Shawndra Holmberg, CPO-CD
Focused Writing: Limit Online Distractions
Have you ever set aside time to write only to find you’ve wasted time because you were lost in the black hole called the internet? It’s going to happen. However, there are tools and habits to prevent, or at least limit, the time social media, email, and “research” suck away from your writing.
Use a phrase as a placeholder
Add a placeholder when you want to keep writing but you need to do some research to finish the thought or paragraph.
My phrase includes square brackets, all caps and the topic or details I need to research. For example, I want to share the top 3 internet block apps for this email. But instead of looking for it now when I could be writing my other points, I’ll note [TOP 3 INTERNET BLOCKING APPS] and keep going. It’s easy to search for square brackets since I rarely use them any other time. I also use [???] to indicate I have no idea what to write, but let’s move on.
Set your environment up for success
Close all the windows and apps on your device except for the one or two you will be using to write. Don’t just minimize them, CLOSE THEM. Close your email app. Close your social media apps.
Turn off notifications. I prefer to keep all notifications off so there’s no distractions or shining objects pulling my focus away from whatever I’m doing. But if you prefer notifications on, then make it a habit to silence them during your writing time.
Set your phone to Do Not Disturb (iPhone/iPad or Android). If you only silence the ringer, then keep your phone face down. This decreases your visual distraction. Your phone may also have a facedown detection which prevents the screen from turning on with notifications.
Lock your internet down with an app
Find an app that will block your internet access while you focus on your writing. Below are several apps to check out. I haven’t used any of them, though I found all of them mentioned several times when I searched for the top app for blocking browser access for focus. Be sure to use the term focus otherwise you’ll get a lot of parental control apps.
LeechBlock NG (Firefox, Chrome, Edge, Brave and more)
Forest (Chrome) (Android and iOS)
Pawblock (Chrome and Firefox)
StayFocused (Chrome, Brave)
Cold Turkey Blocker (Windows, macOS)
Freedom (Windows, macOs, iOs, Android, Chrome)
There are apps that can block social media and other distractions on your phone if you need help in staying focused.
Disconnect the Wi-Fi
Turn off the Wi-Fi. It can be as simple as hitting that disconnect button on the internet access icon/menu. You could also set your devices to Airplane Mode for the duration of your writing time. Or take it a step further. Go to the source and turn off that little black box in the corner where the world comes streaming in (the router). As there’s no “off” switch, placing the router on a power strip that you can turn off and on is probably easier and better than unplugging and plugging the router directly.
You’ll need to use your writing app and software offline. Make sure you’ve enabled that. And check you’ve downloaded your file BEFORE turning off the Wi-Fi. Yes, that insight is from personal experience (my lessons learned in Go Mobile). If you always write at a certain time and no one else in your household needs the internet, you could put your internet router on a timer. The timer will shut off the power to the internet when you plan to write and will turn it back on when your writing time is up. Nir Eyal uses this in his book Indistractable to shut down the internet each night for his whole family.
Choose simpler devices
Pick a writing device that has no internet connection. Or remove all apps but your writing app.
Accountability partner or group
Whether it’s in person or via video, consider co-writing or co-working time with a partner or group for accountability. They can’t make you stay focused, but their presence increases the likelihood you’ll stay on task and get those words down. Then you can celebrate and acknowledge your progress together.
An author group I belong to has a co-writing time on Tuesdays. This has worked so well for us, I thought I’d host my own co-writing time with HYH. I’m calling it the Write Time. I’m hosting it on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays at 3 pm Eastern beginning in May. If you’re interested, sign up at the Write Time.
Change Behaviors and build new Habits
Emails are my nemesis. I’ll be writing and need the wording from something I wrote in an email last week. I’ll open my email manager. But instead of going directly to the email I’m looking for, my eyes turn to the inbox. I’ll spot an email and soon my mind and focus are derailed.
Here are the ideas I have to change my behavior and build a new habit:
Follow my own advice and practice using that placeholder phrase [SEE EMAIL FOR…]. But that might only delay the inevitable.
Write a note or make a sign identifying which email I’m looking for BEFORE opening my email program. Then I can hold it in my hand until I’m out of the email program.
Con: this requires me to be fully present to write the note — which is the whole issue in the first place.
Pro: the physicality of the note in my hand keeps me in the moment.
Open the email account I want in a browser. Since I prefer the Thunderbird app for all my email accounts, I often get sidetracked by a new email in my inbox or a “quick” check of an email account. By using a browser, I’m more likely to focus on searching for the email I want because I don’t like the look or the feel of the emails in a browser window.
Wish me luck. Let’s see which one works.
So… if internet research, email, or social media are a time-sucking black hole for you, what’s your plan to limit online distractions during your focused writing time?
You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it come true. You may have to work for it, however.
~ Richard Bach