Oct 01

Dealing with Distraction

In a recent post, J. Leigh talked about reasons why we distract ourselves from our work — why do we waste time when we know we should be productive? The root of self-distraction tends to be fear: fear of failure, fear of criticism, fear period. Sometimes, self-distraction happens because we’re overwhelmed and we just don’t want to face the fact that we don’t have a freaking clue how to accomplish our goals. But what about those times when you are all set to focus and can’t because your environment isn’t supportive? How do you effectively deal with these distractions so that you can be productive?

1. Control Your External Environment

I got an email from Rebecca Matter of AWAI this morning that spurred me to write this post. She cites to an article in The Wall Street Journal and notes this:

According to The Wall Street Journal, creative workers can be interrupted or interrupt themselves as often as every 3 minutes. …

The article then went on to say it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back on task.

If this is you, you’re losing about 40% of your productive brain power just dealing with interruptions.

I’m extraordinarily familiar with writing under the duress of distraction. (I’ve called myself a “spare moment author”, and that’s really the truth). I’m a homeschooling mother of six kids. It’s a very busy life…and full of noise and activity pretty much constantly. Carving out quiet space for creative work is often a huge struggle, and many times I can only manage tiny chunks of time — it’s rare when I have an entire hour to myself to focus on my writing. And even when I get the time, I’m often so buzzed from the frenetic pace of my life that I can’t focusIt takes me 10-15 minutes just to clear my head enough to get down to the work I’ve set for myself.



Here’s how I try to protect those chunks of time by controlling my external environment:

  • Keep my office space ready to go — laptop charged, desk decluttered as much as possible
  • Turn off the internet (or go somewhere where access to WiFi is a challenge)
  • Use natural quiet times in the rhythm of my family’s life as much as I can — afternoon nap time, early morning, etc.
  • Deal with other environmental issues before I sit down. I have a hard time working if my kitchen isn’t clean. That’s just me. So I try to address this before I get to work.
  • Get out of the house and work elsewhere when I really need to focus. There are just some things that, right now, won’t change. If I need more than 45 minutes – 1 hour for a project, I have to go somewhere else.

Interestingly, when I leave my “home office” to work somewhere else, my productivity easily triples. It’s just a fact. I’m spending more and more of my writing time out of the house now because I can get so much more done. Sometimes the best way to control your external environment is to completely change it!

Bottom line: you have to know yourself before you can make changes in your environment that will support productivity. Understand what distracts you and find ways to limit its impact.

2. Control Your Internal Environment

Your external environment can impact your productivity, but in many ways your inner landscape is even more important. Go back and read J. Leigh’s post if you haven’t done so already and you’ll see what I mean! Here are a few ways to make sure that your inner environment is optimized for creative work:

  • Know what you’re going to write when you get the chance. Have a plan. Jot down a few notes as you end your writing session about what you’ll do during your work time the next day.
  • Deal with inner issues like lack of confidence or other stressful situations before you sit down to write
  • Get 30 minutes of exercise (or at least go outside and breathe fresh air and soak in some sun)
  • Nourish yourself with a good diet, high in protein, and drink lots of water

We joke a lot around here about the “Muse” — but there’s something to this. Your inner environment needs to be free to be creative. If you’re shackled by emotional stress, sluggish brain fog, or some other internal distraction, your productivity will crater. Know what your internal triggers are and find healthy ways of coping with them so that you can be free to let creativity take the wheel!

3. Go with the Flow

Beating your head against the wall won’t get you anywhere ultimately. Make peace with things in your environment that you can’t change. I don’t have a writing space like some of the gorgeous ones on my Pinterest board (which you can check out here if you’re interested)…at least, not yet.

A lovely writing space!

A lovely writing space!

Since I’m a very visual person, that’s not actually as trivial as it seems. I feed off of beauty and order in my environment…but I have had to learn to deal with the fact that much of my life is just chaos. No matter how hard I try to fight for order, I live on the ragged edge. And I’m constantly working on accepting that.

Learn what you can change and what you can control, and learn to leave the rest alone. Make small changes now that will have a big impact and keep a watchful eye on the rest. Sometimes timing is everything, and giving circumstances a few weeks or a few months will open up possibilities for real change.

And change can be a scary thing sometimes. We don’t want to let go of the status quo because our fear of the unknown makes us want to just hold on. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, right? Wrong. Not always. Not when you can make measured changes that are consistent with who you are, with your goals, and with your individual life circumstances…and that will be positive for your life and your happiness.

So, if you’re a distracted creative type and you’re not sure how to focus, do one thing today to make a positive change. Take a walk. Shut off the internet when you sit down to work. Make a plan for the next day’s work. Small changes can shift your entire universe!

Let us know in the comments what changes you’re going to make to help you be more creative!

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