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How to Write 10,000 Words a Day, Part II (Luc Reid)


Yesterday, I posted novelist James Maxey’s response to the question “How do you write 10,000 words in a day?” Here are my own thoughts on the matter, from my experience writing that much and more. This was written before I read James’s take, but not surprisingly, it turns out that our responses have a lot of comment elements.

  1. Don’t expect the result to be publishable unless you have a lot of experience writing. That’s not to say that you won’t produce something that can eventually become publishable, or even that you’ll necessarily miss the mark even if this is your first attempt at long fiction, but if you are going to be miserable if your work isn’t terrific, you may want to think twice before trying to write at this speed.
  2. Be a fast typist. If you can’t type quickly already, you’ll want to do some typing tutorials to improve your speed before attempting 10,000 words in a day. In theory you can write over 1,000 words an hour if you only type 20 words per minute, but in practice you’ll need to do things like make quick fixes and notes, use the bathroom, and especially think. If you know you won’t be able to type at least 40 wpm, set your sites lower than 10,000 words per day. 5,000 words a day is still an amazing accomplishment, for example–and any personal record or completed piece is worth celebrating.
  3. Clear your schedule; remove all distractions. Don’t check e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter; turn off your phone; make sure you’re alone (or at least will be left alone); prepare food ahead if possible; take care of anything pressing that might otherwise interrupt you before you start.
  4. Have all the ingredients you personally need to drive the story forward. If you’re an off-the-cuff writer, that’s fine, but make sure you understand what you’ll need in terms of research, premise, setting, character ideas, plot ideas, or whatever else you use for starting stories. For instance, although I sometimes like to use outlines, if I come up with two interesting characters having an argument, I’m off and running: setting and plot can emerge for me out of those. Other people will need a few key scenes to shoot for, or will need to know the beginning and the ending. Yet others will need a full-blown outline. Know what you need. If you don’t have enough writing experience to know what you need yet, be willing to experiment, be comfortable with the idea that you may run out of steam, and keep a copy of The Writing Engine handy in order to use the troubleshooting section as needed.
  5. Don’t revise yet. If your story gets off track, you can go back as far as you need and restart from there (while still counting the discarded words in your daily count if you like), or you can go back and insert notes as to what future revisions you’ll need, but don’t try to go back and fix things: you’re likely to lose all of your momentum and begin getting bogged down in editing rather than creation.
  6. Have a vision. If you have a vision of what will make writing so much in such a short period of time wonderful for you (for instance, the excitement of having a finished novel draft, however rough, or exploring a story idea that you’ve been wanting to explore for a long time), you’ll have something to sustain you when you almost inevitably hit those moments of “This thing I’m writing is junk!” or “What am I doing this for, anyway?”
  7. Immerse yourself in the story. The more involved you are in the story and the more you care about spending time with the characters and “seeing” what happens to them, the more likely you’ll be able to keep up the pace, and the more likely you’ll be to create something your readers can be excited about, too. Just as importantly, immersion in your story is another way of saying that you’ve achieved flow, which means maximum productivity and high quality (see “Flow: What It Feels Like to Be Perfectly Motivated“).

Photo by lscan

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Annie Bellet on More Productivity Through Scheduled Breaks

Strategies and goals

Writer Annie Bellet, a fellow Codexian, recently offered a useful approach to improving productivity by planning breaks beforehand in her post “The Quest for Productivity.” By planning out work time in alternation with breaks, she finds she’s able to put off distractions and focus on the work at hand long enough to really get something done.

She also mentions writing in groups, a useful approach when it’s practical to increasing a lot of kinds of productivity. Some variations: members of a household scheduling a time to all do cleaning together (we used to do this in a cooperative community I lived in years ago; we called it “chore party”); folding laundry with others; scheduled office organization days for multiple workers to do together; timed write-ins; study groups.

