Driven to Distraction
The other day I was taking a mental inventory of all the electronic entertainment devices that we have in our house. We have three TVs with hundreds of channels [because you never know where you will be when you need to check the score], a DVD player, a DVR, a Blue Ray, a Playstation, an old Gameboy somewhere, two iPads [so we don’t have to arm wrestle for it], two iPhones, a desktop PC, two laptops, a Macbook Air [thank you to my husband!!], two Kindles, and two iPods. (phew!) This doesn’t even take into account all of the non-electronic or acoustic/electric forms of entertainment that we have as well — electric piano, synthesizer, three ukeleles, a couple of harmonicas, four violins – one electric, many many guitars – both acoustic and electric, an electric bass, some mandolins, harmonicas, books books books and more books, a few sewing machines, an embroidery machine, a serger I have yet to figure out how to use, and a bunch of blank notebooks and pens. (If you write, you know the notebooks are just as entertaining as the other items that I mentioned!) 🙂
[Did I also mention the fact that it is just me and my husband? 🙂 ]
If we had children, I am sure the amount of entertaining objects in our house would multiply, and the ones that we could claim as ours would decrease measureably!
Let’s face it – we live in a busy world with a myriad of entertainment options. And for the most part, I am glad. I really enjoy having all these toys and tools at my disposal. But sometimes they can get distracting. I am sure we are not alone in this. Is it any wonder that ADD is the diagnosis du jour in the US?!
I am pretty good at focusing on writing and ignoring the instruments, sewing machines and TV while I do it. But certain rooms in our house where I am surrounded by books are impossible to write in. I am forever grabbing a book off the shelf and dipping into it, or searching through the shelves to see if I still have a book I just remembered. Since I got an iPhone last year, I am easily distracted with texting – a skill I swore I would never need. And online – forget about it! Facebook, WordPress reader, Amazon, cat videos on YouTube… the distractions are endless.
Of course, if the words are not coming easily on any given day, distractions can take any form — laundry, dishes, cleaning out a closet, a sudden urge to run errands to Target or the grocery store. Even scooping the cat box can be preferrable to staring at the blank screen. These distractions, I can’t help you with… You will just have to decide what really needs to be done, and then stay seated at your desk anyway.
But for some of the other ones, an article in the November/December issue of Writer’s Digest may have a solution. In “Overcoming Writer’s Block Without Willpower,” Mike Bechtle talks about the difference between discipline and distraction. Where traditional approaches to writer’s block call for more discipline, writer’s block in the helter skelter busy-ness of today’s world calls for distraction management. He says that if we are spending all of our energy focusing on ignoring distractions, we have very little left to focus on the words. (Finally, someone is understanding my problem!) To combat this, he says we have to limit the distractions and/or change the way we handle them.
The article continues with a number of helpful suggestions for handling electronic age interruptions, such as scheduling a set time in your day to handle email so you are not dealing with it the moment it arrives every time a message lands in your inbox. He also suggests low-tech solutions like eating healthy, getting enough sleep and drinking enough water.
Perhaps the most helpful information, however, are the links to various software tools that can help limit distractions on your computer screen.
Mac Freedom (Mac or Windows) literally locks you offline for a set period of time so you are not tempted to surf the net instead of write. ($)
WriteRoom (Mac) or Dark Room (Windows) and FocusWriter (Mac or Windows) block everything from your screen except your writing. FocusWriter even has typewriter sounds for those who like it old school. (Free)
RescueTime (Mac or Windows) keeps track of how much time you spend working as opposed to surfing the net and gives you feedback. (Free) Or, if you want the Pro version ($/month), you can also block websites for set periods of time, see what you spend your time on at a document level, and get alerts when you have been goofing off too long.
So, all this technology can be a good thing -it can actually save us from the distraction of… technology… very interesting! 🙂