Today’s digital world is full of unprecedented opportunity. With that opportunity comes unparalleled distractions from previous eras of humanity. If you’d have told me when I was an acid-washed jean wearing child in the 1980s that come adulthood, I could simultaneously
– be writing on a Word document
– while watching TV
– flipping tabs to check multiple social media accounts
– did I mention a separate tab to play music streaming?
– getting text messages, phone calls and watching Netflix on a mobile device
– all while trying to get actual work done …
… I wouldn’t have even known what you were talking about, actually.
The cost to such ubiquitous, instant access to ANY entertainment we want is …
IT IS A PRODUCTIVITY KILLER.
Some of us are under the delusion that so many attention diversions actually help us get more done. Maybe, for a small percentage of the population with a particular brain wiring, that is true. But for most of us, the distractions slow us down, big time.
Can you relate?
As a writer, I’ve learned that I really need to focus on the task at hand to get any meaningful work done. I’ve adopted three practices that have helped me be more focused while writing. Naturally, they can be applied to any discipline. Here they are
Three Time-Saving Productivity Hacks
1. Keep Phone On Mute 24-7
Does this sound difficult, contrarian, or backward? You mean, silence my phone … all the time? Not just when I’m in a meeting? But what if I miss calls and important texts because I don’t hear them??
That, my friend, is precisely the point.
Why do you need to see text messages instantly? If you miss a call from your boss, maybe that stinks, but you can always call him or her right back. It’s not the end of the world.
The digital era has inadvertently trained us to be at the ready with instant communication. I’m going to make the brazen suggestion that might not always be a good thing. I’m thoroughly blessed to have a lot of fabulous people in my life. That translates into a lot of group text strings that go on throughout the day, every day and night.
I love keeping up with my people, but reading the wacky thing my friend’s daughter said at the grocery store is not something that I need to disrupt my concentration for when I’m “in the zone.” It can wait. So can 97% of mobile communications.
If you’re in a job where keeping in close touch with clients is a big part of your day, this may not be practical. I get it. I make exceptions when I really do need to be attuned to who is contacting me. But most of the time, silence is golden.
2. Put Timers on Social Media Apps
It rocked my world when I discovered that on Android devices, you can set daily timers by the app. That is, you can tell it how long to allow you to use the app before it kicks you off for the day.
It’s no secret that my thumbs navigate to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram instinctively, and I end up spending WAYY more time browsing than is necessary. I found myself wasting too much time on mindless scrolling that I could have been using on any number of more profitable projects. Like writing. Der.
Confession: since at the time of this writing, my state has been under a COVID-19 stay-at-home order, I’ve removed the timers from my apps to indulge in more browsing. Now that it’s been a few months, it’s time to get back to my set limits.
Pro-tip: If you have an android device, you can find this magical option under settings –> Digital Wellbeing.
3. Minimize All Other Tabs While Writing
Have you ever sat down to write, only to have your eyes drift to the notifications popping on the Facebook tab? Me neither. So this advice is really only “in theory.” Ha.
All the other websites we frequent and social media services that eat away our time have a way of pulling us away from the tasks that matter the most. So I’ve found that refusing myself the temptation, by not even opening them, is the best way to stay focused.
To prove I’m trying to practice what I preach, here is a screenshot of what I am looking at as I type this.
See, just the WordPress tab open.
For those of you who are extra sleuth-y, you might have noticed something amiss in that screenshot. The word “screenshot” above. See?
That leads me to …
A bonus fourth thing, just for you, grasshopper
That is another way I’ve trained myself to stay focused — making notes about things I need to add later to enhance the post. Pictures, videos, links to other articles – those are all things that I can add later, not while I am in the middle of a train of thought during writing.
Despite my best intentions, jumping to find the link to that other article I plan to reference inevitably leads to more distractions. Re-reading the article, clicking other links within it – wait a second! How did I end up scrolling Twitter for 20 minutes?? You get the idea.
Probably the only exception I make is keeping a tab open for thesaurus.com because I do like to mix up my word use. All good word nerds should. HOWEVER, that too could be treated as an item to be banished while writing. I’ll talk more about that in the next post, with EVEN MORE tips for writing more efficiently.
Staggering to a conclusion
If you’re going to conclude, which is inevitable, why not do it in a dramatic fashion – like staggering? (Internal voice says, “Because then people might think you’re drunk. That wouldn’t be good. Don’t stagger.”) Internal voices can be really lame sometimes.
OK, so, in conclusion. Take control of your time by keeping your phone on mute, putting limits on social media use in a way that doesn’t rely on your own perception of the passing of time (It’s flawed. Sorry to break it to you. Mine is too.), and only leave open the tab you are using to write. If your writing is on a word document, even better. You don’t need to have a browser open at all.
What else would you add to this list?
I’ve got a few more tricks up my metaphorical sleeve that I’ll share with you in the next post if you want to read them. What do you think?