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Meditation Mistakes

The human mind

You could make a good argument based on research that meditation is one of the best things we can do for physical health, mental and emotional well-being, and general happiness. Meditation focuses attention, relieves stress, increases the ability to cope with problems (including chronic pain), improves sleep, and provides a welcome reality check.

Popular, but not popular enough
So with that in mind, it’s a little surprising that so few people meditate regularly. According to this handy page from the National Institutes of Health citing a 2007 U.S. government survey (“Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults and children: United States, 2007“), only 9.4% of adult respondents had meditated at all in the last 12 months–and many of those 9.4% surely don’t meditate regularly. On the one hand, this is a huge number: for instance, based on that figure it seems likely that the great majority of U.S. residents, whether or not they’re aware of it, know someone who meditates at least every once in a while. On the other hand, meditation seems to benefit virtually anyone who gives it a good try, so the fact that so few Americans do meditate regularly is disappointing.

Some ideas as to why people don’t meditate
I imagine one major reason many people don’t meditate is that it still comes across as being foreign or New Agey, creating a barrier for people who aren’t comfortable with those labels. About those of us who have at least tried it, I began to realize recently when reading one woman’s account of her meditation experiences that many of us just don’t feel like we’re good at it.

That’s certainly been true of me sometimes. I’ll start meditating, and then I’ll have a thought about something, interrupting the meditation. Rather than letting the thought go, I sometimes tell myself to stop having thoughts, then chastise myself for getting into a mental conversation about thinking, then rebuke myself for chastising myself, then realize that the rebuke is a thought and tell myself to stop having thoughts. (I’m not even exaggerating.) While meditating, a person can easily feel distracted, taken by surprise by unexpected feelings or realizations, uncomfortable, unsure, or silly.

Why meditation problems are not a problem
The freeing thing to realize–or at least it’s a real help to me–is that there’s no need to be perfect at meditating for it to be helpful. It’s also likely that everyone else who learns to meditate has many of the same problems to one degree or another. Certainly, a monk who has been meditating hours per day for decades is probably going to be a lot better at the practice than you or I, but there’s no reason to believe such people didn’t originally have many of the same meditation issues that crop up for me or you, or that these issues completely prevent us from experiencing the benefits of meditation. Even poor meditation has a lot of good effects.

For more information on meditation, you may be interested in other articles on the subject on this site like “Strengthen Willpower Through Meditation” and “15-Minute Online Guided Meditation from Kelly McGonigal.”

Photo by JS North

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How to Interruption-Proof a Task

Strategies and goals

Some tasks require more focus than others. For instance, I can fold clothes while carrying on an involved conversation, but do much better writing these posts with few or no interruptions. Many more involved tasks can be done in flow, a state of full focus and maximum effectiveness.

The trouble with interruptions
The High Cost of Distractions” describes what happens to us when we’re interrupted at a task that requires our full attention. In essence, our brain has to completely reorient itself to deal with the interruption, then completely reorient itself again to get back on task. In the process, we also lose some of the material we have in short-term memory. These effects are less than ideal, of course, and I talk about some strategies for working with distractions in “Locations That Prevent Distractions“, “Handling Distractions by Managing Responsibilities, Devising Rules, and Erecting Barriers“, and “Dealing With Distractions You Can’t Prevent“.

And we can interrupt ourselves just as effectively as other people and things can interrupt us. The way the Web is often used is a very good example of this: we might be doing something important to us and hit a difficult spot or begin to feel tired, at which point surfing the Web or checking e-mail is an easy way to feel like we’re doing something–even though it’s actually derailing our efforts.

Mapping out the task
Apart from dealing with the distractions or interruptions themselves as described in the above articles, the other useful way we can help ourselves stay with a complex task is to have a path forward. This usually involves writing things down, which is admittedly easier if the task is something on the computer, for instance, rather than waterproofing a basement or teaching children to swim. There is a simple technique that doesn’t require any writing down, however, which I’ll mention in a moment.

