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Limit Distractions: A Writer’s Guide To Minimize Multitasking

distracted writer
Image courtesy of Maggie Smith / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As a former business student I have always been encouraged to take on as many tasks at the same time as possible. It was called multitasking, a valuable skill to list on a resume when applying for jobs right out of college. The ability to talk on the phone, while crunching numbers in an Excel sheet, while typing an email, while researching on the internet, while twirling your pen, while constructing the perfectly shaped paper plane was applauded and recognized throughout my business training and career.

Then I started writing.

The first legitimate story I ever wrote was a short 500 word children’s story assigned in a writing class I was taking at the time. Needless to say it took me about a month to complete and my teacher’s critiques were far from what I expected. I figured out an important lesson, that every writer figures out very quickly, it takes forever to write.

In business school we were able to put together a credible presentation within a couple hours along with a paper that might take a couple of days depending on how many people were working on it. Bing. Bang. Hand it in and hope for a good grade.

With writing things were different. I learned that distractions and multitasking often led to a very slow work process. Half the time I would end up with a pile of garbage that I didn’t even want to read. I found that writing required an insatiable amount of focus and willpower. I discovered a handful of things during my early days of writing that need to be put into place in order for my writing to have any impact on the world.

  • A schedule is an absolute must – My Google Calendar is my bible now and even the small things, like dinner or going out with friends on a Friday should always make it onto the calendar.
  • Writing blasts – This is something I took from my old football strength and conditioning coach. We would do short 20 second, high-intensity workouts and then take short breaks, instead of trying to run a marathon everyday. Why not apply this to writing? Block out all distractions, no matter what they are for 10 or 15 minutes a day, then take a break to watch your favorite TV show, hang with the family or read a book.
  • Rewards are the best – This ties into the writing blasts, but one of my favorite leisure activities is to plop down on my Lazy-Boy, crack open a beer and watch sitcoms. The only way this happens is if I type for at least a half hour everyday. Once this is complete I am free to reward myself however I please.
  • Block out all computer distractions – I’m a sucker for Facebook, a sucker for checking my emails, a sucker for reading other blogs and a sucker for just about every other random thing you can do on the internet. If this sounds like you, checkout ZenWriter. Like bug spray, it’s a repellent and not a deterrent, but I was amazed at the software’s ability to shut out all my usual computer distractions and allow me to focus on writing. Not to mention Zenwriter has some very calming music. My favorite part is still the sound of typewriter keys as you type (it makes me feel like I am sitting in a forest constructing a masterpiece.)
  • Children distracting you? – I do not have children myself, but I asked my sister Megan what allows her to focus on her writing (as well as grading papers for her English class). She explained to me that a surprise book or toy usually keeps her kids at bay for a little while. She of course does not want to spoil her kids with presents everyday, so she uses a combination of these tactics: sending them off to play with friends, setting up a home office and the kids know when the door is closed they should not come in, her husband, parents, brothers (me) and sisters taking care of the kids for a while, and the occasional writing through the chaos no matter what is going on. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how you parents do it, but I respect you and will never claim to know the solution to writing with children.

I’ll tell you one thing, writing is tough with all the distractions of today’s world. Although business school had it’s all-nighters and caffeine fueled weeks, writing requires a form of self-discipline that no school can teach. Do I slip up quite a bit? Yes. Is this the perfect plan for eliminating all distractions? No. But is there ever going to be NO distractions? No. Try some of these techniques out and let me know if you have any to contribute.

See ya next time…

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About Joe Warnimont

I am a writer, marketing expert and adventure seeker. I help people write, market their writing, live truthfully and embrace their lives through creativity. You can find me riding my bike around the streets of Chicago. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.

  • http://cricketmuse.wordpress.com cricketmuse

    Thanks for the follow. I’ve been seriously writing since 1988 and all your suggestions are spot on and have been used–except special programs. Dedication, discipline, and tenacity are my bugspray (DDT). Enjoyed your insights.

  • http://nancyloderick.com Nancy Loderick

    Thanks for the follow. I have rediscovered my love of writing; I used to love to write back in college, but years spent writing financial reports put a damper on that. Once I left the finance industry, the love returned

    I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    Happy blogging!

    Nancy

    • Joe

      Hi Nancy, thanks for the comment! Your finance sounds like my marketing. The business world seems to pull us away from our creativity!

