How to Minimize Interruptions So You Can Get Your Writing Done

by John Soares on October 10, 2011

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.

Good time management is a top priority here at Productive Writers, so let’s discuss the major sources of interruptions and how you can prevent them from affecting your writing productivity.

Internet Interruptions

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.

Telephone Interruptions

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.

Fax 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.

Family Interruptions

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.

Visitor Interruptions

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.

Noise Disturbances

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.

Your Take

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?

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

1 TC/The Writer Underground October 10, 2011 at 11:50 AM

Screenwriter John August recommends Freedom software, which actually locks Internet access on Mac and Windoze machines for as many hours as you’d like.

You might as well get that work done…

I’ve never used it (Linux guy), but it’s an interesting thought…
TC/The Writer Underground recently posted…Interview With A Successful Writer: Outdoor Book Award Winner Anders Halverson


2 John Soares October 10, 2011 at 2:40 PM

As a Windoze user I think I’ll have a look-see. Thanks Tom!
John Soares recently posted…Writing Ergonomics: Top Tips for Proper Posture, Alignment, and Movement


3 Ruth - The Freelance Writing Blog October 10, 2011 at 12:10 PM

It’s the great challenge of working from home as a freelancer. On the one hand, I love being more accessible to my family. On the other hand, it’s harder to set limits and create work/home boundaries. Often, I’ll close my home office door (particularly when I’m expecting my kids home from school), and then they know that Mom is busy with work and I mustn’t be disturbed. Now…any suggestions on how to deal with needy dog interruptions?
Ruth – The Freelance Writing Blog recently posted…The #1 Reason You’re Not Earning at Least $100/Hour


4 John Soares October 10, 2011 at 2:57 PM

I’m glad you’ve trained the kids to leave you alone when your office door is closed. (I wonder how old they are though; seems like the really young ones would be most likely to want to bother Mom.)

About the dog: train it to be OK outside your office while you’re inside your office with the door closed. I’m currently without a dog, but I often wish one of my departed golden retrievers was still around to lay her head on my thigh while I’m trying to write.
John Soares recently posted…Why Writers Must Avoid Perfectionism


5 Kristi Hines October 10, 2011 at 4:48 PM

Using noise canceling headphones and has saved me from many random interruptions while writing. Definitely some great tips – I like to set myself a goal of “I won’t do anything else unless I’m finished with ___.” That way if I feel myself wandering off to something else, I just mentally slap myself back to what I was supposed to be doing. :)
Kristi Hines recently posted…How to Optimize 7 Popular Social Media Profiles for SEO


6 John Soares October 10, 2011 at 5:01 PM

All three are excellent suggestions. I’m listening to right now…
John Soares recently posted…How to Capture, Save, and Review Your Freelance Writing Ideas


7 Jane | Merry Relationships October 10, 2011 at 7:09 PM

Hey Kristi, that’s an awesome suggestion. Especially for those like me in India, the sound of rain is really a great motivator (although I used to hate rain when I was in the UK, where it rains almost always).

You’re really smart in finding these kinda nifty things around. Kudos!
Jane | Merry Relationships recently posted…How To Move On After An Abusive Relationship?


8 Kristi Hines October 10, 2011 at 8:47 PM

I’ve always found rain to be a great background noise… keeps you calm but not sleepy so you can keep working without being distracted by anything else. :)
Kristi Hines recently posted…How to Optimize 7 Popular Social Media Profiles for SEO


9 John Soares October 11, 2011 at 7:35 AM

I’m sitting in Starbucks right now listening to on my headphones. It’s a great way to drown out the loud yet boring conversation happening at the next table.
John Soares recently posted…Seven Key Steps for Finding, Evaluating, and Implementing Good Ideas


10 Dave Doolin October 11, 2011 at 9:02 AM

Smart. I use headphones as well. I wouldn’t say “noise cancelling.” More like Metallica or long Trance or Deep House tracks cranked up loud enough to “cancel” everything else out.

Wandering away is a great way to retain focus for me. Taking a long walk when I’m stuck often does wonders.
Dave Doolin recently posted…Content Curation is it Real or Just Another Sleazy Marketing Ploy?


11 Kim Tracy Prince October 29, 2011 at 9:06 AM

How funny – I listen to electronica or trance, too. But only when I’m *writing* writing. When formatting blog posts, I listen to Dave Ramsey or Dr. Laura.


