This is a guest post by Ruan Oosthuizen of Freelance Writing Tactics.
Distractions are everywhere. Distractions happen without intent. Distractions happen when you least need it. As a successful freelance writer distractions are probably one of the most lethal productivity killers of all times, especially when writing to reach a certain deadline.
When I started writing for another rather large blog about six months ago, reaching writing deadlines was a major concern for me and the truth is I never could work out why I had difficulty in reaching them. I always made it on time in the end but getting my articles submitted always happened at the last minute and I actually felt rather exhausted afterwards because of the last-minute-rush.
Then one day during my constant analysis of where I could improve my writing, whether it was in my technique, style, approach or angle, tone, I read an article on improving your productivity as a freelance writer and how you can apply a few very-simple-but-not-always-that-easy tips to your own writing and see your productivity improve by miles.
One of the points that totally blew me over was identifying and eliminating distractions. The article went on to name distractions and how you should actually sit down and identify your own distractions before being able to eliminate them.
Firstly, every freelance writer, blogger, reporter, book author or any other type of author knows that in order to write any publication, you need to actually make time to physically sit down and just write. After setting out a specific time period to write, start writing anything you would like to write about. This of course assuming you have already done your thorough research and have enough content in your mind to jot down onto your keyboard.
After your set time period has expired, stop writing. Do this preferably in a word editor like Microsoft Word or Open Office which shows you your actual word-count. Make a note of how many words you managed to get down within the time frame you set out for yourself.
Then here comes the interesting part. What you want to do now is set out another time frame of the same length, preferably for another day. It could be right at this point but make sure you don’t have any other commitments or appointments to attend to. The important part is that it is of the exact same length as you’ve just written for.
When you have this time set out, before you start, do the following:
1. Close your diary.
Close your diary and if you are in an environment that includes other people, inform them that you will be unavailable for the next X minutes, no phone calls, no nappy changes, nothing – just for the next X minutes.
2. Close your email application.
No matter how hard this may be for some of you, you need to do this. Close it completely. The world will not end for the few minutes you aren’t going to be checking your email.
3. Close your Skype or any other applications that might distract you
For the next couple of minutes you set out to write, you are not allowed to open or interact on any other application other than your word processing app you’ll be writing in.
4. Switch OFF your phone.
I mean it when I said switching it off instead of putting it on silent. Most phones especially smart phones these days have audio as well as visual notification features like flashing LED lights etc. You don’t need any of them. No phone calls, no messages, no reminders, nothing.
5. Minimize background noise and distractions.
If you’re anything like me and have to have at least something going on in the background and you like listening to music, try and see that it’s less vocal than the normal, rather calm and relaxing. I usually prefer light instrumental like piano or acoustic guitar but that’s just personal preference.
The idea here is that working with too many audio distractions that includes vocals specifically can get your mind distracted and thrown off, sometimes even sub-consciously.
If you’re around a lot of other people, try and go work in a quieter environment just for this little while that you’ll be writing. Away from barking dogs, purring cats, crying babies and yelling adults. Also try and not sit close to the highway that goes through your neighborhood.
After you have eliminated all these, take a deep breath and just start writing. Don’t stop until your time you planned to write has expired. Don’t edit or worry too much about grammar mistakes etc. Just let your thoughts run away and write whatever comes to mind.
When you are done and have been writing for whichever length of time, the same time you wrote for previously when you had all those distractions still around you, look at your word-count.
Surprised? 98% of the time I’ll guarantee you will have a decent surprise. That’s not the end of it. Now start looking at what you’ve written. Do the necessary editing in order for your article or publication to be in top notch. Can you notice fewer mistakes or editing requirements? Again, 98% of the time I’ll guarantee…
This is how you can identify those lethal distractions that paralyze your productivity as a freelance writer. The good news however is that with practice and doing this on a regular basis with persistence, it does become easier and before you know it, it will be a good habit you’ve adopted. In the end your clients, readers and possibly your bank account will thank you for it.
Over to you…
I’d love to hear how you guys get rid of distractions in order to be more productive as freelance writers. Please feel free to share your ideas and thoughts on the subject with the rest of us in the comments section below.
Remember, I mention freelance writers but that’s just because I love the sound of that and like to think of myself as one but really, this refers to any type of writer having to write any kind of publication, especially if you have to meet certain deadlines with your writing.
As always, my best of writing (freelance) success to you!