After introducing the idea, the benefits and the establishment of the writing schedule, I now want to talk about the actual writing during a scheduled session. If you followed the suggestions about how to create your own schedule, as presented in the last post, you now face the challenge of sitting down and writing for the period you’ve planned.
Even though you allotted time to write and are now going to sit down, you will face distractions and interruptions. That’s why you have to prepare yourself by anticipating and avoiding them.
Depending on where you work, you should tell every person around that you are writing and when. Tell them not to disturb you for scheduling meetings, having a coffee break or anything else that is not a serious emergency. Tell them how important the scheduled writing sessions are to you. If they care about your work and your writing progress, they will understand and might even be inspired by your new habit. You can also post a note on the door to fend off any uninformed person.
When you’ve closed the door, turn off every device and put away any object that might distract you. If you know what you’re going to write during the session and are prepared, you won’t need the Internet. Shut it down so that you won’t be tempted to check your e-mail or social media accounts. Turn off your mobile phone and similar devices. It also helps to only have the things on your desk that you’ll need to accomplish your writing task. Stow away any magazines, newspapers, and unrelated books that do not contribute to meeting your writing goal for the day. With all of these things turned off and put away, you’ve eliminated all external sources for distraction that you can control. Now there’s only one source of distraction and disturbance left: yourself.
You’ve defined a task and a goal for the writing session, so you can exclusively devote your time to their accomplishment. Because there are many things you’ll have to think about and work on, you might want to switch briefly from one chapter to another or to a different writing task. Try to restrain yourself in these moments. If it is something important, make a note, put it away and focus again on the task at hand. Whenever you find yourself daydreaming, notice that your thoughts were wandering and come back to the task. If that happens multiple times, don’t despair or condemn yourself. This happens to all of us. To focus on a task means to refocus again and again without getting bothered by one’s wandering thoughts. You can’t turn them off like your mobile phone. But you simply don’t pick them up as you would if your phone rang. Otherwise you get lost and lose precious writing time. I often get distracted by my own thoughts and end up daydreaming about things that have nothing to do with the writing task. When I notice this, I try to smile to myself and continue to work. It won’t help if I criticize my thoughts or the unhelpful habit of daydreaming – it would make it worse. So don’t be too hard on yourself and be prepared for this kind of unintended self-distraction.
Free of most of the external distractions and disturbances that you can control, and prepared to deal with your wandering thoughts, you can work on the planned task for the allotted time. If you’ve planned well, you will be able to finish the task and accomplish the session’s goal in time. Of course, if time allows you may continue to work on other tasks after your writing session. But keep in mind that you’ll need to sit down and write during the scheduled times, even if you spend several hours writing in addition to your writing sessions. Never take that as an excuse for not writing during the scheduled time.
Whether or not you continue to write, you should fill in your monitoring spreadsheet. It allows you to close the session. If you didn’t accomplish the goal, you should note that. It might motivate you to not write “not accomplished” again any time soon.
By preparing and behaving in the ways described, you create the best conditions for accomplishing the set task and goal. While you might still get distracted or disrupted, you did everything to anticipate the most common sources of interruption. Instead of complaining about the remaining distractions, you can acknowledge the habits that you’re developing: avoiding and dealing with external and internal disturbances and distractions, focusing on a single task, and monitoring your progress.
Next week, I want to talk about rituals and rewards as motivational tricks.