6 Tips for Focusing When Writing

By Guest Author

Isn’t it ironic that I’m having a hard time focusing on this list of tips to help people focus? As I struggle to keep deadlines, I realize that my work environment is filled with distractions – whether it’s other people’s conversations filling my head or the flashing of my instant-messaging window telling me a co-worker has a question. If I’m going to make this deadline, then I need to buckle down. Here are six tips that I’ve learned help me focus on my writing.

1. Wear headphones. In a cubicle environment, conversations carry. It’s easy to lose your train of thought when your co-workers are yapping about last night’s “Bachelorette” episode. So slap on the headphones and hit Play on the “Inception” soundtrack or some classical – something you can get lost in. Try noise-canceling headphones to eliminate even more outside interference.

2. Turn off e-mail and IM. Normally, the first thing I do when I start working is open up my e-mail and my Instant Messaging client. It’s not long before friends and co-workers are hitting me up for conversation or questions. Since these forms of communication are so instant, people expect an immediate reply. Before long, an hour might go by. When you really need to crank out a project, turn on only Microsoft Word or whatever word-processing software you use – consider checking your e-mail as a reward for when you’re finished.

3. Close the door. Whether you work at home or in an office, shutting a door can be helpful – literally and figuratively. Keeping out distractions around you can also keep them out of your head. I’ve known work-from-home people who set up an area just for work – they don’t allow themselves to wander around or let their pets hang out. Sad, perhaps, but it’s easy to lose focus and concentrate instead on chores that need to be done or that puppy in your lap. A closed door means “do not disturb” – assuming people take the hint.

4. Work at your desk. Continuing along the lines of sticking to a formal work environment, I’ve found that working at my desk keeps me focused. I stare straight ahead at my screen and the wall behind it, attempting to maintain decent posture in my ergonomic chair. But if I take my laptop and retreat to the couch, all hope for meeting a deadline is lost. Now I’m comfy – I just might take a nap! The couch is in front of the TV – maybe I’ll just see what Oprah is up to! Oh, and if I take said laptop to a café? Way too much people-watching opportunity! Sitting at a desk establishes that I am working, and the sooner I finish, the sooner I can take my laptop to the couch and simultaneously surf and watch TMZ.

5. Work in chunks of time. One of the most helpful blog posts I’ve read recently is on WebWorkerDaily about working in “chunks.” Dawn Foster recommends breaking down your day into blocks of time dedicated to each task. That way you can keep track of where your time is going as you tackle each item on your to-do list. If you’re a person who works best under pressure, having deadlines sprinkled throughout your day should keep you focused.

6. Keep your cell phone out of sight. I think voicemail is one of the greatest modern inventions. I usually let phone calls go to voicemail so that I can listen to and process each person’s message before dealing with it. But a lot of people still jump on their phones the moment it rings, taking them away from their work. Even visual or vibrating notifications of incoming calls and text messages can be distracting. So keep your phone in another room or in your messenger bag and check it every once in a while.

About the Author: Jennifer Moline writes about small business, graphic design, printing and freelancing for the PsPrint blog, as well as for other graphic design websites.

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11 Responses to “6 Tips for Focusing When Writing”

  • Carly

    Fantastic tips, I especially like #5. Nothing is more motivating than knowing that I don’t have to write indefinitely and that the end is coming eventually! This was also discussed in a recent Harvard Business Review article/podcast which covered the benefits of working in 90 minute chunks and then re-energizing with a break such as a walk, talking with loves one on the phone and things like that. I go for playing with my puppy. Thank you for all the great articles and advice.

  • precise edit

    Thanks for providing these tips. A few work for me: 2, 5, 6.

    However, and this is a big however, 1, 3, and 4 would kill me. I need noise and stimulus around me to keep alert and to focus on the task, particularly when editing and proofreading (not so much when actually writing, though it doesn’t distract me).

    The door to the office is always open. The radio is playing throughout the office. And, when I really need to get work done, especially in the evenings when my energy level is flagging, I head to a local restaurant with a large, noisy bar area and big tables where I can set up my laptop and mouse. My productivity is very high under these conditions.

    So, here’s the point: What works for one may not work for all. Each person likely has a perfect mix of stimulus and isolation that helps him or her focus best, and the mix may change depending on the time, the task, and the day. The best advice I can give is to find the mix that works best for you, and then to create the conditions that make it possible.

  • NEB

    I definitely recommend Ommwriter to help remove distractions. It’s free to try and download at http://www.ommwriter.com/

  • Charlie

    This is a good mix of tips. I agree with precise edit in everybody has their own work style. I also find just pounding the keys and getting the ideas out in front of my eyes is good. Also reading aloud what I’ve written can trigger more ideas and filter out noise or distraction. Distractions can be worse than lack of idea or motivation when you’re writing.

  • Mary Hodges

    Helpful tips though I certainly wouldn’t want to use some of them – headphones would be no help, especially if I played music.
    Like the notion of splitting time into chunks – I sometimes set the timer on my cooker to allow me half and hour to write – otherwise I’d spend the whole morning on one sentence and neglect other tasks.

  • Lee Pound

    I like these tips although I might not use the headphones tip much. I like to write in quite with no disturbances and no distracting noise. In an inherently noisy environment, like an office, headphones might work. Closing the door (if one is available) and turning off the phone are great tips. Keep them coming.

  • Career Outlook

    Good tips to avoid distraction while writing 🙂

  • Rachel

    Bizarrely, I find that distractions can be helpful. In my experience, I work well when attempting to snatch writing time and deal with my 4 kids demands or arguments at the same time, the distractions serve to still the internal censor so I find I write reams in a short space of time. I need peace and quiet to edit though 🙂

  • Arun

    Well, although I found your tips interesting but I don’t know if it can help me dramatically.
    1.Music sometimes can distract you from working. Especially good songs pull back memory and we get carried away old thoughts.

    2.Email and IM. Yes! This is a good point as it distracts to large extent but again can’t ignore them completely as official mails keep pouring in.

    3.Close the door – I don’t think so.

    4.Work at the desk – No comments

    5.Work in chunk time and usage of mobile – this is definitely helping me to a great extend

    Good posting. Keep it up!

  • fashu

    IM and E-Mails are one of the major distraction to me whenever I am one or the other friend always ping me to just say howdy and some of them are so close that we can’t avoid them So I am invisible most of the time

  • Jam Mayer

    Great tips! Tip #4 might not work for me. I noticed I focus better when I’m at a cafe’ (with headphones of course). When I stop and rest, that’s when I people watch.

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