We all have them. From momentary interruptions to full-on changes of focus. Distractions are time killers and stress producers. But what can we do about them?
Writers, especially those who have small children or needy pets, find themselves struggling to keep their train of thought when they stop to take care of a problem or give in to an impulse. A dog whines to be let outside; a cat jumps on top of your laptop computer; a three-year-old needs a toy or your attention. The love scene you’ve visualized and ramped up your hormones for, fades away.
Those of us who are caregivers have the same problem. Fingers are flying across the keyboard when there’s an urgent need you have to stop and address. You do it because you want to. Getting back to where you were in your story is sometimes hard.
My biggest distraction is the internet. What was I going to look up? Oh yes, the impact of climate change on ladybugs or what food prevents gallstones or an easier way to plant zinnias. Minds and fingers are prone to wander when you are struggling with a passage or your back hurts from sitting in one position too long.
I’ve used writing as an example, but work projects, homework assignments, volunteering, quilting—anything that requires concentration—is fodder for distraction. And it’s stressful to be interrupted when you have a time issue, or a great idea that needs to be jotted down, or you’ve just figured out a plot twist.
I mentioned the internet. To be more specific, social media is one of my biggest time sucks. I use Facebook and Twitter and I check them daily. If distracted by something I see, I might be hooked for an hour or more responding or reading other people’s posts.
What can we do about distractions? It’s tough. Years ago when my household to-do list got in the way of writing, I headed for the coffee shop with laptop and earbuds or the library. I wrote my first book in a motel room rented by the hour while my kids were in daycare. That’s drastic, but it worked. A lot of writers go on retreats, but not all of us can do that. Others, who have day jobs, find a few hours late at night or early in the morning.
Caregiving for a family member has taught me new realities and one of them is to learn to write in spurts. If I concentrate I can do it and I usually have at least an hour at a time. People who work outside the home do this too, but most can close a door or put calls on hold, or put up a do- not-disturb-genius-working sign in a cubicle.
Outside distractions can be managed. Your inside ones are the neediest. Turn off your phone and your Wifi and focus on your project in the spurt of time you have. The sigh you hear when you’ve finished (or typed “the end”) will be the best sound you’ve heard all day.