Having a way forward means at least knowing the next step you’ll need to take, and sometimes means fully mapping the task out, which is to say writing out each task needed in order. Looking at the task with this kind of breakdown in mind uses a different way of thinking than plunging into the task itself. For instance, if you’re cleaning out your attic, you could just throw yourself in, or you could come up with a plan and follow that. The second approach sometimes makes it easier to get started and is a good way to help protect against interruptions causing too much trouble.

Such a map, even if it changes as you proceed, provides something to return to when an interruption is over and you’re back at the “now, what was I doing before all that?” stage.

The “next step” method
The alternative to mapping the whole process out is to always know the next step. This requires going through the task thinking “OK, right now I’m weeding, and as soon as I’m done, the next thing will be to put in the new tomato plants.” When you get to the tomato plants, as you begin you think far enough ahead to know what the task after that will be. Always keeping the next task in mind makes it possible to know what to do when the interruption is over, much like the map does. It helps to remind ourselves of the current and next tasks just as an interruption is presenting itself, as this makes it easier to recall our place when that’s done. Afterward, simply getting started on the next task is often all we need to get back on track and into the swing of things.

Picture by Yersinia

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Tobias Buckell Writing Motivation Interview, Part I: Desire, ADHD, Flow, and Going Public


Tobias Buckell is the author of numerous short stories and novelettes (many appearing in his collection Tides from the New Worlds); the “caribbean steampunk” novel Crystal Rain and its successors Ragamuffin and Sly Mongoose; and the New York Times bestselling Halo novel The Cole Protocol. He is also a well-known blogger, a past Writers of the Future winner, and a fellow member of the Codex writers’ group. Knowing both about his many successes and about the surprising number of difficulties he’s overcome, I asked to interview him about his writing and his motivation through hard times. This is part one of that three-part interview.

You’ve made mention in interviews of your Mom giving you a little box of words to play with and talking to you about reading when you were young. Has her influence, or the influence of other family members or teachers, especially influenced your desire to write?

Well, mom was instrumental in getting me to become such an avid reader. She taught me how to read at a rather young age, and since we didn’t have TV on the boat I grew up on, I turned to reading a lot. She also helped me out by not really putting much of a stop to what I read. She let me read whole books almost right out the gate.

The box of words obviously helped. I would sit and play with the words. Laying them out into sentences, like fridge poetry. All of that steeped me in words and books and what not from as early as I can remember.

But as for writing, I think mom always figured I’d be a librarian due to my love of reading all the time, rather than an actual writer!

Then it sounds as though the desire to write is a more personal thing. What attracts you to it? What’s so appealing about writing that you can go back to the keyboard day after day and get new words down?

I like living in imaginary worlds, or daydreaming. I daydream a lot. It might come out of my being ADHD, I don’ t know. Most people grow out of what they call ‘childish’ daydreaming. But I never stopped, I never let it get grown out of me. When I was a kid I loved to escape and read about other places and other worlds, and daydream about them. I just never stopped, and over time started mentally escaping to worlds I’d built.

I was the kid who played with Legos all through my life. It was cool as a kid, then as you hit older grades it stopped being cool and I kept playing with them anyway. And then somewhere in college it got cool again, according to others. I just never cared all that much. I liked making stuff up.

Your mentioning ADHD brings up an interesting point: you have attention-related problems, yet you have written successful novels–not just once, but repeatedly. On first blush the two wouldn’t seem compatible. Is it that you become immersed in your story, and under those conditions the attention problems go away? Or do
you work around them? Or something else?

ADHD comes with an either/or switch. You’re highly distractible in one mode, and then go into long bouts of hyperfocus in another. The hyperfocus is often what throws people from diagnosis, as ADHD people tend to get an intense bit of work done in that stage. However, it’s hard to manage, and once broken, you’re out of it.

