoro Technique. Use a timer. When the block of time is up I reset the timer for five minutes and get up, walk around and get my eyes away from my computer screen. When the recess timer rings, I'm much more refreshed to begin a new round. I reset the timer for another hour and begin again.
I do all my research before you begin your project. Researching isn't writing so I try to get as much background as I think I need to just write. I list all my sources and attributions in my notes. Obviously this can't always be 100 percent perfect, but the more research I accomplish in advance, the more likely I'm able to complete a large hunk of your project at once.
Email and other online distractions
Email expectations can be managed by simply putting up an "Out of Office" notification. My notice usually says something like I check email twice a day 10 a.m. and again at 2 p.m. Obviously I'm not restricted, but those senders have no expectation that they will hear from me sooner if their note comes in after 10 but before 2.
The "One Page" screen rule
A trick I learned while working as an editor and journalist is to have just one page open on my screen: the page I'm working on. It helps because if I am tempted to look at email or social media, I first have to open my browser. If it isn't easy to click to, it takes more effort. That effort reminds me I'm supposed to be writing, not browsing or shopping.
How to start
I make sure my desk is clear. If there are important papers, like bills, I put them in a pile somewhere out of sight.
Then, I raise my arms up over my head, take a deep breath, bring my arms down, put my hands on the key board and begin.
These tricks have worked well for me and I hope they offer you some ideas on how to keep distractions to a minimum.