  • http://devonellington.wordpress.com/ devonellington

    Totally agree. You have to be RUTHLESS about protecting your writing time, and also making sure that the most creative, energetic time of day is the time you can spend writing.

    I believe in doing things mindfully — if the TV is on, I watch TV. I don’t have white noise on in the background. Focus on what you’re doing and do it well.

    Multi-tasking, too often, is part of what I called “forced busy-ness”, when someone wants to look and feel productive, but really isn’t doing all that much.

    Thanks for checking out my blog!

    • Joe

      Forced busy-ness. That’s perfect. Sounds like me when I’m clicking from tab to tab on my computer screen, opening up blogs, Facebook, and Excel while watching a movie out of the corner of my eye. There’s never much going on in my head whenever I do that!

  • http://whitemochanovelist.wordpress.com whitemochanovelist

    Love this article!!!! :)

    • Joe

      I’m glad you liked it. Thanks for the kind words!

  • http://hawleyville.wordpress.com hawleywood40

    Great post! The commenter who said “you have to be ruthless about your writing time” is spot on, and your advice for doing just that is solid. I actually completely “un-multi-tasked” my life to finish the first draft of my book. I took several months off of blogging, reading blogs and social networking and just WROTE. I don’t necessarily recommend that to everyone, but because I have such a “multi-taskful” and extraverted day job, it was something I had to do if I ever wanted to finish.

    • Joe

      It’s a problem we all have to fight against. I for one need to get rid of my blog reading addiction. Congratulations on finishing the first draft of your book!

  • http://chalkthesun.wordpress.com Julie Christine

    So delighted to discover your blog, Joe – and many thanks for following mine. Your admonitions are spot on- I will bookmark this when I feel my will wavering.

    • Joe

      Thanks for the pleasant words Julie. I’m excited to checkout what more you have to say on your blog!

  • http://dinosnorous.wordpress.com dinosnorous

    Writing blasts! That’s the only way I can write! I have no clue how Fitzgerald and Hemingway locked themselves in rooms and pounded out books and short stories to seemingly no end (although, naturally, bathtub gin was probably a large part of that). This was fantastic to read. Made me want to write something right now. So I decided to write a comment. Blast! Nailed it.

    • Joe

      We have to find someway to write when we run out of gin! No chance I could write like those guys, so I just turn on the timer and blast away…then it’s off to my sitcoms. Have to reward yourself somehow.

  • http://joshuarfranklin.wordpress.com Writer in Training

    Great post! I’m taking it all to heart.

    • Joe

      Thanks for checking it out!

  • http://dairyairhead.wordpress.com dairyairhead

    I definitely get into a pattern where I go “oh, i’ll write in 15 minutes, after I do this..” and then it’s always 5 more minutes after that and then I never get to writing. These are some good tips for putting writing first, reward after.

  • http://helenafairfax.com/ Helena Fairfax

    Hi Joe, good to meet you. That’s a great post. I am absolutely stuck in my writing at the moment, and doing ANYTHING not to write. Checking e-mails and Facebook is such a distraction! I’ll try and take some of your tips on board. Hopefully tomorrow will be more productive! Good luck with your blog and your writing

  • http://thehouseilivein.me A Journal of Life Pursued

    Good post, Joe. Multitasking to me seems more an excuse for lack of focus than a worthy goal. It seems the bussle of modern existence is somehow justified by the notion of doing many things at once. I am reminded of the zen admonition: When doing the dishes, just do the dishes. Your site is terrific! (And thanks for stopping by “…the house I live in…”)

  • http://adventuresabovetheaether.wordpress.com winfieldstrock

    An easy lesson to forget but this post helps reinforce the habit I’ve slipped out of lately. One intrusion I allow because it helps me focus and ignore all else; music. But even this needs to be stripped of distractions; no vocals, strictly, plainly, music only.

  • storytellerrabbit

    Hi, thanks for the follow :)
    Your blog is very inspiring, since writing is my hobby and I’ve got so many tasks that I have to do everyday

  • Donald Mac

    Scheduling! Absolute must, as I’ve been learning. Love the blog, keep it up.

  • http://www.kimberlybeaman.com Kimberly Beaman

    Thanks for the writing tools and information on how to be less distracted. As a mom of a baby, and mulitasker; I found this information be very useful. Thanks again!

