I’ve been asked by writers, creatives, and other content creators, how do I shut out distractions and get work done. Distractions can be a big hindrance for many of us whose livelihood depends on our focused brains producing great things people around the world can engage in.
For me, blocking out distractions is a discipline I think I've learned over the years of working in the publishing industry for the last sixteen years, editing, writing, and developing book ideas. It was imperative back when I worked in publishing houses that I had the ability to concentrate in silence, work alone, and block out the noise of conversation in those office suites, or shift my attention back to a project at hand after being called to a meeting. I had to learn how to focus and refocus or I didn’t get paid. It became a sit-down-an-do-it kind of thing, and over time it has become a way of life, something that I have had to get better at over time.
So, a few things are needed for me to do it successfully:
Complete silence. Some people hate silence. It is necessary for me. And I’ve learned to love it for how it helps my productivity. In extremely rare occasions I may have some type of instrumental music playing. The only album with words that I’ve been able to write to his Inner Court by Fred Hammond and Radical for Christ. No lie. Other writers have other sounds that help them.
Complete silence. Did I say that already? I am not afraid to be alone with my thoughts and wonderings. I may even use them to get me started writing or ideating. Some people are afraid of scattered thoughts. I use free writing sometimes to get all the wandering thoughts out of my head, which can sometimes cause greater distraction when I don’t address them. Writing helps me pull my thoughts into alignment. In some instances, it may be my way of taking my thoughts captive. If I am worried, I write my worries and begin to pray through them until I get to silence. (This is why I have recommended journaling for people who worry, are anxious, or have active brains.)
Complete silence. Wait—I've said that, right? I keep my mind free of distractions even when I am not writing. I don’t watch TV. I don’t watch the news. There are no shows I follow. I watch some things with my children to stay involved in their lives and interests. That’s it. I am careful about what I engage with online and in social media. I don’t participate in conversations or give responses to things in our culture or in the body of Christ that don’t directly involve me. Most of the time, I don’t know the latest of what’s going on. I stay in my lane. My brain is my moneymaker. It is the place where my gifting resides and I take care to guard it. This is just me. I’ve been pretty much like this for five or more years.
Complete silence—I know I’ve said this, haven’t I? My phone has been on silent for twelve or thirteen years, maybe longer. All my notifications are on silent.
Writing, editing, developing book concepts have been my life for 16 years. Silence (and peace may be the better word), solitude, stillness are musts for me to do what I do consistently and to do it well. So I practice them and every area of my life yields to being free from distractions. It’s God’s prescription for me. I can’t speak for anyone else.
A few more tips
Dedicated writing space
Writing away from home—coffee shop, library, beach, park
Write or create in the early morning hours (4:00-7:00 a.m.) or late nights (10:00 p.m.-2:00 a.m.) when it’s quiet
Request friends/family to leave you alone for a period of time—two to three hours at a time
Exercise—it may be underrated for creatives, but it helps to curb nervous energy which can give way to lack of focus. I use to run (or trot, yes, that’s a better word) 3+ miles every day. Just this week, God told me to start back again. I have and am already feeling a difference.
Nutrition—eating well plays into a well-functioning brain. There are literal brain foods that help with concentration and mental agility and so on. Google them and add them to your diet. Sugar is an enemy of creativity for all the obvious reason. Cut it out. Caffeine is a great friend (scientific fact). Eat good dark chocolate and drink good coffee or green tea.
Push past fear—fear is a great distraction, but it’s pretty irrational. Think about other things you’ve started and completed. You can do it again with writing. Sit down, open a file or turn to the notebooks page. Get your pen or keyboard and keep your fingers moving.
Don’t get stuck on perfectionism. Another distraction is perfectionism. Kill that. Done is better than perfect. Write it and release it. Come back to it during another writing session to edit. Just write. Keep the pen moving or the finger typing. Edit later.
Keeping my mind geared toward writing and developing content is a whole lifestyle for me. I wrote more on this in my book Break Through Writer’s Block: New Tip, Insights, and Practices to Get You Writing Again in the chapter called “Cultivating Your Creativity Even in Chaos.” Check it out in my shop.
Life will not necessary fall into place so that you can create, and your waiting for it to happen will not help it happen any faster. Sometimes you have to push back and use your God-given power, wisdom, and ingenuity to create the space that is conducive your being great in the area God has called you to. My favorite examples of this are Daniel and his friends Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego. They were ancient Israelite captives in Babylon who found ways to get what they needed to be mentally sharp and to excel in "knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom” (Daniel 1:17, NKJV).
I must also add one of my favorite books that teaches on how to consistently do great and focused work in a highly distracted world. It is called Deep Work by Cal Newport. I LOVE this book and highly recommend it.
One important caveat: give yourself permission to give in to the distractions that accompany the special moments in life
And then because I can be so focused over a long period of time, I have to recognize when a distraction is not just a distraction but something I must turn my attention to. Sometimes I need to yield to a godly distraction and be blessed with fun, laughter, rest, encouragement, a new opportunity, hanging out with friends, being loved and appreciated, and giving love and honor where it is due.
What are the ways you block out distractions? What trouble have you had with distractions that you are working out now?