Typing is the fastest way to write. And computers are pretty obviously necessary for a whole slew of projects. But, it’s hard to keep the momentum going at your 9-5, then to expect to come home and continue slaving away in front of a laptop. But, as aspiring writers, this is often the only writing time we get.
A few months ago, I noticed that I was not using my screen time productively — at all. I’d sit down with every intention of working on my novel or replying to an email I’d been meaning to, only to later realize that an hour had passed and I hadn’t accomplished the task at hand. I decided to shake up my writing routine and try some new things. Here’s what worked for me!
1. Leave your digital workspace clear.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opened my laptop with every intention of writing a new blog post or starting work on a new scene, only to be immediately sidetracked because the last thing I happened to be doing was derping around on 9GAG. It’s so much easier to resist the pull of distractions if they aren’t immediately staring you in the face.
So, take some time to save your work, bookmark whatever sites you need to, and then shut things down. It’ll give you a lovely, clean new workspace the next time you need to work — and you can choose to only open the programs or projects you really need to.
2. Know what you want to accomplish.
Whether the goal is to write a thousand words, log an hour on a freelance project, or write until the new scene is finished — having it in mind will help you get geared towards accomplishing it before you even start working. Don’t just have a vague idea; make a concrete goal that is specific and measurable. You need to set a task that is either done or not, so you have something to stick to.
It can be helpful (and rewarding!) to find a way to log the task and what you got accomplished. For freelancers, this is a no brainer (it’s a prerequisite for a paycheck), but for those working on projects for themselves, this can be harder to do. It doesn’t have to be high-tech or crazy (currently I check off a square of grid paper for every 100 words, which is weirdly satisfying), but it can help you keep the big picture in mind and work towards your overall goal.
3. Batch your tasks (and distractions).
Batching is an idea that presented in a lot of productivity books, and it has some good merits. Sometimes when you’re stuck in a rut, it’s to think, well I’ll just check Twitter really quick, or, I wonder if I have a new email. But by going back and forth to check email or Twitter, to log your time, or so on, can waste crucial minutes — minutes that add up to hours. And when it comes to finding the time to write, that’s a big enough challenge as it is.
Not only do they suck minutes, these distractors also suck your focus. It can take you much longer to refocus and set your mind to the task at hand. By putting all these time vampires together, their effect is minimized. Set a time to do all these things — it could be 10 minutes every two hours, or half an hour at your lunch break — and resist the urge to check them the rest of the time. It’s hard at first, but it’s definitely a habit worth creating.
4. Track/manage your time with apps.
Our hardware and software enable us to do awesome things and to work more efficiently. Computers are made for multi-tasking, but our brains? Not so much — especially when it comes to very cerebral or abstract tasks like coding, writing or crunching numbers.
Here are some apps and web browser plugins that help keep track of time and turn your computer into a single-task machine.
Rescue Time: This program tracks how you use your time on your computer, and analyzes it for you, helping you spot time-wasters and get an honest, real-world view of how you’re spending your time.
Stay Focused: A Google Chrome plug-in, this extension limits the amount of time you can spend on distracting sites. My husband, for instance, uses this at work to limit the time he spends on favorite sites to 20 minutes throughout the day — making sure they don’t eat into his work time or focus.
Think – This Mac OS app blacks out your screen, leaving only the task you are working on. You’ll be less likely to click away from your task if you can’t see icons or other windows in your screen’s background! Some word processors and other programs also include a feature like this — I’m currently using Scrivener, for example, and it has a “Compose” button that makes the document I’m working on full-screen, with the option to black out the background.
5. Step away from the screen.
Like I said, we can sometimes go looking for distractions when our brains are feeling tired because we’ve hit a wall or we are bored with the current task. Instead of getting pulled into something else, take a quick break from your screen. You might walk around and step outside for some fresh air. Plus, this can help lower your risk for health problems and get blood flowing where you need it most — your brain!
Sometimes it helps to just take the problem to pen and paper — something about working the problem out on a notepad makes your brain pay closer attention, and requires you to slow down as you think it through. Often this can help me find just the perfect turn of phrase I’ve been looking for, or help me see why what I’ve been trying isn’t working.
What are your biggest productivity-busters? Have anything you do that helps improve your on-screen focus?