How Distractions Paralyze Your Productivity as a Freelance Writer & How To Eliminate Them

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.


Photo Credit: Nanette Saylor of Wise Well Women on Flickr

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.

Identifying Distractions

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.

Preventing Distractions

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.

Start Writing

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!

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  1. says

    I agree that there are distractions everywhere in this line of work either if you are doing the work for yourself or for a client.

    The major ones that I find is getting bored sitting on the computer whole day. Sometimes you just wonder that you could be outside the house doing something else and noting being stuck in one place.

    I think maintaining a diary is important and sticking to it. Allocating time for various things and diversifying and taking mind off things is also important.
    Shalu Sharma just posted State of Bihar – Places of interest and tourist attractions

    • says

      I agree that creating balance is really important. I have to admit that with my current working hours of 18-20 hour workdays, especially these last couple of days getting everything organised for my new site and also my latest eBook that just went live, balance was nowhere to be seen.

      Thing is I can sit at my computer for hours, getting lost and totally forgetting about time when I get busy doing something I really enjoy. So for me boredom on my computer just doesn’t exist; it’s exactly the opposite way around! :)

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! Much appreciated!

  2. says

    Wonderful post Ruan!

    Being a freelance writer, blogger, and a full time Mom – I can sure relate to distractions and how I manage my way around it. :)

    Yes indeed, closing all those messages, social networks, emails, and all other kind of apps helps a great deal. However, it’s a strong will-power to remain seated and not allow yourself to be disturbed that makes a major difference too. Sometimes you will surprised at the amount of noise you are able to handle and yet work, if you can’t manage to get away from the distractions.

    Speaking of myself, my most peaceful hours are when my kids are away. Though the neighborhood noise is around, bu after a while you get used to it and it hardly bothers you. Guess a lot depends on your state of mind – isn’t it?

    Another thing that works well is to write during the early morning hours, when there is no question of any kind of distraction. Just work when there is no noise, no kids, no work – nothing. And yes, work on another browser than your usual, so you really aren’t tempted to open up your emails, social networking sites etc.

    Thanks for sharing. :)
    Harleena Singh just posted Does a Painful Breast Indicate Breast Cancer

    • says

      Hey Harleena!

      I am so glad to see you here and what a wonderful comment! I absolutely love it when you are around! Oh and I have to wonder why I haven’t seen you on my site grabbing yourself a free copy of my eBook I just launched while I ran the competition huh huh? 😉 You are the one person that will enjoy its content!

      Anyway, you have to make up for it and please join my community over at will ya? Again, you are just the person I want to take hands with and also have you share your knowledge and experience with the community once we have grown a little. 😉 Do you do guest posting for others by any chance? Let me know, I would love for you to share some freelancing with us sometime in future…

      As you’ve mentioned above, personally I have found that with experience and “personal training” you get to discipline yourself and find it getting easier to automatically shut yourself off from the usual distractions. That’s the good news; it does become easier.

      Thanks for stopping by my friend, always nice to see you around wherever I go!

  3. says

    This is something that has affected me (and my productivity) adversely for quite a while. Minimizing distractions seems to work (stay away from your smartphone at all costs, especially text messaging!), and making sure that you’re away from distractions such as a television, or a busy street (noise) for instance. For me, it is essential to be able to get at least a couple of distraction-free hours in order to get some quality writing done. Procrastination however, still remains a problem!
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    • says

      Indeed, Mike! I totally agree. I have to just mention again what Harleena just said. After some good experience and training your mind to get into “writing mode” it’s quite amazing how you can lose track of things around you, with distractions being to the minimal.

      Thanks for stopping by and all of the best of success to you!

  4. says

    Getting rid out of the distractions is not that easy as you ‘ve made it sound.
    But I believe you are more productive when working offline than working online. Further, working under a deadline really increases your productivity by 300% because we love challenges!

    By the way, Great Post, Ruan!
    Kylex just posted How to Find HOT Niches for your Blog

    • says

      Glad you liked it, Kylex!

      Indeed we do love challenges yes and deadlines sure increases our motivation to getting finished as soon as we can, I agree. I think that even if you’re not writing according to someone else’s schedule, setting deadlines for oneself is just as important or we’ll never get things done.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  5. says

    It’s amazing the combined effect that a dozen little distractions can have on productivity. Your list of time-wasters to keep in mind when creating a distraction-free zone reiterates the point well.

    It’s that identification that’s the kicker here. Figuring out what personally gets you off track. I’m sure many of us realize we are prone to distraction but are sometimes too fearful to really identify what the distractions are.

    I’m not as guilty as of being sucked in by my phone, I feel like I never really got used to having a cellphone, BUT I am guilty of email-checking-abuse.
    Ameenah just posted Worms: Revolution Review

    • says

      You’re not alone, Ameenah. I can assure you that email addiction is the biggest distraction of them all out there. Ironically, if a decision is made, it’s also one of the easiest distractions to get rid off. There is simply just no way you can get distracted by it once you’ve shut it down until you open it up again.

      Mmmmm…just went and had a look at your site. Gosh I wish I still had time for gaming! Reading headlines like “Worms” and “Halo” and “Far Cry” just makes my toes crawl up!

      Just for interest sake, are you a freelance writer? Do you write for The Game Scouts only? The reason I ask is that I’d love for you to become part of a freelance writing community that will be up and running soon if you’re interested. Just let me know. I love the niche you’re in, can you tell??? 😉

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  6. says

    It really is amazing just how many distractions we have to deal with these days. Email, phone, Skype, TV, etc, etc. It’s a wonder people manage to get anything done!

    I’ve found that as long as I can minimize these distractions I can do ok. The only problem is I just can’t bring myself to close my e-mail since there’s so many things I like to see there as soon as they come in. It’s a very, very bad habit always keeping it open…
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    • says

      Garrett, good to see you here as well!

      Yes, I have to admit (please don’t tell too many okay? 😉 ) but especially when emails with wonderful comment notifications like yours arrive into my inbox, it’s quite difficult to ignore them until I am done writing what I am busy with!

      I simply HAVE to close my email app!

  7. says

    Oh those darn distractions. They’re everywhere–not just for freelance jobs. The internet is full of distracting articles, games, social networking sites, etc.

  8. says

    Love the tips for minimizing distractions. You’re right, we have to identify them before they can be eliminated – even if this means finally coming to terms with a Facebook addiction or inbox-monitoring obsession. :) Setting timers or using time-management apps can help to augment the self-discipline needed to meet deadlines.
    Elena Anne just posted 10 Myths and Truths about getting Washboard Abs

    • says

      Setting timers are very effective for getting most things done on life, agreed. Is that where the habit of looking at one’s watch the whole time comes from? I’m sure… 😉

      Time is everything though and if more people would learn to manage it more effectively I’m sure the world will be in a better state.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  9. says

    I have to admit that I am not a productive person. I always get stucked with emails and facebooks. 5 minutes writing, then the rest of the time I surfing around these emails and notifications wasting most of my days.

    From now on, I will keep the screen exclusively for my writing tools, other things WILL BE SHUT DOWN. Hope it can help me.
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