It’s easy to make excuses.

Distracted Writing
Well… at least I canceled Netflix. That counts for something, right?

“Oh, I just need to look up a citation for this paragraph,” or “I want to copy the link to that awesome article right now before I forget.” So then I’m opening a browser window in Firefox, and… yep. Another chunk of time lost to the internet.

It’s so hard to focus on writing productive stuff. On the other hand, it’s so easy to write a paragraph or two about something a friend of yours posted on Facebook. Why struggle trying to come up with 10 words, when you can go and write a couple hundred at the drop of a hat? It makes you feel so much better about yourself to see all that space filled up with your words.

Except that Facebook comment about your sister’s cat isn’t going to do a bit of good for your business. We all have to pay the bills. Right?

What can you do to establish better writing habits?

Think about how you get distracted, the main things that harm your productivity. Usually, every potential problem has an incredibly simple solution.

DISTRACTION: Everything else that’s on your computer besides that blank Word document you need to be filling up with words. Internet. Email. Popup notifications. Chat windows. The 439 icons you have scattered all over your desktop.

SOLUTION: This can be a tough one, as a lot of people have gotten so used to writing on a computer that the idea of writing anything longer than a shopping list on a piece of paper is non-starter. If you are one of those folks who can still be happily productive writing in longhand, then hit the power button on the computer, shove the keyboard out of the way, and get out some pen and paper. Boom. Problem solved.

But if words are impossible for you to find if your fingertips aren’t within an inch of a keyboard, then you’re going to have to get more creative. Try disabling the internet on your computer. If it’s a laptop, that’s easy. Just put it in airplane mode. That right there will kill 90 percent of the distractions.

Sometimes I truly find it impossible to not look at the other windows on my computer, to compulsively look at that browser tab, or randomly go spelunking down into a bunch of folders cluttering my desktop. When it’s really bad, that’s when I turn to alternative solutions, such as a no-frills text editor.

This blog post is being written in a free application called WriteMonkey. There are other similar applications such as Q10 and Dark Room. The idea is pretty much the same for all of them. You can set the text editor to full screen so you can’t even see a single menu bar on your screen, and can customize font, text color, and background color to your liking.

My eyes tend to be tired from looking at bright screens all day, so setting the background to black and the font to a light color–much like the night mode that a number of phone apps feature–is a major bonus. You can see that I’ve currently got it set up to look more or less like an old-style text-only computer terminal (remember those?).

WordMonkey in Action
Writemonkey in action, with my preferred settings enabled: dark, just like my man cave in the basement.

Not being bombarded with everything else going on in the background of my computer makes a huge difference for me. Perhaps it will for you as well.

DISTRACTION: That sweet, sweet game of Candy Crush keeps calling you back to your phone. Or Facebook notifications. Or text messages. Or any of a hundred other things that make you LOOK AT YOUR PHONE EVERY 14 SECONDS.

SOLUTION: Put it on silent, and place it in another room. Get it out of your sight. If you can hear notification sounds, feel it in your pocket, or see it from the corner of your eye, your brain is going to demand that you go and look at it. Why? Because it’s a source of novelty. The human brain loves to be stimulated by interesting things. Lots of stuff going on makes it happy. You’ll sabotage yourself even though you logically understand that if you don’t work on your content, your marketing for your business is going to suffer. So give yourself a break from your phone.

DISTRACTION: People. People always interrupting. Hell is other people for a reason. They need something from you, or have a question, or just want to sit down and shoot the caca for an hour because they have nothing better to do. Or maybe you’re somewhere where people tend to pass by, and even though they don’t engage you directly, their sheer presence distracts you, or you get sucked into people-watching.

SOLUTION: Hide. If you have an office, close the door. Take your laptop or notepad and find a stairwell, a rooftop, a balcony, a closet, or a crawlspace under a loose floorboard. If it’s what you have to do, isolate yourself so that you can give yourself the space you need to work.

DISTRACTION: Your brain. Sometimes it’s your worst enemy, and the most difficult to conquer. It can be like herding cats. Or a bunch of hamsters in a wheel. Or 10 songs playing at once. Choose your metaphor.

You’re thinking about your kids, your shopping list, the repairs your car needs, the cute lady at the grocery store. Stressful stuff. Random stuff. How do you overcome your own mind? It can truly be your worst enemy.

Maybe you need to go run for a couple miles. Or write a journal entry about all the things you’re worried about, dump it out of your brain on a page. Or make a schedule for tomorrow, so you can see it all neat and nice and organized.

You may really have to experiment to see what works for you. Maybe you’re most in the zone when you’re sitting at the kitchen table with your cup of coffee in the morning. Or on your lunch break. Or at 2 in the morning.

It’s all about finding the sweet spot, when your brain is at its clearest and on its best behavior, so you can turn its focus on those all-important words that you desperately need to churn out.

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