We all know the feeling—you’re excited to start working on your writing, but a few minutes into it, an idea comes to you to incorporate a new fact into your argument.
You’re not sure of the details of that fact, so you head over to Google to research it. You try reading the Wikipedia article, then you see a link that piques your interest more, so you click on it.
Before you realize it, it’s 20 minutes later, and you’re now reading a gossip column about your favorite celebrity or a research paper about the Titanic, which has nothing to do with what you’re writing about.
Or maybe you manage to stay on whatever program you use for writing, but you get distracted by an internal feature. For example, you start worrying about how your precise margin length will affect your page count estimate, so you start fiddling with it. Next thing you know, you’ve spent an hour figuring out the finer points of Google Docs or Microsoft Word—and you’ve written only one sentence.
Do any of these experiences sound familiar to you?
Don’t worry—you’re not alone. Digital distractions are everywhere, and getting your writing done can feel like an impossible task when there are so many features, pop-ups, notifications, and search queries to play around with.
Fortunately, you can take steps to minimize or even completely remove distractions so you can get back on track and have a productive writing session. And, no, these steps don’t include “just ignoring it.”
If you have a history of futzing around with the features of your word processor for minutes (or even hours) on end, you may benefit from a more stripped-down, distraction-free writing program. Here are three suggestions to achieve that:
1. Use Plain Text Editors
Regardless of whether you’re a Windows or Mac user, both operating systems feature a plain text editor that saves the words you write without offering you the option to change the formatting or layout.
- Windows users, look for Notepad. This fast and simple program has been around for more than 40 years.
- If you’re on a Mac, search for TextEdit or Notes.
All of these basic programs are especially useful for first drafts or even initial brainstorming. Margins, text sizes, spacing, and other such features aren’t important and may just get in the way when you should be focused on getting the words out.
2. Hide the Toolbars
If using your computer operating system’s no-frills text editor doesn’t appeal to you, opt for hiding the toolbars.
- In Microsoft Word, use the “Focus” mode (select “Focus” under the “View” menu). This view removes the toolbar ribbon and hides access to most other functions, allowing you to focus on writing.
- If you use Apple’s Pages word processing software, you have a “Full Screen” mode (look for it in the “View” pull-down menu) that gets rid of almost everything except the words you’ve written.
3. Use a Specialized Distraction-Free Writing Device
Finally, if the above options seem overwhelming to choose from, you don’t want to let researching them prevent you from writing. Instead, download a distraction-free writing program such as WriteRoom (Mac only) or FocusWriter.
Look for a program that offers a full-screen feature so you can reduce outside-of-program distractions as well.
While a pared-down writing program can help you reduce some distractions, sometimes it’s best to walk away from your traditional computer and all its built-in bells and whistles entirely.
Here are some options for what you can do instead.
Tablets offer a more distraction-free environment for writers since they’re usually more minimalist than computers and, in traditional setups, allow you to view only one window at a time.
There are also plenty of apps for tablets that discourage distractions, such as the built-in Apple Notes app for the iPad. Notes has a simple, intuitive interface.
Still struggling with the temptation of checking your social media or email?
Then perhaps you’d benefit from the ultimate distraction-free writing device: old-fashioned pen and paper.
Many writers claim the tactile sensation of pen moving on paper helps keep their creative juices flowing and their mind focused.
And you don’t necessarily have to give up some of the perks of digital writing, like easy deletion or copy and pasting. The Moleskine Smart Writing System is a smart notebook/pen set that combines the best of both worlds and offers an easy way to transfer your thoughts (and doodles) from analog to digital formats.
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If you’re still set on writing on a digital platform, another approach is to block outside distractions at the source. Here are a few ways you can do this.
Sometimes, you’re pretty good at resisting the urge to leave your word processor—until your computer gives you a notification. Whether it’s the little red badge that tells you how many new email messages you have or a pop-up window telling you that someone has favorited one of your tweets, these notifications can be a major distraction.
You can turn off your notifications by checking the settings section of each app that’s giving you notifications, such as your email or social media.
You can also disable all notifications within your computer:
- On a Mac, head to System Preferences > Notifications to customize what appears in your Notification Center.
- On Windows, go to Start > Settings > System > Notifications & Actions.
If you want more granular control over the amount of time you spend on specific activities, try using a productivity app, like Freedom, RescueTime, or SelfControl. These apps allow you to block specific sites or apps for set periods of time so you can’t give in to distraction—even if you want to.
There are even apps that offer you rewards for making it through a block of time without clicking off of your word processor or checking a distracting website.
In the app Forest, for example, a digital tree is planted, and if you don’t get distracted, it successfully grows up. If you don’t, it dies, and you have to start all over again.
If you just can’t force yourself to stay productive with the above tricks, a psychological technique might help.
Block out a chunk of time (it’s best to set aside around 20–45 minutes) where you promise yourself you’ll do nothing but write. After that time period is up, reward yourself with a few minutes of distractions. You can also use this time to look up anything that came up during your writing.
A structured way of doing this is through the Pomodoro Technique. The idea is simple: Work for 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break. After four “pomodoros” (25-minute work periods), you can take a longer, 20- to 30-minute break.
Now that you know a few ways to make your writing environment more distraction-free, it’s time to actually sit down and write.
So close this article, put your phone on silent, and get to work! Your best writing is waiting for you.
And if you want any help reviewing your work after it’s finished, reach out to us at Super Copy Editors. With years of experience in copy editing and proofreading, we can catch even the smallest mistakes and ensure your writing is at its best. Click this link to learn more about Super Copy Editors.