  • http://rightdownmyalley.wordpress.com mogispie

    Very good advice, I loose my trail of thought so easily that when I write and someone speaks to me I sometimes snap at them! I’m also a mom of a 1 year old. so when I get 15 minutes to write I want no disturbance. Thanks again, you’ll be on my ‘watch list’

  • lindseygendke

    Hey, thanks for the like on my blog! I was glad to find this post, as it rings so very true! I appreciate the advice about having a schedule; I have just been implementing this for myself. Also, the 15-minute blasts is a great tip. In graduate school I was told something similar, but the writing instructor advised 45-minute blocks, with 15 minutes rest. She advised three of those blocks a day (this was specifically for those of us writing theses and dissertations, but the concept is the same one you bring up). I find that when I start writing, even if I don’t feel like it, it doesn’t take long for me to get going. Starting is the thing! And then, yes, limiting distractions!

  • jzrart

    Thanks for following my blog. You’ve got a great site here. Love the tips.

  • http://meliaalexander.wordpress.com Melia Alexander

    “. . .writing requires a form of self-discipline that no school can teach. . ..” — Isn’t *that* the truth! With all the many ways to capture a writer’s attention (mine), it’s so easy to get sucked in, huh? I’m a great believer in daily goals — the reward for meeting them is being able to indulge in the distractions! :-)

  • http://sidewayscrayon.wordpress.com Sideways Crayon

    Thanks for checking out Sideways Crayon – I was thinking about taking a writing course but figured I’d just start writing first & the above completely resonates with me!! Thanks

  • http://limbofthenation.wordpress.com Andy

    Thanks for the follow! I hope you’ll enjoy my adventures.

    I really enjoyed this post. Quality, poignant advice. I’m quite the multitasker, but I’m quickly realizing that it’s impossible to do and create anything worth reading. And scheduling is huge with me. A music professor used to tell me about practicing when I would go to a lesson with some excuse about not finding time: “You never find time. You make time.”

    Thanks for this.

  • http://amibloggingnow.wordpress.com dubiuousbyhabit

    I passed this on to some of my writerly friends and I hope they find it as useful as I did. I’ll have to try some of these methods; I have fairly acute adult attention deficit disorder, and so I get this horrible tendency to stop writing in the middle of a sentence (or even a word) to pull of Facebook or gmail or some blog or some webcomic. Thanks for the advice and for helping remind me that I’m not the only one who has these issues.

  • cortezsharkman

    Thanks for following Stepping into the Water. Writing every morning before I get ready for work (5:30-6:30) is how I avoid distractions; everyone else is asleep!

  • nancyrae4

    Love the tips. Peace and quiet are so important to a writer, and learning to demand (nicely) you privacy is a skill we all need to perfect! Very well written blog.

  • Lori Fontanes

    Writing is not just what you do when you’re typing, it’s what you’re thinking when you’re not in front of a screen. (PS, thx for the follow!)

  • http://dangerousdaydream.wordpress.com dangerousdaydream

    Great tips here, I am such a sucker for Facebook too. I’m downloading ZenWriter as I type -thought I would check it out and see if it can curb my procrastination! Thanks Joe :)

  • http://theletterdrawer.wordpress.com The Epistolarian

    Ugh, couldn’t have said it better myself. Writing is hard work and takes focus and time. I have two small children (who start the new school year here in Costa Rica TOMORROW – praise all that is holy) who know somehow the very moment I open up wordpress or sit down to Word… it’s uncanny… and they pounce, become the highest maintenance versions of themselves possible. I can’t multitask anyway, I CERTAINLY can’t do it while writing.

  • http://folsoms93.wordpress.com April Moore

    Great advice. ZenWriter sounds interesting. Usually, I’ll just turn off my wireless, but of course, it’s still too easy to flip it back on. I think pure dedication and commitment to the craft of writing is probably one of the best ways to combat distractions. (easier said than done)!

  • preetispace

    Great article. And thanks for the follow, Joe.

    (P.S. Having read your post, I just might give ZenWriter a try! :) )

    Keep the good stuff coming!

  • https://bingewriting.wordpress.com/ Mahima

    You write amazingly well and have so many awesome ideas. Keep them coming, its really inspiring and refreshing and not-stereotypic. I had fun reading your stuff and I’m definitely going to implement some of these ideas. Happy Writing!

    PS: Thank you so much for the follow.

