Writing is hard. Red Smith, one of the most widely read sports journalists in America, once famously said:
Turning out a column is easy. You just sit at your typewriter until little drops of blood appear on your forehead.
And on nights like tonight, only hours from my deadline and just getting started, I can sure relate.
Even before the days of the internet and our always on way of living writers have been distracted. As a kid in school I used to stare out of the window so much that my teacher thought I was simple. Or doodle in my textbook. Anything except focus on the task at hand.
Then later as an adult there are the distractions of life; that deadline you’ve got at work; the ‘honey-do’ list in the back of your mind; the steaks burning on the grill. Not to mention the game on TV! These can be exceptionally difficult to combat as they typically rear their head when you are already tired after a big day.
Finally, adding digital weight to increase the pressure is the internet, social media, and email. You try to take a little break from your work and get sucked down the rabbit hole of your online persona. Next thing you know your eyes are bleary and its time to go to bed, so that you can wake up and accomplish something the next day.
While some of these distractions are self imposed, or easily dealt with, it is those of the digital variety that are the most insidious. With an email popping up every few minutes or a tiny bell on your phone followed by a flashing light that just wont stop it is amazing that anyone ever gets anything done!
Luckily, I’ve found a solution that helps prime my mental state and get me ready to sit down and pump out some focused work. I call it…
The “GO” Switch
I run a Dell Latitude E7240 laptop. These things are pretty much standard issue for people that conduct business when traveling. They are everywhere. And on the left hand side, just forward of the exhaust, there is a little tiny switch. This switch controls all of my computers antenna’s and when it is time to get down to brass tacks I say to myself “It’s Go Time” and switch them off.
This may sound like a simple idea, and it is, but it is powerful in execution for the following reasons:
- It “primes” you for the work you are about to do
- It eliminates those nefarious digital distractions
A habit such as this sets the tone for what you are about to do. Through repetition it helps you switch off your monkey mind faster and faster, until the simple act of hitting that switch puts you into work mode almost instantly. It is a physical act that switches you into a different state. Almost like self-hypnosis.
It is no different than having a catch phrase, or rubbing a rabbits foot, or any other habit that helps put you into the zone. Except for one thing…
It Takes You Offline
Fact: if you are reading you aren’t writing. If you are emailing, technically you are writing, but it is likely reactionary; at the whim of another. There is nothing online that will help you accomplish something that requires focused work. Research? Sure, you need some of that. But that happens at a different stage.
A great little trick that I learned from Malcolm Gladwell is that if you find you are missing a bit of info while writing, note that section with a “TK” and keep moving. You can research the missing bit at the end and fill in the blanks. Why “TK”? Because of a distinct lack of English words with that letter combination. This makes it easy to run a search function and go straight to that spot later on.
This one is obvious, but it also helps to switch your phone to airplane mode. After all, it’s no use locking your front door if you leave the back window open.
If you have trouble concentrating on completion while working on your computer I encourage you to give this a try. Set a timer if you have to and turn the antennas back on for 5 minutes after you’ve written for 25. Or better yet, leave them off. It is easy to get mired in the time-suck that is the internet.
What do you think? Do you have some type of system to prime yourself for quality output? Can you work with everything “on” or does digital isolation help?