October 17, 2017
Last Friday, I wanted pancakes – badly! I woke up thinking of them, and decided to go to a favorite breakfast spot. After all, I had the day off from my 9-to-5.
And then, reality took over. I realized:
- I wanted to draft several posts for this blog, a project long overdue.
- I am in the throes of working on my latest children’s book.
- Eating breakfast out would soak up a few hours of precious time that I’d likely never redeem.
The opportunity costs for dining out were higher than I wanted to pay. Rather than leave home, I cooked a quick breakfast and got busy writing, and tackling related tasks.
The results: I drafted three blog posts, including this one. I completed substantial amount of additional research on my current book. I completed and emailed an outline due to my publisher.
Then in the midst of all that productivity my printer died. It was another distraction, which I needed to sidestep. I did. In fact, I still haven’t replaced it, but I’m churning out words.
One thing’s for sure: distractions are a part of a writer’s life. How we handle them – succumb or manage – determines whether our ideas ever develop into publishable projects.
Distraction or Not?
First, let’s be clear: Your Family + Job ≠ Distraction.
That’s right: Your family is not a distraction. Love and honor your family, and your commitments. Participate in special celebrations. Also, try not to view times of illness or death as distractions. Those are moments when our relatives need us most.
Also, your job is not a distraction. Your part- or full-time position generates needed income. Thus, it is not a distraction, although you may wish you could use those hours writing.
Friends? Depends who those friends are! But I’m guessing you’ve already discovered that truth.
Strategies That Work
Whatever the cause, here are some tips for managing distractions.
Define term. What constitutes a distraction for me, may not be one for you. Also, a distraction in one season, may not be a distraction in another. Music illustrates both points for me.
While many writers tune into favorite musical genres as they write, for decades I could not do the same. Too distracting! That changed a few years ago when I needed something – anything – to help spark my creativity. Tuning into gospel music worked wonders. Now, whenever I’m stuck, I’ll listen to it to pull me through. Works every time.
Be honest. There are times when I welcome distraction. Like watching reruns of Touched by an Angel as I edited this on Saturday. Why did I set myself up for a fail, especially after successfully conquering distractions the day before? Because I was bone tired. Because…managing distractions is sometimes a daily battle.
Be honest with yourself as distractions arise. Know if you want to better manage your time and achieve writing goals, you’ll have to manage them. Period.
Use time management tools. There is no “one size fits all” time management tool. Use what works for you. Options include planners, calendars, Apps, “to do” lists, etc. Me? I use a large wall calendar on which I write my deadlines. I also track deadlines in Outlook, and on my cell phone.
Whichever you choose, place an emphasis on affordability. A no brainer, right? Right! But many writers cite the lack of preferred tools as a reason they can’t begin or complete projects. We have enough reasons – a.k.a. excuses – not to write. Don’t add the lack of a pricey time management tool to your excuse list.
Prioritize. What we call distractions are often must-do tasks. What we can’t avoid, we can prioritize. Determine what needs to be done immediately, what can wait for later or another day, and what we can farm out to others. Cooking falls in that last category for many of us. We get help from relatives. Sometimes we also order prepared meals.
Confession: While working on multiple book projects during 2015 and 2016, I’d order a huge order of wings from a favorite Italian restaurant. They were perfect for re-heating and enjoying with salad and sides I’d prepare on Saturday for the entire week. DON’T JUDGE ME! The wings cost about $30 (less than a week’s worth of groceries), lasted for several days, and freed up hours of time for writing.
Be flexible. In an ideal world, every waking hour would be spent writing or on writing-related tasks. Since the world is not ideal, be flexible. Re-arrange your schedule as needed to maximize effectiveness, minimize frustration, and write your heart out.
Expect emergencies. Life happens. Be flexible, and handle your personal, family or business emergencies as needed! Invest the time. Stay in the moment. Will it always be easy? Of course, not. But, that’s life!
Rest. Writers often look at rest and/or sleep as a mega distraction – especially when on deadline. But, rest is not a dirty word, and sleep is essential. If you’re tired the quality of your writing can suffer. If you’re mentally and/or physically exhausted, you can’t write. So, listen to your body and rest. You’ll be amazed what it does for your writing.
Manage family matters. I’ve placed this last to devote more attention to family matters. This is one area where a lot of writers have the greatest challenge managing distractions, especially from immediate family and other relatives.
While family is not a distraction, occasionally family members intentionally distract us for various reasons. So, develop strategies for those times. If you’re honored your commitments, you don’t have to feel guilty. E V E R!
For example, when my son was in fourth grade I implemented a Mommy cut-off time that still rules on Fridays evenings when he’s home. After 8 p.m. he cannot disturb me, unless there’s an emergency – my definition, not his. I’m in writer mode and “I’m not Mommy!”
My son hates when I say that.
I don’t feel the least bit guilty when I have to wield that phrase as a creativity shield.
Thanks to those Friday evenings, I’ve had the mental, emotional, and creative space to develop, grow, and succeed as a writer – and to parent him without resentment.
Many writers struggle with resentment because relatives intentionally distract them, hogging all of their time. If that’s you, know you are not alone. But, also know your family will never respect your need to write – or cease their intentional distracting antics – unless trained to do so. Easier said than done, I know. But the rewards are worth the attempt.
Lisa A. Crayton is an award-winning freelance writer, multi-published author, conference speaker…and more. She loves helping writers, and challenging them to achieve their goals and dreams! Connect with her on Facebook.