  • http://disregardtheprologue.wordpress.com KSparkes

    I just wrote a long comment about how I minimize distractions (or don’t) with two kids around… and lost it. There was more, anyway- I’ll put it in a blog post next week. (Writing through the chaos is big, as is volunteering to take the car in for repairs)

    It’s amazing what word blasts can do for productivity. I have trouble really focusing for longer than 10 or 15 minutes at a time, even without distractions, so if I can trick my mind into actually shutting out the world for that long, it’s ideal. even better if there’s a friend to compete with!

  • BigDenis

    I think this web site holds some very great information for everyone. “Drunkenness is temporary suicide.” by Bertrand Russell.

  • Lani Wendt Young

    I have five children ranging in age from 17 down to 5yrs. Ive been a full-time mum for the last nine years and writing freelance stuff for newspaper and short fiction – everywhere that I could steal a spare minute. I wrote my first two books in twelve months, usually sitting at the kitchen table – as a constantly sleep deprived (and slightly demented) woman and the whole time, I longed for the day that I could be a “full-time writer”.
    Five months ago that dream came true as my books were earning a decent enough income that my husband could cut back on his hours. We got me a proper office and he took over as the full-time parent. We calculated that my fulltime writer status meant I would CHURN OUT books galore. Let the unbridled creativity begin!
    Ha. (You just know what Im going to write next dont you?! LOL) I have since found that now I have 8 hrs a day to write in….i dont write for 8hrs. Instead, I do lots of very important things on social media…and my bk busn accounts…and re-arrange my office decor…and read a book so i can get creatively refreshed. For me, having TOO MUCH housework/children’s noise/family mess suffocating me was more conducive to productivity. So yes, your post on ways not to be distracted is very timely for me. Im totally going to check out Zenwriter, thank you!

  • http://rachelsbooknook.wordpress.com Rachel

    Thanks for visiting my blog. I’ve been having a look around your blog and have found it very useful. Full of great tips for writers. I do tend to get distracted by facebook, blogs and emails, however I make sure I get some quality writing when my kids are in bed fast asleep. After all the housework’s done and the lunches are made of course!

  • http://anunreadwriter.wordpress.com Brian C Hall

    Hey, thanks for following me. You’re the first one so far and I’ve reciprocated. Great post, I’m downloading ZenWriter right now. Hopefully it helps. I always have trouble with distractions. lol

    Thanks again. Have a good one.

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    Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Thank you,
    However I am experiencing issues with your RSS.

    I don’t understand why I cannot subscribe to it. Is there anyone else getting similar RSS issues? Anyone that knows the solution can you kindly respond? Thanks!!

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wclqm2ntkUc Dead Space 3 Trainer

    Hey very nice blog!

  • http://yourdailydoseblog.com Janice

    That Zen Writer program is pretty cool, I never heard about it before.

    I don’t write as a profession but I’ve always wanted to write something for fun — a complete story. I’ve started many and haven’t finished them. Perhaps that’s another blog post topic. But I think distractions are part of the problem and not knowing how to create that productive space to write in. Thanks for the tips :)

    And also thanks for the follow on my blog! I was wondering if you would mind passing on a short description of your blog (10 words or less) that I could add beside your name/blog URL on my readers’ page? Thanks so much! :)

    • http://www.writewithwarnimont.com/ Joe Warnimont

      Hi Janice,

      I’m glad you like Zen Writer. Certainly a program that helps get rid of distractions.

      As for a blog description, here you go:
      Writing, marketing, living truthfully and embracing your life through creativity.

      Keep in touch!

  • http://tt.subys.com/172 How To Make A Blog

    Hey! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay. I’m absolutely enjoying your blog and look forward to new
    updates.

    • http://www.writewithwarnimont.com/ Joe Warnimont

      Yes of course, my Twitter handle is @writewithwarnie

  • http://evocativewordsandsounds.wordpress.com/ Emelyne

    Thanks for the follow :) I really needed to rad this tonight. I am a YA and children’s fiction writer and besides that I do freelance writing and manage 3 different blogs. I have eliminated FaceBook but I still have distractions in the form of email and YouTube and even Spotify. I am managing now but using writing as my distraction (juggling several projects daily) and listening to calming music.

  • sit

    hey Joe! thanks for the visit to my blog, and thank you for sharing this, i do need disciplines tho writing is just a hobby, i need to improve it still.

  • http://www.hitme3aonzo2f.com Melodee Fitzgerald

    I just want to tell you that I’m very new to blogging and actually savored you’re web-site. Probably I’m going to bookmark your website . You amazingly come with perfect posts. Appreciate it for sharing with us your blog.

