Lesson 9

How to kill your creative distractions

Concentrating on your creative work is hard – especially when you’re starting out or if the ideas aren’t flowing. It’s all too easy to get sidetracked and let those procrastination gremlins distract you.

But getting distracted can have a real negative impact on your work – and your determination to finish.

Psychologists tell us that we only have a finite amount of concentration every day (like petrol in a gas tank) and getting pulled away from the task at hand depletes our reserves a little more.

But research tells us that keeping focused and preventing distractions from cropping up is all about taking back control – over yourself.

The more control you can have over your physical environment, your schedule and your writing mindset – the less likely your mind will wander.

ACTION: Take a break — but do it on your own terms

Taking regular breaks isn’t necessarily harmful to your concentration but being unwittingly distracted is. So, it's best to take breaks on your own terms, according to Professor Paul Dolan, a behavioral psychologist at the London School of Economics.

Dolan’s research reveals that the best way to avoid distraction is to cheat it by staying in control and deliberately switching to a pleasurable (and therefore rewarding) activity when you feel your concentration is starting to slide. So:

  • Instead of waiting to get distracted, identify something you do when you get distracted (like scroll through Facebook or play Pokémon Go) then deliberately plan in 15 minutes of ‘distraction time’ into your writing schedule.

  • This will mean you’re less like to ‘become distracted’ as you know you have a 15-minute bout of play time coming up. Plus your reserves of concentration don’t get depleted, so you’re able to stay focused on your writing for longer.

Science tells us that the best way to conquer procrastination isn’t to keep going with your writing through willpower and gritted teeth alone. Far better to develop a system which keeps you writing and keeps the distractions at bay.

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