12 Ray Anderson October 11, 2011 at 5:27 AM

All good suggestions, but if I really need to concentrate, I sneak off to a coffee shop or the local library and find a corner. I don’t mind minor background noise.


13 John Soares October 11, 2011 at 7:38 AM

I spend a lot of time in coffee shops and libraries Ray. Usually they’re fine, but sometimes there’s an unwanted source of noise I can’t easily tune out. I’ll often listen to Pandora, although I’m really liking Kristi’s suggestion of
John Soares recently posted…My Review of Carol Tice’s Freelance Writers Den Membership Site


14 Anne Wayman October 11, 2011 at 6:20 AM

I’ve got neighbors with water falls! One on each side which is just plain wonderful.

My biggest interruptions these days is my elderly (don’t tell her I said so) tabby cat, MzTiz. Several times in a morning she head buts me until I get up and go look at her food. I call it the blessing of the food and am learning to treat these moments as a mindfulness bell to bring me back to the present moment… which seems better than screaming at her.
Anne Wayman recently posted…Should I Write One Blog Or Two?


15 John Soares October 11, 2011 at 7:40 AM

When I had golden retrievers they would often let me know that they’d love to go for a walk on the beach or a hike in the mountains. Fortunately they were patient and would wait for me.
John Soares recently posted…Why Writers Must Avoid Perfectionism


16 Anne Wayman October 11, 2011 at 8:00 AM

Well, MzTiz patiently nudges me over and over again until I get up and do what she wants 😉
Anne Wayman recently posted…How To Make The Best Use Of A Writer’s Forum


17 Eric Soares October 11, 2011 at 7:52 AM

Nifty suggestions, John. And your readers also give good tips. As for good sounds to cover up bad sounds, how about alpha & theta brain wave entrainment? Both relax the mind and allow it to focus–great for writers. I sometimes listen to music with theta waves, and it is very relaxing and meditative. Shifting back and forth from alpha to theta helps keep a person productive.

Want to know more? Look it up….
Eric Soares recently posted…World Citizenship–a sea kayaker’s perspective


18 John October 11, 2011 at 8:56 AM

The funny thing is that I get some of my best writing done when I least expect it. For example, last week I was at the mechanic for several hours getting work done to my car. All I had was a notebook and my Kindle. I ended up writing more pages that day than I usually do in an entire week. Sometimes, being stuck somewhere is the best place to get the most work done.
John recently posted…Utopia Systems Inc Home


19 John Soares October 11, 2011 at 8:59 AM

Same for me John. I once cranked for three hours on my laptop while waiting for a brake job at my mechanic’s shop. It helped that I had no Internet access, but I wrote 3000-4000 words in those three hours.
John Soares recently posted…Writing Ergonomics: Top Tips for Proper Posture, Alignment, and Movement


20 Joel - Marketing Survival Kit October 11, 2011 at 10:00 AM

As a freelance writer and Internet marketer who works from home, I can really relate to this post and many of the comments. As far as pets go, I have an outdoor cat and two dogs that sleep most of the day, so that’s not a problem. The phone can be an interruption, especially calls from telemarketers, but I rarely answer it. Ninety-nine percent of my important calls come to me on my cell phone, so that frees me up to let the answering machine respond to the routine and nuisance calls on the landline.


21 Sandip October 12, 2011 at 4:11 AM

The biggest problem I faced was with family thinking that as I started working from home, I was ‘available’.

“Can you pick this up? Can you do this?” etc, etc

I told everyone to treat me as if I’m at work – it’s no different. Sometimes, to even prevent the conversation, I simply turned my phone off to prevent interruptions. Otherwise, I’d get nowhere!
Sandip recently posted…Hatton Garden Metals


22 Ana @ how Google works October 12, 2011 at 4:38 AM

Thanks for these crucial tips. It would seem that people think you don’t work, just because you work from home. Maybe one day people will understand it.
Ana @ how Google works recently posted…Thesis Theme


23 Ted October 14, 2011 at 7:23 AM


One of my biggest pet peeves is when my wife interrupts me when I am working on the weekend. I can be right in the middle of some major thought intensive aspect of a project when she comes walking in and starts talking about something unrelated. My concentration is broken. Then it takes me quite a while to get back to where I was just at. It drives me nuts.