For example, I just spent eleven hours working on a project yesterday, all of it straight through, because once I got everything loaded up into my head I was completely absorbed by it. That’s not unusual. [Related Willpower Engine article: Flow: What It Feels Like to Be Perfectly Motivated]

My writing habits tend to reflect my need for quiet and focused time. I write from midnight to four am. No one calls, emails, or interrupts me during that time. If I get into a focused mode, there are no interruptions, and if I can just latch onto something, I usually will go all night. It’s rather intense. [Related Willpower Engine article: Handling Distractions by Managing Responsibilities, Devising Rules, and Erecting Barriers]

ADHD also helps my creative side. Research is fun. Wikipedia is ADHD crack. I can click around, jump from subject to subject, and just absorb interesting stuff. It all bubbles up later. I’ll see a show about ships made of ice, and then something else equally weird, and it’s all just undirected exploration that feeds the loam of the imagination.

You mentioned in an interview a few years ago that you started your blog “as a way to initially force myself to write and submit short fiction by being in the public eye.” Has being so visible had a consistent effect on your drive to get more writing done, or to complete projects you’ve talked about?

Yeah, it was a sort of ‘perform in public’ sort of thing. I wanted to share my journey on the path to being published. Knowing that people were out there rooting for me already, before I was even published, helped me keep at it. [Related Willpower Engine article: Kaizan on Whether It Helps to Announce Goals Publicly

So is having people out there rooting for you helping you by encouragement? Accountability? Both? something else?

A little bit of both. The third leg to that stool is the fact that we know that people who write down their goals are more likely to accomplish a chunk, if not all, of those goals. Particularly if they are goals within your control (ie: you can’t say, I’m going to have four short stories published in major magazines this year. But you could say, I will write four short stories and submit them repeatedly to all the major magazines, sending them right back out if they’re rejected, this year). [Related Willpower Engine article: One Good Way to Judge Goals: S.M.A.R.T.] With the blog and living live, a bit, you get all three pieces: encouragement, accountability, and defined goals. It helped me a lot in the beginning.

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Getting Rid of the Little, Distracting Tasks

Strategies and goals

Here’s a quick and easy exercise: look at your task list (or if you don’t have your task list, just start jotting down or typing out a list of things you’d like to get done) until you find an item that will take five minutes or less to do–especially if it’s one that you really don’t at all feel like doing. You don’t have to do it now, so it’s completely safe to pick a really unpleasant one if you can find it.

Now ask yourself: how many times have I thought about/spent time avoiding/reshuffled or scheduled this particular item? If the answer is that you jotted it down on your task list very recently when you were in the middle of something else, or that you just thought of it, either 1) you’re doing amazingly and don’t need any further information on this subject or 2) you have other less-than-five-minute items you’ve actually been avoiding and need to pick one of those instead.

Now ask yourself, just for fun or any insight it may provide, has organizing/keeping track of/thinking about/avoiding the item taken more time and attention so far than actually completing the task would? Even if the answer is “no” in this case, might it be “yes” in other cases? It certainly is sometimes in my life.

An example: my shower hasn’t been draining well lately, something I noticed a couple of weeks ago. I usually shower when I’m gearing up to go somewhere and don’t have a lot of spare time, so whenever I noticed the shower problem, I kept thinking (for the first week) “I have to remember to put that on my task list.” To my credit, as soon as I remembered it anywhere near my task list I did write it down, and I didn’t even fall for the trap of writing down “clear shower clog,” which is vague and doesn’t have a specific action attached to it, but instead wrote down “Check to see if I have any drain opener.”

Then the task sat for another week.

This morning I was reviewing my task list and doing my best to adhere faithfully to David Allen‘s very good advice about not handling things over and over: anything that would take a few minutes or less, I did it immediately rather than shuffling it around. When I got to the “check for drain opener” item, I went and checked to see if I had any drain opener. Nope. I could have then written down the next item “Search the Web for clearing shower drain ideas,” but since that too would only take a few minutes, I did it. A few minutes later I was upstairs in my bathroom, prying the drain cover up with a flat head screwdriver and then extracting gobs of my (and I suspect, the previous resident’s) hair. As a public service, I did not take a picture of that to illustrate this post. I got rid of the hair, washed off the screwdriver, and was back at my computer in hardly the time it would have taken to make a cup of tea. Then I checked the drain opening item off.

