Whenever something interrupts you from your writing, your concentration is broken and you lose time as your mind tries to recover that productive state you were in. And, of course, you also lose time dealing with whatever distracted you.
These are largely under your own control. You must choose to not let the Internet barge into your productive time. To start, turn off or disable any software that audibly or visibly lets you know something has happened, like a new e-mail or a new bleet on whatever social networking sites you frequent.
Set specific times of the day, not more than three or four, when you will quickly read and answer e-mail, deal with your social networks, and also read important blog posts and perhaps post a quick reply or two. Don’t pick your peak productivity times. Do it when your brain needs a break from the real work.
Whenever possible, turn off the ringers on your phones and let people leave messages. You then listen to the messages when convenient, decide which calls are important, determine exactly what needs to be accomplished with each of those calls, and then you return them.
You may have important people that need access to you, like kids or a spouse or an elderly parent. In that case, get phones and phone plans that allow you to set a specific ring for each important person. Let all the important people in your life know your general writing schedule and tell them to only call you during your work time when it is really, truly important.
When possible, initiate important phone calls yourself and do it on your schedule. Be clear about exactly what you’ll cover in the call and get everything done as quickly and completely as possible.
(For more advice, see Ending Phone Interruptions.)
If you still use a fax machine, place it in another room so you won’t be distracted when a fax pops out. And turn off the ringer to the machine. Just remember to check once or twice a day to see if anything’s arrived.
You want these people to know you love them and care about them, and you should demonstrate this frequently through spending time with them and telling them and showing them how much they mean to you.
You also need to set boundaries for your writing and work time. Have a meeting with your loved ones and discuss what your freelance writing career is and why it’s important to you, and also why it’s important to them, especially if you provide them with food, shelter, and clothing. Discuss when you will be working and tell them you do not want to be disturbed during that time.
Adult members will likely not disturb you much. It’s the kids, especially the younger ones, that are most likely to want your attention and to “forget” the rules around your work. Handle these interruptions in a loving way and develop an appropriate response that allows you to remind the children of your love and also that you need to be alone to work. And be sure you spend ample quality time with your children outside of your work hours so they know that you love them and that they are important to you.
If you have guests staying at your place, let them know your work schedule and that you appreciate their understanding in allowing you to write in peace. Set specific times that you will visit with them.
Unannounced visitors are another matter entirely. If it’s the one-time visitor, like a salesperson, you don’t even have to answer the door. But if you do, politely and quickly let them know that you don’t want any more visits.
If friends or neighbors drop by unannounced and want to chat, gently inform them that you are working and have to keep at it. Let them know your general work schedule and ask them to call or e-mail to set up a time to get together.
Depending on where you live, you may be subjected to unwanted noise, be it neighbors’ stereos, loud traffic, nearby train tracks, or a host of other possibilities. You may be able to habituate yourself to some or all of these noises, especially relatively constant ones like traffic.
To keep unwanted noise at bay, create your own noise, noise you like. It can be music that soothes you and doesn’t affect your concentration, or it can be white noise — constant background sounds like a fan or perhaps a CD of a rainstorm.
Value Your Time
Whenever someone or something unimportant is taking up your time, think about the value of your time. How much will a long and boring conversation cost you?
This doesn’t mean you always watch the clock and think about the time ticking away, especially when you are with the important people in your life. Apply this principle to street conversations with people you don’t know well, or if you get distracted by a TV show when you should be doing something else important.
Which types of interruptions cause the greatest decrease in your productivity? How do you deal with them? Any suggestions to add to my advice above?