The Hailstorm of Distraction

Line art drawing of Pteranodon.

I haven’t actually seen the child in question, but this is what I picture based on the noise. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fuck me, I find it hard to focus sometimes.

I know I’m not the only one. The phone, real world errands, that bloody neighbourhood kid that shrieks like a pterodactyl*…distractions are everywhere. And then when I manage to sit down at my computer, they don’t go away. They just concentrate themselves on the screen. The internet is a wonderful place, filled with magic and insanity, but god damn, is it distracting. Seriously: having all the world’s knowledge and trivia at my fingertips is so amazing I sometimes wonder how the hell I manage to do anything else, ever.

But shit’s got to get done, sooner or later. Deadlines have to be met. But how do you get past the never-ending hailstorm of distraction rattling on the sheet metal roof of your brain? Here’s my process for Getting ‘Er Done:

Unplug. No one loves their iPhone more than me.** It brings me tweets and texts and news alerts and hockey stats and…oh, too many things to count. Which is why, when I really need to get work done, I have to turn it off. I know it’s hard. How will you get through another hour without George Takei’s Twitter feed? But you can do it. The world won’t even know you’re gone for a couple of hours.
Or take the middle ground: turn all alerts off (except your phone ringer if you’re an emergency contact) for 55 minutes of every hour. Then, take the last five minutes to do a status check. Anything urgently need your attention? No? Turn it off again and get back to work. Repeat.

Shut It Down. You thought pop-ups were annoying? Try on screen alerts. I love them when I’m doing research or just dicking around on the internet, but when I’m working, it’s one more thing to distract me. Turn off Twitter and Facebook; your friends will have to play on their own for a while. Close the news alerts. Definitely shut off your games, online or otherwise. It’ll still be there when you get back. I promise. Have I ever broken a promise to you?

Clean Desktop, Clean Mind. Keep the work area clean. No extra apps or shit. No file folders strewn everywhere. No cascading windows open from here to infinity. Open what you need and shut down the rest. Keep it clean to keep it focused.

Get The Stick. On rough days, I use Write or Die (available for free on the website, or download a desktop version for ten bucks). It’s a very basic text window, nothing fancy. Not much in the way of formatting, but that’s not the point. You set a word count and a time limit, and go. But every time you stop writing, it makes you to get back at it. You can set it on the gentle mode, which is just text reminders popping up. You can set it on normal, which plays an annoying sound every time you stop. Or set it on my personal favourite: Kamikaze Mode. Every time you stop writing, it starts deleting what you’ve already written. Horrifying. But it keeps me going on those days when I’ve got a case of Distracted by Shiny Things. Try it out. And remember: zero drafts are helpful. You can edit later. For now, just stay ahead of the Cursor of Death.

But Don’t Forget The Carrot. After you finish, get yourself a reward for being so dedicated. An hour playing those damn annoying Facebook games your poison? Go for it.*** Glass of wine? Cupcake? Watching a movie? That new album? Whatever. Just reward yourself for a job well done. Because any win should be celebrated. And a new game starts tomorrow.

*At this point, I’m actually hoping it mutates into a pterodactyl. At least then it would fly away.
**No one. Understand?
***Just don’t send me requests. I hate that shit.

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