This was not always the way I would have handled things. Often in the past I would have thought “No no: organize now, do later.” The change in thinking for me was in considering these tiny tasks part of the the organizing.

Keep in mind that even if the task is very trivial, if it’s got some of your attention, it’s a win to get it done right away. That’s because there’s a point at which a task, however unimportant, takes more of your time and attention not to do than to do.

There’s a more advanced and effective step beyond what I did, which would have been to provide a little extra time to get ready each morning so that I’d have leisure to deal with the shower drain immediately when it came up. Allowing a little extra time here and there allows us to pick off a lot of things as they come up, and makes it easier to keep up with things like quick answers to e-mails, doing a few stray dishes that are sitting in the sink, or making a brief telephone call–all of which offers a more productive and less distracted life. It’s like clearing a clog to let water flow freely. And fortunately, it only takes a few minutes.

Some related articles:

Photo by  ap.

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Clearing your mind by cashing in

States of mind

Our states of mind are often influenced–sometimes heavily–by the space immediately around us: our offices, workplaces, homes, cars, yards, towns, and so on. I talk about this a bit in my article How Tools and Environment Make Work into Play, Part II: Letting Your Environment Help You, and it certainly bears out in my own life: the massive peace lily in my office below the photograph my brother made when he was shooting in the subways of New York City; the additional focus I have now that there aren’t random papers scattered around my writing area any more; even the smile that comes to my face when I walk into my kitchen and everything is cleaned up and in its place. The effects will vary, but for most of us, physical clutter means distraction and annoyance.

Yet it’s often hard to get motivated to clear things out of our lives, especially if they seem to have some value–the old turntable that’s never used but that cost hundreds of dollars in its day, the suits in the closet that no longer fit, the old computer that still works but that has been shut down ever since the new one was set up …

Fortunately, there’s an easy and motivating solution to these problems: sell stuff, or give it away to someone who needs it. We live in a golden age of ways to get rid of stuff, which is lucky, since we also live in a golden age of being buried in our own junk. Here are some of the places I’ve been using lately to lighten up my life a little, after observing the more minimalist home of a friend I admire:

  • eBay: A great option if you can ship it affordably and it’s worth more than a few dollars. Not only does eBay provide good ways to sell your stuff, but you can also find out how much similar stuff has sold for lately and choose a sane price. Remember, the price is a matter of what someone else will pay for it now, not a matter of how much money you had to put into the thing. I’d suggest searching “completed” listings for real comparison prices, since current listings are just asking prices and current bids.
  • Craigslist: Free and local, good if you have something a lot of people want or that’s too bulky to ship.
  • Consignment clothing stores: Ideal for clothing that’s really worth something but that you won’t wear again. Selling things by consignment is more work than giving them away, though, so factor that in. There are also consignment stores in some areas for things like bikes, sporting goods, and household goods.
  • Freecycle: Great for things you’d love to give away when you don’t have anyone to give them to. Offer the stuff, get a taker, leave it outside the door, and it magically disappears to brighten someone else’s life.
  • Goodwill: This organization and ones like it (the Salvation Army, clothes donation bins in grocery store parking lots, etc.) are the perfect destination for things from your closet or dresser that you will never wear again, but that someone else would.
  • Recycle stores: Here in northwestern Vermont we have a wonderful, non-profit organization called ReSource that takes donations of everything from furniture to toys to appliances to building materials and makes it all available at low prices in their store. They also provide jobs and job training. Your area may have something similar. If not, I’ll try not to gloat about living in this part of Vermont (but sometimes it’s difficult).
  • Used bookstores: If you have material you’re not going to read again, go through your bookshelves and storage areas and box up some books to bring to a local used book store. You can also donate used books to library book sales and recycle stores.
  • Amazon and SecondSpin:  Second Spin buys used music and movies, and Amazon offers a marketplace for those things plus many other types of items. Second Spin will pay you up front, but often lower amounts, whereas Amazon is another consignment opportunity.
  • Garage sales: For anything of fairly general interest. Find a beautiful weekend day to spend outside chatting with your neighbors as you lighten your load of things you don’tneed. Also can be a good way to teach your kids about money. Anything that’s left, bring to recycle stores, Goodwill, etc. Try to store nothing that you have set out to sell: once you’ve decided it should go, it should go unless it’s going to be worth a lot more to you down the road.

