The Importance of Focus When Writing

Creating focus when writing

In this post, we’ll talk about how to cut out distractions and focus on your writing. Let’s get to business – there’s no time to waste!

Do Your Research First

If possible, try to do all of your research before writing. It’s very easy for a quick fact-check to turn into a 30-minute “lost on the Internet” session. Gather everything you’ll need to write before writing.

Prepare Your Workspace

Before you start writing, it’s helpful to remove all the physical distractions in your workspace.

  • Clear your desk of all papers, pencils, phones, Star Wars figurines, and other objects.
  • Turn off the television (including Netflix!) and turn off any music that has singing (lyrics can be distracting.) I personally like some light classical music. The Inception soundtrack doesn’t count – try Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi, or Debussy.
  • Turn your phone off or put it into airplane mode. If your phone is put away but still on, the sound from notifications and texts can be distracting. It’s best to just turn it off. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • Finally, consider turning off overhead lights and only using a lamp or candle to illuminate your writing space. I have personally found that the “smaller” the physical space that I write in, the easier it is to focus. If I can’t see the rest of my office, it isn’t there!

Optimize Your Time with Timeboxing and The Pomodoro Technique

What do these buzzwords mean?

Timeboxing is a time management strategy where you allocate a specific time period for a specific task. For example:

  • From 10am to 11am, you are allowed to only work on blog posts
  • From 11am to 12pm, you are allowed to only work on editing.

And so on. No website maintenance, research, social media, or any other tasks during these time periods.

Timeboxing is useful for getting a large number of unrelated tasks completed. Instead of doing a little bit of everything at once, tackle to-dos one at a time. Focusing on just writing for a brief time period can be very productive.

The Pomodoro Technique is a similar time management method. It works like this: you pick a time period (usually 25 minutes) and select a task to be completed in that time period. Start a timer and focus on nothing else for those 25 minutes. Once the timer goes off, take a brief break, then reset it and put in another 25 minutes of work. Rinse and repeat.

This cycle of focusing then relaxing is much more effective than just sitting down for write for hours on end.

Block Internet Access and Social Media Websites

Blocking your access to distracting websites can be immensely helpful for being productive. Of course, you could try to rely on willpower to keep your eyes off Facebook and on your writing, but it’s easier to just make it impossible. Willpower is a limited resource.

Remember: most popular websites have teams of people working around the clock to get your attention. Your productivity simply doesn’t stand a chance!

There are a quite a few programs available that can temporarily block your access to the Internet and/or specific websites. Here are just a few:

  • Freedom is an app for Mac and Windows that lets you block specific websites. You simply add lists to your blocklist and click “Start a session.” During your block period, you won’t be able to access the specified websites.
  • SelfControl is very similar to Freedom. It lets you block specific websites for a period of time. However, it’s a bit simpler than Freedom and doesn’t require you to create an account. Plus, it has a cool skull-and-bones logo!
  • Focus is a Mac app that runs in your toolbar. It blocks distracting websites (like social media and Reddit) on Safari, Chrome and Firefox. It can also block other Mac applications like Twitter, Skype or Mail.

Writing Programs to Use

Finally, you should pick a writing tool that helps you focus. I don’t recommend using programs like Microsoft Word or Google Docs – there are simply too many opportunities for distraction.

Instead, use a full-screen application with minimal features. Here are a few popular ones:

  • IAWriter is a minimal writing program for Mac and the one that I personally use. It supports basic formatting via Markup. Here is a guide to all of IAWriter’s features.
  • Q10 is a Windows-only minimal writing program. It has quite a few features, but keeps them all hidden from view when writing.
  • WriteMonkey is a Windows writing application with an extremely stripped down user interface.

Made it all the way through this post? Your focusing skills are impressive! Now it’s time to use them to write your newsletters.