Have you ever worked incredibly hard to carve out some time to sit down and just write? You’re so excited that you finally have this time, but when you sit down at the computer, tea steaming next to you, you want to check Twitter really quickly. Then Facebook. Then you have to read that article. 30 minutes later, you finally pull yourself back to the Word document. But even as you painstakingly start to write, you can’t seem to stay focused on the story. What about that one subtweet that that author Tweeted? Or that article you were halfway through reading? All these thoughts are cluttering your mind.
I can’t even describe to you how many times the above situation has happened to me. In an increasingly digitized world, it can be difficult to find time. So when you do sit down to write, you want to maximize your time. I’m going to be sharing some tips to do exactly that.
How to Stay Focused While Writing: A List
1.) Turn off your notifications.
This one is especially critical if you write on a computer that has pop-up notifications. I’m lucky enough to be using a Macbook, but because of that, I have my text message and Twitter notifications hooked up to the laptop. Every time I get a new message, there’s a little irresistable “ding” that notifies me. This immediately interrupts my focus, and I find that all my thoughts are scattered. Even if I don’t respond, just the fact that I was interrupted and broken out of my flow can make it so difficult to get back into the groove.
The easiest fix to this kind of interruption is to temporarily (or permanently!) turn off this notifications. On your phone, you can simply turn on ‘Airplane Mode’ or switch on ‘Do Not Disturb’ to prevent any notifications whatsoever. If you’re worried about missing an important call from someone, there is a special setting for ‘Do Not Disturb’ that you can configure that will let through a call from a certain person. So, you can feel comfortable that people will be able to reach you in an emergency. On a computer, you should be able to go to your specific social media sites and choose to turn off notifications. There are also some excellent web blockers out there.
2.) Work in one window on your computer.
I am notorious for opening multiple tabs on my laptop. I open up my computer and within five minutes I have at least 10 tabs open (I wish I was exaggerating…). Tabs like Twitter or Tumblr that show the number of new notifications I have missed in the tab itself are especially distracting. I mean, how can you focus if there could be the possibility there’s a new a Tweet?
But here comes the problem: switching over to that tab can quickly lead to a spiral into the Internet Black Hole, which will botch any productive writing session.
So, to avoid any potential Black Holes, just open up a new window. You don’t even have to close all of your tabs, simply open up a new window with only your text editor. You can also choose to go full screen on Scrivener or just use Word. Even if you’re a paper writer, make sure you’re using a fresh sheet of paper, and that your desk is clear. De-cluttering what’s in front of you and taking out those distractions will give you some peace of mind. That’s going to do wonders for your focus.
3.) Turn off your Internet.
Hey, drastic times call for drastic measures. If you’re really having issues with avoiding the lure of the Internet, just turn it off. Sometimes it’s just too difficult to keep your mind off what’s happening in the land of the Interwebz if there’s the possibility you could go check a social media site with just one click.
Completely eliminate that potential by turning off your Internet. You can do that by going in manually and disconnecting your Internet connection. Many computers come with a switch that can easily turn off the wifi, so you don’t have to go through the process of disconnecting and reconnecting. Whatever it is, sometimes completely getting rid of a distraction is going to provide the most clarity so you can just work.
4.) Set a Pomodoro Timer.
I use this technique often when I’m doing homework or writing. Sometimes it feels impossible to sit down and write for an hour straight, like you’ve planned. Setting a period of time to work somehow makes the time feel like it’s passing by faster, and a set time makes it so much easier to focus, because you know you’ll be getting a break soon.
If you haven’t heard, the Pomodoro Technique consists of using a timer to work in 20 minute chunks, followed by a 5 minute break. After four of these cycles, you allow yourself a longer, 20-30 minute break. It allows for maximum productivity, and can be incredibly motivating.
5.) Have something to look forward to.
Sometimes, the idea of having more words or a break in the future just isn’t motivating enough. After all, wouldn’t be easier to go do something else rather than actually write? That can quickly lead to wandering thoughts, and so you want to set an immediate goal to keep you going.
The best way to come up with a suitable technique when you’re just not feeling motivated and focused is to ask yourself: what do I want right now? Candy? Some Twitter time? Another chapter of that amazing book you’re reading? A nap? Whatever it is, write it down. Then set that timer, and tell yourself after time runs out (or you reach a certain number of words), you get to have whatever it is you want. Having a small goal will give you that drive to really buckle down and knock out some words.
6.) Enlist a friend or family member.
I live in a pretty noisy house, with a lot of people running around constantly. Instead of attempting to ignore them all the time, I try to get them to help me out. I tell them to make sure I’m writing and not browsing feeds or staring into space or constantly deleting words and not making any real progress. That way, I can still involve my family in what I’m doing and make progress at the same time.
If you’re trying to stay off a certain website, just send out a message of something like “I’m trying to write 1000 words today. If you see me on here before I make that goal, tell me to get off!!”. Most people are more than happy to make sure they don’t see you pop up in their feed. It can be fun to get other people involved and also be publicly accountable. You’ll be surprised by how many people will ask “So, how many words did you write?”. It’s the perfect way to stay focused, involve other people, and create a great conversation for later. Win win win.
7.) Build a routine.
This is a long-term goal that is going to be incredibly, incredibly useful for you later. Routines condition the mind to get into writing mode without having to do anything besides what you did the day before. They allow you to get into a certain zone, so that you’re able to 100% focus.
Start out simple. Choose a time or a place to start writing, i.e., “I’m going to write every day after dinner.” After you get into the habit, after dinner, you’ll immediately find yourself thinking about writing and walking to the computer without any conscious thought. It’s definitely going to take up more time to implement, but after you get used to it, it’s going to allow you to maximize that writing time.
8.) Just write 100 words.
We all have those days. You’ve tried absolutely everything to stay focused, but your mind keeps wandering to other things.
It’s okay. Just write 100 words. That’s it. You can probably do that in 5 to 10 minutes. After that, if you feel yourself starting to get into the flow, keep going. If you’re still feeling sluggish, trying taking a break and coming back to it later. Sometimes we really do need some time away (and a nap, seriously) to rest and recharge, and come back to writing with newfound vigor.
There are numerous ways you can try to stay focused while writing, most of which include getting rid of distractions and having some accountability. It can be hard, but the more you condition yourself to staying focused, the easier that focus will come.
And the days you just can’t do it, don’t beat yourself up! You’re human. It’s okay.
But most days, you have to stick it through. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it.
Have you ever had trouble focusing while you’re writing? What are some things you do to try and regain focus? Will you be implementing any of the tips I’ve shared? Let me know!