Remember that there are virtues in getting rid of things other than the money. Garage sales, for instance, tend not to bring in a whole lot of cash, but they do pay off in getting things out of your way.

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Dealing With Distractions You Can’t Prevent

Strategies and goals

Two kids

This series of articles on distraction is adapted from my eBook on Writing Motivation. In previous articles, I’ve talked about the high cost of distractions and four tactics for reducing them: choosing location in one article and managing responsibilities, devising rules, and erecting barriers in another. This final article in the series covers the question of what to do when distractions can’t be prevented.

Distractions as opportunities
If an interruption makes it through despite your plans, you can sometimes turn it to your advantage. Once the distraction is taken care of, take a moment to figure out if there are any other distractions in the making—an impending bathroom break, a family member who just needs a minute of your time, that cup of tea you’ve been wanting—and take care of them in your post-distraction time rather than letting them spawn their own interruptions a little down the road.

An interruption can also be a useful moment to reflect on the direction the project is going, how happy you are with your progress, whether you have any nagging concerns you want to examine, and whether there are other steps you should consider, such as reviewing your work so far, brainstorming alternatives, or getting help.

Distraction pitfalls
However, it’s essential not to use interruptions as excuses to get off track. It’s generally a bad idea to decide that because you’ve been interrupted anyway, you might as well check your e-mail, fold a few of those clothes, or call to check in on a friend. If those activities really have priority, this is fine, but it’s easy for such things to serve as excuses to not get back to working on your goal after being temporarily diverted. Don’t fall into that particular trap.

Be sure not to use the possibility (or inevitability) of distractions as an excuse to skip working on your goal. Of course it’s more efficient to get things done when there are no distractions, but not only is some progress better than no progress, but the more you get used to making progress despite distractions, the better you’ll get at ignoring those distractions.

Responding to distractions
In responding to distractions, especially when frustration builds, it helps to have a planned response you can fall back on. This connects with some ideas discussed under the managing responsibilities topic. Having preset wording helps prevent frustration from determining your wording for you, and can help remind you of how to deal with the distractions. It can also minimize the effort (and attention) you need to invest in the distraction and sometimes provide a way to head the distraction off or cut it short.

Learning from distractions
If distractions teach you nothing else, they can often at least supply information about how to avoid them in the future. If you experience a lot of distractions or have the sense that some could be avoided with better organization, trying jotting down a list of distractions as they occur (after all, you’re already distracted) and then reviewing it in the near future to come up with ideas for heading those distractions off.

Photo by Shermeee

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Handling Distractions by Managing Responsibilities, Devising Rules, and Erecting Barriers

Strategies and goals

snowball_fightThis series of articles on distraction is adapted from my eBook on Writing Motivation. In the first article in the series, I talked about the high cost of distractions and mentioned four things we can do to minimize them. The second article delved into how location choice can help prevent distractions. The next article will consider some ways to deal with distractions that can’t be prevented, while this one covers three prevention tactics: managing responsibilities, devising rules, and erecting barriers.


