We live in a world with a myriad of distractions. That can make it a challenge to stay focused on a specific task for any length of time.
This might be just annoying in certain areas of your life, but it can be financially costly and destructive to your career when you’re a content writer. More than ever, it’s vital to identify and limit distractions so you can maximize productivity.
The science behind distraction and focus
If you’re serious about eliminating distractions from your life, you have to get to the root of the issue and understand what’s really going on. To start, you probably need a better understanding of how concentration works at the level of our brain.
As Dr. Julie Schwartzbard explains, at least three types of attention support our ability to focus:
- Selective attention. This enables you to focus on one thing and block out everything else. For example, you use selective attention when you’re at a football game and largely ignore all the noise, conversations, and visual distractions in the stands so you can focus on each play as it unfolds on the field.
- Divided attention. This is what happens when you try to manage and process multiple sources of information and stimuli at once. Preparing dinner is an example. When you’re cooking, you might be chopping vegetables while keeping an eye on a simmering pot and talking to your spouse. In this case, your attention will be toggling back and forth between the various activities and inputs.
- Sustained attention. The third kind of attention occurs when you have to stay focused on one thing for a long period of time. This is what happens when you’re writing, for instance. You have to block out nearly everything else in order to focus on the task at hand for an extended period.
“Even with its elegant processing filters, your brain can still lose its focus,” Dr. Schwartzbard explains. “Loud noises and flashing lights generate lots of neural activity which makes them zoom to the forefront of your awareness, leaving behind whatever you had been focusing on. That’s useful on a battlefield or when you’re about to crash your car, but not if you’re trying to study for a test and a nearby car alarm breaks your concentration.”
In order to remain focused, the brain needs some sort of “braking system” that enables it to prevent the wrong inputs from popping into our minds at the wrong time. Biologically, scientists believe this job is addressed by the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) … but it’s a far from perfect system. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
Five tips for limiting distractions
Although your brain’s VLPFC kicks in to block interruptions, you have to assist it by limiting the number of distractions you’re exposed to at those times when you need focus. If you’re a content writer, here are five essentials you may find helpful.
1. Practice mindfulness
One of the keys to staying focused and limiting distractions is to practice mindfulness. Now, that might sound like a New-Age term that has little practical value out in the real, working world, but it can honestly have a transformational impact on the way you write.
“Mindfulness simply means being aware of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment on a moment-to-moment basis,” health professional Chris Kresser states. “It means paying attention to what is, rather than getting lost in our thoughts about the future or the past.”
2. Think about your physical environment
There’s a connection between your immediate physical surroundings and your overall level of output. This is especially the case for people who work from home.
You need to be cognizant of the nature of your environment, and get rid of the clutter and junk that tends to accumulate throughout the week. Houston-based Green Residential suggests a regular purge.
As the company explains on its blog, “The first of the month is the perfect time. On the first Saturday of every month, take an hour and go through each room of the home. If there’s something that hasn’t been used in a while, trash it or donate it.”
From a practical standpoint, this can reduce the number of visual distractions. It offers the benefit of freeing your mind to focus more effectively on what’s essential.
3. Put a sign on your office door
One of the biggest downsides of working from home — not an uncommon practice for content writers — is that you find yourself in a weird intersectional point between your personal and professional lives. If you aren’t careful, the situation can grow too distracting for you to perform at your best.
If other people are sharing your living quarters — kids, roommates, even just a spouse — you might do yourself a favor if you put a small whiteboard on your office door. When you’re busy and can’t be interrupted, leave a note on the board that asks people to leave you alone.
This is not likely to be 100 percent effective, but it can cut down on the constant interruptions that may sometimes occur.
4. Do research ahead of time
If your writing requires a lot of research, try to do that ahead of time. Performing research while you write can sometimes be inevitable, but it greatly increases the odds of your getting distracted by intriguing websites and articles.
If you do the bulk of your research on the front end without trying to write as well, you can free yourself to sit down and write later without having to pause over and over. This promotes sustained attention and avoids the switching of mental gears which can be so distracting, and thereby time wasting.
5. Don’t edit while you write
Perfectionists can find it hard not to edit copy while we’re writing. Between sentence structure, punctuation, formatting, and proper spelling (which automatic spell-check doesn’t always catch and sometimes “fixes” to make it wrong), you naturally want to polish things as you go.
Try to resist the temptation, though. Editing while writing slows everything down and can make you more susceptible to distractions.
Reclaim your focus and maximize output
Content writers can’t treat attention and focus lightly. A failure to respect the value of focus will eventually come back to bite you in the butt (and the wallet).
By taking a proactive approach and limiting all your distractions, you can give yourself a better chance to be successful. Can you see the value of implementing some of the tips outlined above?
And if you’d like to know how you can start blogging consistently in 30 minutes a day or less, read our eBook!