Writing and Distractions Pt 2

September 18, 2018

“Working in a state of semi-distraction is potentially devastating to your performance.”
~ Cal Newport in his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

So last week’s post had been scheduled for 9/3 and never went out so I’m actually reflecting back to two weeks ago with my video-free experiment and also on how I’m changing my approach to my writing. Here’s the scoop.

Life Without Video

So it was definitely challenging, but not as hard as I thought it would be. I realized I had some habits around my streaming—watching shows at night instead of reading, watching while I was cooking. I loved that I read more, but I did notice that I sometimes struggled to concentrate, even with the most compelling books. More on that below.

During my video-free days, I was still using the internet and this meant I continued to bounce from thing to thing, never staying too long on a single topic. This including my writing. Even when I had an hour or more to focus, I was extremely distracted. It feels like it’s always been that way.

Retrain the Brain

Last week I talked about trying to focus on one thing at a time. Since I’ve trained my brain to abhor “boredom,” it continues to insist on stimulation—check this, check that, answer that email, did so and so get back to me? This is why, even when reading a good book or in the middle of writing a scene in my novel, my brain pushed me to do something else. Focus on one thing and one thing only wasn’t something it was used to anymore.

So now I’ve got to retrain my brain. This week I’m doing two things:

  • Return to a writing-affirming schedule. I’m going back to scheduling my internet time around my writing and work (teaching and presentation prep, critiquing, etc). I’m having specific times that I use it and for how long. This also applies when I’m tempted to look up something I need for my novel (when did most kids start getting and using cell phones), answer email, etc.
  • Let myself be bored. I’m not going to check my phone or anything else when I’m waiting—in line at the store, for a page to load on my laptop, at a stop light. I’m just going to wait—what a concept!—and let my mind fight not to be bored until it accepts that this is a perfectly acceptable state.

The first one goes back to my July 17 post, mostly about email checking. What I didn’t know then that I know now—at least from what Cal Newport says in his Deep Work book is that (a) I’m not alone and (b) it will take time to retrain my brain. I’ve been this way for decades. It will take time to rewire the noggin.

It’s Not Just About Time

Years ago I thought¬†that if I only had the time, I would produce books at a rapid clip. Now I now that it isn’t merely the time—it’s my ability to use that time to work deeply and effectively.

This will be an ongoing topic for me because it affects not only my work, but my relationships and how I move through the world.

Stay tuned.