How often do you find yourself not present with the task at hand? Distractions are everywhere, and more often than not, they arise when you have an article or story to write.
Statistics show that about 46.9% of our waking hours are spent thinking about something other than what we are working on. I think my number might be in the 60th percentile. My mind seems to race from one task to the next, especially when I have a lot of things to do and I can’t stop thinking about cat videos.
Interruptions make things even more difficult to focus on. On average, individuals spend about 11 minutes on a task before they are interrupted. While some of these distractions are important (not cat videos), it can take up to twenty minutes for us to refocus our attention back to the task at hand. Here are some great ways you can manage your day and get the most writing done.
Identify your top 3 priorities
At the beginning of your day, figure out all of the tasks you need to accomplish. Woof, that’s a long list. Take the top three things that need to get done and make a new list with just those items.
These are the things you’ll do today. Burn the other list in a ritualistic ceremony to the writing gods so they will clear your head of all distractions.
By making your priority list more manageable, you tackle the most important things without worrying about the other million little devils running around your head. Only after you finish your top three will the writing gods return your earlier sacrifice in the form of more work.
There’s no such thing as multitasking. If you want to fight me on this topic, angrily plead with the writing gods to take me as a sacrifice or just complain in the comments (and do not quote the “walking and chewing gum” line).
But seriously, multiple studies have confirmed this. Instead of getting more things done, you’re actually accomplishing less, stressing yourself out, and probably not getting the best writing out of yourself.
Switching back and forth between tasks is also a form of multitasking. There are a bunch of other consequences on our physical and mental well-being: negative impacts on short term memory, increased anxiety, diminished creativity, interruptions to flow, and increases in errors.
In the end, multitasking costs us time and our precious memories of the cat videos we just watched.
Schedule daily deep work
Deep work is defined as a set period of uninterrupted time spent on a task. Figure out a time of day where you are most productive and shut off all distractions.
If you can, close your door, schedule the time as unavailable, or hide in a blanket fort. You want to be able to get into a flow state. Close your email, silence your phones (even better if you don’t have it sitting out where you might be tempted), and use the next tip to help you stay on task.
Use website or app blockers
There’s a bunch available on your phone app store or desktop versions. I use Apple’s built-in timer and set limits on how long I can use apps. For example, I allow myself 15 minutes every day on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Yes, I know my job is technically running social media for my company, but I’m talking about personal things. Limiting my time on these apps helps me save those minutes for my boring evenings when I want to procrastinate writing.
I’m not sorry for bringing it up again and again. There are many science-backed reasons why meditation can help you clear your mind and focus on the task at hand.
Understanding when to recognize stray thoughts and refocus is a great way to stay present in your work. I use it to tame the homicidal maniac that lives in my head. I think the writing gods secretly feed him whenever I avoid writing to make him stronger.
Don’t work where you relax
And don’t relax where you work. I know I often spend my lunchtime reading and eating at the same time, taking advantage of any moment I can to catch up on articles and books.
I’m even more guilty of doing this at my desk because I love spending any free time at my day job thinking about my writing.
When you don’t separate your work area and your rest area, it can sometimes feel like you’ve been sitting at your desk all day… because you have!
Change up the scenery and eat underneath your desk instead. And please, please don’t write for hours in your bed. That place is sacred and you need to protect your sleep at all costs.
Declutter with a journal
Or a sheet of paper. Or a sticky note. Or one of those voice-activated, password-protected diaries (which I totally owned and you’re lying if you didn’t want one). Jot down all that clutter — which might help you prioritize your top three tasks — and clear your head.
Doing this at night helps you decompress after your day and prepare for the next. Doing it in the morning can help you determine your schedule for the day. Writing these things down also helps prepare you for sleep (so you can get better rest without the stress of thinking) and gear you up for the day by determining what you want to accomplish.
Pro tip: if you use your journal as a sacrifice to the writing gods once it’s full, you get one wish. I’m still waiting for mine to come true, though…
Schedule your day
If you don’t want to journal or use a magical, password-protected secret diary, use Google calendar to block out your schedule for the day. Having set times where you work on things while keeping a flexible mindset, can help you arrange tasks in a more fluid manner. Also, you totally look like a boss when you tell your cat you can’t play right now because he didn’t make an appointment prior.
Focus on quality work
Every time you sit down to start a task, make sure you are focused on quality. Things like multitasking, checking social media or email, and racing thoughts can keep you from doing your best work. By immersing yourself in your work, you can make sure you are putting your best self into your best work. Just like the quality jokes in this article.
Exercise in the morning
Shout out to Pam, because I see her walking in the parking lot all the time. In fact, I’m jealous that she takes advantage of little breaks to be active. My activity involves walking to the vending machine and back. I do get up at 4:30 every morning to complete a run before I have to leave for the office.
I’m not proposing you sacrifice sleep, but exercising in the morning has some great benefits. I’m less likely to skip a workout if I do it first, starting my run before my brain fully wakes up and tells me that running sucks.
I also find my mornings are much more productive — I complete bigger projects before lunch and have time to reassess my schedule after. If you can’t do it in the morning, find little bits of time when you can fit something in. Pam, you’re a rockstar and I want to be you when I grow up.
Start with your least favorite task
“I have no least favorite tasks,” I type with a smile just in case my boss sees this posted online. Once you make your list of top three priorities, rank them and start with your least favorite.
Once you get that completed, everything moves up from there (which is great for motivation while you write, not for motivation when you run). My day looks a lot brighter after I’m no longer in front of a camera recording a podcast. I know I always look skinnier in the mornings before I make all those “exercise” trips to the vending machine.
The hilarious part about writing this article is that not only was I interrupted a bunch of times, I was also asked to work on several different projects throughout. In addition, I found the research on this topic while I was eating lunch and definitely not contemplating another trip to the vending machine.
Obviously, I need to practice what I preach… or learn how to keep my boss distracted with something else whenever I need to get into deep work. Luckily, I’m not usually on a time crunch for articles like this so I have plenty of time to work on it before I post (unless you find an error somewhere, then I definitely posted this as a first draft because I ran out of time…).
I’m not always funny, but when I am, someone else probably told me to write it in. Get more value from my newsletter with updates on articles, books, and extras.