How do you stay focused in a world of distractions?

Posted on 13 June 2014 by attica_writing

Like most people, I try my best to follow the rules on spelling, punctuation and grammar. But when it comes to choosing a writing environment – a very important consideration for good writing – I find this is dictated completely by personal preference.

While some people like to work in silence, others prefer to have music playing (like me). While some people prefer a clear desk (definitely), others are happy to work in mess. Some find caffeine stimulates productive writing sessions (absolutely), others don’t.

I’d be interested to hear what works for you – I bet it’s different from me. One thing I guarantee we will agree on is that an effective writing session requires an absence of distractions.

Good writing comes from a concentrated period spent thinking about the task at hand. Distractions break this period, letting the mind wander, which then requires time to re-engage with the subject matter. You get to the end of a two-hour writing session with only a handful of words on the page.

Even if you can juggle the demands of writing with a series of unplanned distractions, you will find – I’m sure – that while you might meet the word count, the quality of your writing diminishes and the number of mistakes vastly increases.

I’ve found a few ways to free myself from distractions in the office.

Sitting at a different desk or in a different office makes it harder for people to find me. Better still, leaving the building makes it nigh on impossible. Our local coffee shops, although busy, make for an excellent place to work. And as I glance round I spot countless others who have escaped there for the same reason.

If I can’t leave the office or I’m constantly asked who I am by people on an unfamiliar floor, I shove on a pair of headphones. They’re a good indication that I don’t want to be disturbed – often they’re not even on.

There are some other small tricks I use too. I switch off email notifications and computer sounds. I also recently found an airplane mode on my iPhone that stops all alerts (bar the calendar) at the touch of a button. I’m sure other devices have similar settings.

Distractions can never be eradicated completely though. The coffee shop might be too noisy, someone in the office will find my hiding place, and the phone at my desk will ring even if my iPhone is silent.

Planning to write at home can be a good option. But again, no matter how quiet your suburban cul-de-sac, one day builders will show up to work on the house next door.

Sometimes you need a more drastic solution to the incessant distractions. For me, this is writing on the Tube. Not that I’ll sit on the Circle line for hours on end perfecting pages of prose, but my commute of half an hour in either direction is just long enough to write a draft of 450 words or so.

I’m sure others have similar tactics for avoiding distractions and their own favourite place for writing – what are yours?

About the author

Nik Speller, Marketing Consultant
Nik is a freelance marketing consultant. He helps companies with marketing strategy, business development, market research, social media and design.

Nik also writes for a range of publications on food, fashion and marketing best practice.
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