As writers, we lament our lack of time, but how often do we let distractions steal the little time we do have? In this post, I’ll show you how I use Freedom, along with a few other tricks, to keep me focused, even when life is crazy.
Plus, check out our Top 10 Pieces of Software for Writers for more tools to help you write better and faster.
Think you have no time to write? Got distractions?
I get it. I teach high school full time, manage a busy family of six with all our schedules, meals, and madness. We move every two to three years for my husband’s job.
And I still make time to write a terrible first draft of a novel each year, along with twenty to thirty articles or short stories. How? I’m ruthless about my time, and I’ve learned to manage distractions.
The place where I lose time most often? Online. Some people can drive out to Walden Pond away from the wifi, or they can *gasp* shut it off. (I have three teenagers. Shutting off the wifi is reserved for crisis-level-code-red-emergencies and hurricanes. Feel free to judge me, but I’ve already judged myself.)
I’m the worst about saying, “Oh, I’ll just look up one quick name,” and two hours later I’m watching instructional videos on making marmalade or carving penguin-shaped ice sculptures. (And no, neither marmalade nor penguin ice sculptures have appeared in any story I’ve written, so it isn’t research—it never is).
When I stopped losing time online
That’s where Freedom comes in. Freedom, one of my favorite book writing software tools, allows me to block the sites that distract me online for a set period of time.
I first read about it on Michael Hyatt’s blog. While I have mad respect for him, my initial thought was, “Have I descended so far that I need an app to block myself from being distracted online? Where’s my self-control?” I had a small existential crisis.
Five minutes later, I signed up to give it a try. Once I registered for a new account at Freedom.to, I set up a block list. Freedom automatically lists several sites, but you can add as many sites and blocklists as you need. I clicked the button for each of the sites where I know I lose time.
Once my blocklist is established, I select the device and amount of time, which can range from 1 minute to 1441 minutes (Who’s writing for 1441 minutes? Lemme get my calculator, that’s like . . . 24 hours). As soon as I click start, I can’t get to anything on my blocklist until the time is up.
After going through the setup process, if you try to go to a blocked site, it just won’t load (not that I tried this more than four or five times, in the interest of science, of course).
Use Freedom’s recurring sessions to make writing a habit
With Freedom, you can also schedule recurring sessions, so that at a set time every day (or however frequently you choose), you won’t be able to access the sites on your blocklist, even if you try.
That means if you decide to write on Tuesday morning at 6 am, you can sit down at the computer and not have to worry about getting distracted by Facebook (or consider yourself trapped staring at your work in progress, however you want to look at it).
It’s perfect for my scheduled writing sessions when I need to stay laser focused, and I use it a couple times a week, despite the snarky voice in my head that sometimes tells me as a grownup I shouldn’t need such things.
But, but, but . . . what if?
What if I need to look up a name? Location? Historical fact? I don’t do it during my scheduled writing time. I use a placeholder like TKname or TKlocation in the manuscript, and then I’ll go back and fix it later.
Freedom is especially effective when you are first establishing consistent writing habits, because clicking on that “Start session” button is a concrete way to signal “work time.”
If you find Freedom’s a good fit for you, they have a few different plans to choose from. It works on Windows or Mac, as well as iPhone and iPads, and you can get a number of trial sessions free to see it in action.
Beat those distractions and start writing
Every time I sit down to write, the voice in my head will tell me writing doesn’t matter as much as _fill-in-the-blank_. Something will break, usually involving water. Four people will ring the doorbell, and my stomach will rumble loudly. It’s going to happen every time. Unless it is a real emergency, I have to keep my butt in the chair. If my creative-scented candle burns out and my music glitches and the lights flicker, I don’t let myself waver.
Repeat after me: After I write. After I write. After I write.
What about those times I sit down and don’t feel like writing? I write.
What about the times I feel like switching projects? I write for ten minutes on plan, and then I’ll switch.
What about when the cursor blinks at me and I don’t know what the next sentence should be? I retype the last two sentences and keep writing for ten minutes.
I don’t let my inner “Why don’t we do something else for a minute” voice get started, because once she starts, we end up making homemade marmalade and scones (flour is easier to keep than blocks of ice). At least with Freedom, I can block out my online distractions. Now to find a screwdriver to disable the doorbell.
What’s your biggest distraction from writing? How do you combat it? Let us know in the comments.