Written by Sarah Yoon

Nov 13 Image

Have you ever sat at your computer, intent on writing your opus or touching up a drawing, only to check Facebook yet again? You get distracted, thinking, I’ll just take a quick break and see who responded to my status about today’s creative efforts without realizing the sad irony of it all. Or you check your email, because just maybe Steph got back to you about dinner on Tuesday. Often the desire is not enough. Being able to focus on your work is a mixture of mustering willpower and vetting distraction.

  • Free your mental and physical space from other tasks and responsibilities. Dump those miscellaneous papers off the desk and shove your dirty laundry out of sight. If you don’t need to research, even turn off the Internet for a time. Once everything is settled, close the door and get so cozy that getting up from your desk chair or sofa is nearly impossible. In the past, I’ve defined the ideal creative space as: A psychologically restful environment that frees the imagination by removing external distractions and responsibilities for a time.
  • Jumpstart focus with an egg timer. Getting started is the hardest part, so eliminate hemming and hawing and race against time for 10 or 15 minutes. If it rings and you’re on a roll, don’t bother to reset it. Harness that momentum and see how far it will take you.
  • Minimize external sounds with ear buds. With music or even silence, your mind can block the sound of the neighbor mowing his lawn or your bird screeching in the other room. Sounds absorb mental space as well as visuals, so clear your ears for your work: in the silence of you and your thoughts, or the intensity of you and the Braveheart soundtrack, which is one of my favorites for focusing.
  • Pace yourself with hourly breaks. If you try to go too long without a break, you may ruin yourself and burn out before your time. Fruitful breaks consist of doing the dishes or folding the laundry. For the sake of both your eyes and your mind, don’t stay in front of the computer screen. Break away to something fresh that engages a different aspect of your being.
  • Sometimes it’s necessary to change locations. Get away from your desk and go to the library, coffee shop, or park. Some might call this a last ditch effort, but if you know yourself well enough, you’ll be able to tell which focusing tactics will work from one day to the next. Some days you may be too restless to stick at home, so learn to realize that before you’ve gone crazy with false starts and distractedly shoddy work.
  • Understand your psychology. Dozens of ways can help you trick yourself into focusing, but at the end of the day you many realize that none of the above work for you. Get to know your own psychology: Why do you procrastinate? Are any fears at play? Dig into your thought processes and study yourself. You might be surprised with what you find, and how you can combat your unique inhibitors.

All creatives have their own quirky ways to jilt distraction—what are yours?

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