Manage responsibilities
Managing responsibilities means using planning and negotiation to minimize interruptions. If you want to set aside time every night from 9:00 to 10:00, tell everyone you know that you’re busy during that time and would appreciate no phone calls or spur-of-the-moment visits. If you’re a parent and have a spouse or partner, offer to take full responsibility for the kids during certain periods in exchange for your spouse doing the same thing during your pre-arranged work times. Almost anyone who might either interrupt you or be a means to head off interruptions is a good person to negotiate with to help keep these times undisturbed.

Managing responsibilities may also mean finding ways to keep yourself from being distracted by other obligations. In my interview with her, writer and entrepreneur Nancy Fulda talks about the effectiveness of taking care of small, nagging tasks before tackling the larger, more consuming ones: “The problem with that was that all those unfinished tasks weighed on my mind.  It was like a mountain of work hanging over me, this big dreadful pile of Things That Needed Done, and it sapped my energy like a vampire … The thing is, that huge dreadful mountain tasks seldom took more than an hour to complete.”

Devise rules
Devising rules means thinking about possible interruptions and coming up with solutions to head them off before you even get started. The resulting solutions are ones you can adhere to without thinking, for instance “Never answer the phone while practicing” or “When decluttering, never stop to read anything: instead, put anything of real interest aside in a ‘to read’ pile.” Rules have to be clearly planned so that there is no thinking involved. If one of your rules is not to open your e-mail program while you’re working on your finances or not to watch TV until your housework is done, then you’ll know that you’ll need to be strict about those rules in order for them to work. When you have preplanned responses like this, dealing with the situations you’ve anticipated does not take a large amount of attention, and therefore doesn’t require the wholesale reorganization of thoughts a full-fledged distraction would have forced.

My article on the value of rules in motivation is here

Erect barriers
Erecting barriers means taking physical steps to guard your work area from interruptions: a sign on the door saying “Please come back after 2:30 PM,” unplugging your phone or your network cable, putting on music that you work well to, and using earplugs are all ways to use barriers to temporarily shield your environment from the infinite distractions of the outside world.

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Locations That Prevent Distractions

Strategies and goals


This series of articles on distraction is adapted from my eBook on Writing Motivation. In the first article in the series, I talked about the high cost of distractions and mentioned four things we can do to minimize them. This article follows up by discussing the first of those four, choosing your location. 

Location, location, location
To the extent that you have some control over the times and places when you are focusing on a goal you’re trying to achieve (like getting your finances in order, learning a language, or writing a book), good choices of working environment will help you work better and with fewer interruptions.

We don’t always consider the power a location can have to minimize distractions, but once we do, the kinds of locations are fairly self-evident: favor locations where there will be few distractions, and try to avoid places where you might run into friends or be expected to respond to people or events. The most accessible and convenient locations–your home or usual workplace–are often the most vulnerable to distractions because people will expect to find you there. But places where you’re less likely to be distracted, like a friend’s spare room or the library (when those kinds of places are options in the first place), often involve extra time and effort to reach, and therefore may discourage work on your goal or cut into your productive time.

While there’s no way around being bound to a location for some efforts, like decluttering, avoid being completely dependent on one location if possible: the more times and places you can use to work toward your goal, the more progress you’re likely to make.

To the extent that you have a choice, try to prefer working on your goal at times when you’ll have minimal distractions, as long as those times don’t offer other problems—for instance, late at night can be a peaceful and productive time to work, but not if you’re always exhausted by then, or if it will have a serious effect on you getting enough sleep, or if  your work would wake somebody up.

Sometimes it’s possible to get more uninterrupted time to work on your goal by shifting around more interruptible activities, like housecleaning. 

Mental work environment
Your mental work environment is also a key factor. You can prepare your brain by committing to the project you’re about to work on and setting a minimum amount of time to focus on it. Avoid shifting around among different kinds of tasks within one work session when possible–for instance, working a little on your business plan, then answering some correspondence, then coming back to the business plan–since when you make these shifts you’re effectively interrupting yourself.

In the next article in this series, we’ll dig into the other three strategies for minimizing distractions: managing responsibilities, making rules, and erecting barriers.

Photo by girolame

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