  • http://www.jhvb.transportzp.pl/9493-site-Reklama.Warszawa Agueda Flower

    I really like your writing style, good information, thanks for posting :D. “Every moment of one’s existence one is growing into more or retreating into less.” by Norman Mailer.

  • Jessica Cropper

    Yes you are completely right – the internet presents a whole host of distractions, and so I find that when I am trying to concentrate on writing and writing alone (and not research) the best strategy is to use the good old fashioned pen and paper. Turning off computers and laptops and iPads and phones for half an hour and doing a burst of writing really does free up your creativity, and the added bonus is when you go to type it up, the editing is also being done, in effect killing two birds with one stone.

    • http://www.writewithwarnimont.com/ Joe Warnimont

      Good point Jessica. It also a nice change of pace to write with pen and paper. Breaking up the monotony helps me think more clearly. :)

  • http://thejourneytosalvation.wordpress.com Suhailah

    Thanks for visiting my blog:)
    My distractions are usually my studies and also my other much-loved hobby, reading. So I usually write on bus journeys, my favourite time to think and contemplate!
    I love writing but find it hard to be organised.
    Any tips?
    Thanks!

    • http://www.writewithwarnimont.com/ Joe Warnimont

      Hi Suhailah,

      I think this post might help you out a little bit http://www.writewithwarnimont.com/crushing-writer-anxiety.

      However, I am also going to do another post that focuses on organization and finding time to write. I will let you know when this is up!

      • http://thejourneytosalvation.wordpress.com Suhailah

        Ooo..looking forward to that!:)
        Thanks!

  • http://www.chynateresatrible.wordpress.com Chyna

    Great post! I am currently being distracted by your page and all the lovely blogging content… I’ll count this as my reward time after half the day spent researching/writing for my masters thesis :)

    P.S. Thanks for the follow!

    • http://www.writewithwarnimont.com/ Joe Warnimont

      Thanks for checking out my blog Chyna. Sorry for distracting you! :) Good luck with the thesis.

  • Almostwritten

    Great post, thanks for sharing it! Very recognizable. I find myself actually looking for distractions when I’m feeling insecure about my writing though. You are so right, it takes a lot of discipline to not allow yourself to do that. :)

    • http://www.writewithwarnimont.com/ Joe Warnimont

      This is true. I tend to watch TV when I am feeling insecure about my writing, but creating an organized plan usually helps out!

  • http://wp.me/p2yU8b-4V Cheryl Crockett

    For parents with children, I would suggest activities to get the whole family to develop each members’ own writing habit. For younger children, it may mean coloring in the shapes of letters. Elementary children can learn to write poetry or create plays/short stories as well as illustrate them. Family readings and performances can happen when writing time is over. Every family does not have to have just one writer.

    • http://www.writewithwarnimont.com/ Joe Warnimont

      Thanks Cheryl, these are great tips for all those parents out there!

    • http://tabthoughts.wordpress.com Terese

      You’re absolutely right Cheryl!! My boys (11 year old twins) watched me write a novel during April’s Camp NaNoWriMo and now I’m at it again for July’s camp. They decided they wanted in on the “fun” (I use that very loosely) and they’re writing a book together now. It’s a great exercise for them during the summer and it has them acting collaboratively and positive toward one another (mostly). Love that I’ve inspired the writing bug in them!

      PS – Great site Joe; I’ll be back often! :)

      • http://www.writewithwarnimont.com/ Joe Warnimont

        Hi Terese,

        That’s great to hear your boys are getting involved with writing! Thanks for stopping by. :)

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  • http://www.sandradanby.com Sandra Danby

    Hi Joe, Thanks for the follow. I love your suggestion of a writing blast followed by a reward, will definitely try that. Not sure what the reward should be though, not a biscuit as I’d be the size of a house within a couple of weeks!
    Sandra

  • Derek Knorr

    Joe – excellent site and relevant tips to the class I am taking right now. Thanks for sharing such great content.

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  • Motunrayo

    Great tips Joe, my major distraction at the moment is my studies, looking forward to having more writing time after my Professional exams. Thanks for the tips

    • http://www.writewithwarnimont.com/ Joe Warnimont

      Good luck on your exams, and I’m sure you will have plenty of time to write afterwards!

  • http://www.dreamlearnbelieve.wordpress.com Nipun

    The advice for ZenWriter was brilliant, and I believe that it’s gonna help a lot of people, me included.