If, like me, you are a great one for writing lists and setting goals and targets, you will probably, like me, quite often feel deflated at the end of the day when half those things are still on the list. I can calculate exactly how long it will take me to edit a manuscript, write a blog post, write a new chapter of that new book. But the one thing that often stops me getting done what I need to do isn’t that I’m overstretched, have taken on too much or have other, more important things crop up. No, if I’m honest it’s mostly because I am far too easily distracted. Emails, Facebook, the phone, my sister asking me round for a cup of tea (which is a lovely distraction), the dog, the cat, the postman. All these things have the ability to knock me out of my periods of concentration and set me off looking at some new funny cat in a box video or getting cross over the comments left on an article in the Guardian, or just staring into space while the dog runs round the garden. I need to get focussed before another week slips by where I’ve achieved enough but not as much as I could. So, a fresh start, a new leaf – I’m going to start incorporating some of these things into my work routine.
I can’t work well if I’m hungry, thirsty, too hot, too cold, uncomfortable etc. So, the first thing to do is to make sure you’re sitting comfortably. Make sure you have the right seat so that your hands are resting on the keyboard, you’re not leaning forward to see the screen and you’re nice and straight. Make sure the room is warm (but not warm enough to send you into a stupor) or cool enough if it’s the summer. Have a cup of tea or coffee ready and next to you. And make sure you eat breakfast and lunch – it can be hard to stick to this if you’re working from home, but I waste a lot of time wandering off to the kitchen because I’m a bit peckish, staring into the cupboard arguing with myself whether to have a biscuit or an apple.
I’m very, very distracted by noise, so need to work in silence. This is fine if I’m the only one in. When the kids are around however, I need to close the door on them. Do whatever you need to do. If you need music to help you concentrate, choose something that’s not going to take over; if you need silence, shut the door and even consider ear plugs if necessary.
It goes without saying that if you want to work without distraction you need to switch off emails, Facebook, twitter etc. (ooh, I’ve just taken my own advice – although now I’m wondering what that last email notification that sprang up at the corner of the screen was all about) but I’m saying it again anyway. I do usually do this, and I have honestly found that I get twice as much done. If you can’t bear to be disconnected from the world then set a timer. I tell myself I’ll edit/write for an hour and then I’ll get up, stretch my legs, get another cup of tea or coffee, check my emails, let the dog out for a wee, and then I’ll close it all off again for another hour. It really works. If you can’t trust yourself, then there is a lot of technology out there that will do it for you; tools that will block emails, websites etc., and that will even restrict the amount of time that you can spend on certain websites. If you need to do that, then do it.
As I said before, take breaks. Lots of them. We can only concentrate for short periods of time, so set yourself a timer, focus for that half hour, hour or whatever you can manage and then walk away for a minute or two. It will refresh you, invigorate you and prevent you from banging your head against the keyboard.
Don’t be too hard on yourself, especially if you work from home all the time. I am so guilty of this – feeling bad if I stop to look at the news, or send a few tweets. But if you were in an office, with other people, you wouldn’t be at your desk for the whole seven or eight hours, head down, talking to no one. Working at home can be very isolating – you need to give yourself that time to interact with other people, even if it’s only by email, and to get out in the fresh air at least once a day (get a dog – it’s a great excuse).
Also remember that just because you’re working from home, you are actually working. As well as writing novels, I work as a freelance writer and an editor. When I’m working, I’m actually working. Just because I might be in my pyjamas, and I’m at home, and the dog’s lying across my feet, I am still working, still earning money. And yet I find, even though I’ve been doing this for quite a while now, that people think I can just leave whatever I’m doing and have great long conversations, or run errands for them. I’ve even been asked to go to someone’s house to wait for a parcel. You wouldn’t ask anyone else to take a day out of work to do that. I AM AT WORK!!! And, if you are writing, so are you. Be firm. You are not being selfish.
What do you do to overcome distractions? Do share your hints and advice here.
I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be.
Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.