Last weekend I had the major part of a day all to myself. I had nothing planned for except a phone call with a friend (which ended up not happening), yet I managed to get very little written during that time. That evening I wrote considerably more and ended the day about 1000 words short of my goal. I sat down and wrote the next day and was about as productive, though I spent the bulk of the day distracted by my parental duties. On the third day I punched out almost as much as I had during the previous two days combined although I was every bit as busy as the day before.
As I looked at the results of my weekend I asked myself what had made the difference in how much I was able to write during each day and at the different times of day. I questioned what had distracted me and what had helped me focus on my work and then I pondered what about the distractions and focus enhancers made them what they were. So lets look at this on a day by day approach.
On Friday I was tired for much of the day having gotten up overly early to take my wife to the airport (the whole reason I had a day all to myself). During the day I went to the gym a couple of times and had to get the kids ready for school and then pick them up from school. I can’t really count this as writing time since I was obviously not at my computer.. Now when I wasn’t out running about I watched a movie and played some Civilization V, all while attempting to write. Later that evening after the kids were in bed I sat down and tried to write some more all while playing Civ V again with some Adult Swim in the background. During this entire day I was completely and utterly mediocre in my writing output. The words came in fits and starts, never in a solid string of productivity. Probably my most productive period was after the kids were in bed and I was writing between turns of Civilization (I was near the end of the game and it took the computer a while to churn through the AI), but even this was not very good. I spent a day and managed only about 1500 words. While this would be a pretty good day for me under normal circumstances, to have an entire day to myself and only hit that number seems somehow criminal.
Saturday was full of more activity. Karate for my youngest followed by the gym for me, followed by lunch and then an afternoon of playing with the boys and doing laundry. Honestly my writing time was in serious jeopardy for most of that time. Karate practice is traditionally a good writing time for me oddly enough. I can sit back with my laptop and hammer out four or five hundred words without too much difficulty. During the day I had been watching the Star Wars movies (started with Episode I) and I was half way through Episode IV when I put the kids to bed. I started writing and playing Civilization V again with the movie on in the background. It ended and I started The Empire Strikes Back. Of all the Star Wars movies this one is my favorite (I suspect I’m not alone in this) and I have pretty well got it memorized. Once it started playing the words started really flowing out and by the time the movie was done and I was tired to the point of needing bed I had produced slightly more than I had the day before. It was still well below my goal, but I found myself feeling pretty good about the number because the words had flowed and I thought that the work was pretty good.
Sunday was lost to me due to cleaning and playing with the kids for the most part. But that evening after I put the kids to bed I decided that I was really going to get some writing done. I set myself a time limit of two hours because I was exhausted and if I didn’t get some sleep work would be miserable the next morning. I turned off the TV and put my headphones on with some music playing just loud enough to block out any ambient sounds. I started writing and had to stop myself at that two hour mark because the words were coming so easily to me. I went to bed that night feeling like I had truly put a superior effort into my work and had produced something really worthwhile with my time.
On the surface it looked like my biggest distraction may well have been Civilization V, and I would say that is pretty accurate. If I had just locked that game away and focused on my work I may have gotten considerably more work done. The second big distraction was having a movie playing in the background, although that seems to be tempered by how well I know the movie because the better I knew the movie the more productive I became.
Looking at what helped me focus the most I would have to say was the light background music (and to a lesser extent background movie sounds as discussed above. Having something other than silence kept me from drifting off too much and made me considerably more comfortable as I sat at my computer. I have tried doing the same sort of thing with just the speakers and not headphones and it does help, but the world deadening effect of good headphones really kicks it into overdrive. Another focus for my writing was the self imposed time period. Knowing that I had only two hours to get work done made that two hours incredibly productive, whereas when I had nearly six hours to work with I squandered it and was far less productive.
So what did this weekend teach me? Well it taught me that if I really want to get any writing done I have got to stay the hell away from video games, even ones where I have big gaps of wait time to fill in. I need to stay away from movies and television for my background noise. Music is far superior and if headphones are available as an option I should definitely slap them on as an extra little boost. I need to set time limits for myself and stick to them. Don’t try and spend a whole day (as rare as they may be) trying to work on writing. Set some blocks of time aside for nothing but writing with gaps in between. This allows for that focused time while giving you some breaks where playing video games or watching a movie will provide a good break and some entertainment.
Now that I have a little better handle on what helps me be my most productive I will be putting the plan into action in about two weeks when my wife heads out of town once more. I’ll make sure to share how well it worked out.
Do you think my self analysis is totally cracked or did I hit it on the head? How about you? Do you have any distractions you need to avoid or any foci that crank up your productivity?
- Writing tip of the day – avoid distractions (westernthm.wordpress.com)
- Managing Workplace Distractions (blogs.wsj.com)
- Distractions Are Yours to Manage (chrisbrogan.com)
- Concentration: 22 ways to stay focused on writing (badlanguage.net)