I wrote most of this blog post in August 2021 and forgot to post it. Now here it is and it’s just as relevant!
In the age of social media, constant rolling news, and a shorter attention span, it can be hard to focus on the task in hand. This is especially true if you’re working alone. Whether you’re a self-employed business owner or a writer, you need to develop good concentration skills.
That fear of missing out when you switch off social media keeps you checking back on the slightest pretext. Because that is what social media companies want. They want you addicted.
As for rolling 24-hour news, that also generates a fear of missing out on what’s happening. The news agenda is driven by ratings as much as anything. The problem with news is that it’s often distressing and something you can do absolutely nothing about.
But it gets into your head and even when you’ve switched off the news, it’s still replaying on a loop. Making it hard to focus.
If you’re someone who enjoys interacting online and following news, it can be hard to switch off. But if you want to do your best writing or other work, you absolutely must conquer any distractions.
Checking in on Twitter every five minutes isn’t going to help you write a great novel. It will prevent you from becoming immersed in your characters’ world, which could lead to a surface-level story. Not something that will hook readers.
I’ve tried a few different options when it comes to increasing productivity and decreasing distractions:
- Temporary deletion of a Twitter account – you have up to 30 days to switch it back on
- Avoiding social media earlier in the day to focus on more important tasks
- Social media blockers – for hours, days, or longer
- White noise apps – including rain sounds, cafe sounds
- Plugging myself into headphones to cut off the outside world
- Using a Pomodoro timer to pace tasks and blocks of time
- Making a list of things to do and working my way through them
- Task batching – setting aside a block of time to work on the same kinds of tasks
- Task batching can be used to schedule social media posts before logging out for the day
- I’ve also been impressed with apps like UnDistracted and Insight by Freedom
- There’s also reading other writers’ work – I call it fuelling the tank because after enough reading, the motivation can be topped up to the point where you absolutely must get to your desk and work on your own story
- You can also use music to get you into the mood – by finding tracks that fit the theme or scenes of your book. Like your very own soundtrack album. Used enough, these can quickly get you into the right frame of mind
There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that taking an extended break from social media frees up more mental space. You can even block it for most of the day and only allow yourself a short break to engage with people you know there. Then hit the block again!
I mostly use Rainy Mood as a white noise app – I turn it up high to block out background sounds, include talk, and plug in my headphones. As an editor, I find this just helps me concentrate more. It’s just me, the manuscript, and the rain!
A Pomodoro timer allows for targeted break times. Then you can grab a drink, go to the loo, stretch, or just chill out for a few minutes before the next block of work.
Having a list of things to do at the beginning of the day is also incredibly useful. It allows me to use my time more strategically, ticking things off as I go along. I tried this a lot more in the last week or so, and finally tackled tasks I’d been putting off for ages.
Task batching is not something I’ve used so much as yet. If you don’t know what it is, it means putting the same tasks together into a batch rather than jumping around between very different tasks. So, if you have an editing business, you might put aside an admin day rather than try to fit in bits of admin around your editing hours.
Because jumping from one task to another one that is quite different can be less efficient. You’re pretty much all over the place instead of focusing on the same kind of thing.
While all of that helps with focus and avoiding distractions, you still have the problem of getting down to do some writing. Procrastination can be a terrible thing. Writers often sabotage themselves.
However, it can also take some time to build up your writing muscles. I personally found keeping a daily word count very useful while working on some writing of my own.
I originally wrote a draft of this post in August 2021. It’s now July 2022. I forgot to finish the post and found it while searching for another unpublished post.
Since I’ve written about social media, distractions, and apps that help a few times on this blog, it’s clearly something that concerns me! But when I was doing research recently on social media companies hiring attention engineers, I discovered just how disturbing these apps really are.
When I temporarily deleted my Twitter account recently, I suddenly found I had a lot more time on my hands.
People often despair that they struggle to find time to write.
But the truth is that often you need to claw that time back from social media and the 24-hour news cycle. The time is there, but you can’t see it. You’re on a hamster wheel of endless scrolling or checking your notifications.
An app like Insight by Freedom will tell you exactly how much time you’ve spent on various sites. It’s worth considering how much of that time could have been spent on writing or other things.
Otherwise, if you’re a fiction or memoir writer who is looking for feedback on your manuscript, you can check out my services page or contact me directly to discuss your project. You will find me at: firstname.lastname@example.org