Despite all my efforts to kindly remind her that I am doing real work, she still doesn’t get it. My brother goes through the same thing on days when he is working from home. His wife will expect him to do a load of laundry or some other housework while he is working from home. Guys don’t operate like that though. We need to focus on one thing at a time. When we are working, then work is the most important thing at the time. I think women make better multitaksers. They are capable of dealing with interruptions better than we are I think.
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24 John Soares October 14, 2011 at 8:33 AM

Ted, I occasionally have the same issue with my partner Stephanie, although she is overall quite sensitive to my needs for uninterrupted concentration.

I agree that women are better at multitasking and at jumping right back into something that takes a lot of brain power. I need to stay focused without distractions.
John Soares recently posted…Seven Key Steps for Finding, Evaluating, and Implementing Good Ideas


25 Danielle McGaw October 15, 2011 at 1:44 AM

I’ve always been pretty good at blocking out noise (my husband gets kind of irked though when he’s been talking to me for five minutes before he realizes that I haven’t heard a thing) but Internet noise is my big challenge. I’ve use various blockers to block out sites that tempt me (social media and forums mostly) but you actually have to turn it ON to make it work. I’ve also used Chrometa to track my time so I can see how much time I’m actually working.

My big challenge is going to be the baby that is going to be coming into our home – my daughter’s. I might have to start leaving the house because the cuteness factor might be too distracting. :)
Danielle McGaw recently posted…No Job=No Apartment? FALSE


26 John Soares October 16, 2011 at 11:00 AM

I think the Internet is a huge distraction for most writers. When I wrote my hiking guidebooks in the early and mid1990s, there was no Internet tempting me to goof off; I got a lot of writing done back then.

I’ll eventually write an entire post on dealing with the Internet, but I appreciate you sharing your story, and I also monitor the time I spend doing various things throughout the day, including actual paying work.

And congratulations on the baby that will be sharing your space. Very distracting, I’m sure — but a good kind of distraction.
John Soares recently posted…My Review of Carol Tice’s Freelance Writers Den Membership Site


27 Erica October 17, 2011 at 1:24 AM

Hey John,

I have issues with checking the email and Facebook all the time. So I found a little application called Writers Room. It makes your screen black and you only see the text you type. This is for Mac, but there are similar ones for Windows, as well….
Erica recently posted…Tips On Buying Baby Swings


28 Sonny - Teen Art October 17, 2011 at 7:38 PM

When I’m writing, as strange as it sounds, I find the (lone) hum of my refrigerator soothing. That sound actually puts me in a creative zone…
Sonny – Teen Art recently posted…Design a Cover Too – Madden NFL in Adobe Photoshop


29 Pinar Tarhan October 18, 2011 at 7:34 AM

I’m very good with avoiding visitors and phone calls, but social media is my weakness. While I don’t go around reading every tweet out there or engaging with the games in Facebook, I tend to check my messages a lot. I think it is mostly because I get bored of working alone. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a writer and I love spending time by myself. But it is easy to get frustrated when I get blocked, and I turn to social media for comfort. Of course this does end up wasting more time than I meant to. I think will just print your post, and stick it on the wall, just in case.
Pinar Tarhan recently posted…What Content Mills Can and Can’t Do For You


30 John Soares October 18, 2011 at 10:37 AM

Social media is a tough one, and it’s easy to rationalize that it’s also important. I set aside certain times to deal with it, but I do occasionally give in to temptation and head to Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter when I shouldn’t.
John Soares recently posted…My Interview With Carol Tice About Freelance Writing


31 Eren Mckay October 18, 2011 at 1:03 PM

Hi John,
These tips are great. I already do a lot of them.
The thing that I have found is that I am (many times) a people person. I like to see people, talk to them. I simply love interacting. But I like doing so on my terms.

It completely energizes me to tweet , facebook or Google plus something. These little interactions actually keep me stimulated to keep writing.
I’ll spend sometimes 20 minutes writing and then take a 5 minute break for social.
Or 15 or 40 minutes writing.. It all really depends on my inspiration level.
I don’t like forcing myself to sit for 3 hours straight and not look at anything else. That would be torture to me.
However I’m the one that decides what I will look at. For example; I have 3 kids.. they know that when I close the door to my office, they simply can’t knock unless it’s an emergncy.
I also hardly ever answer the phone.
These little things truly work.

I do however like to hang out with other blogger friends on skype voice while writing. Often times we don’t even talk just sit around and work. It makes me feel like I’m not alone ~LOL.
I love your post!
Will tweet it right now.
All the best,
Eren Mckay recently posted…How to Write a Blog Post


32 John Soares October 19, 2011 at 6:58 AM

I’m glad you’ve got the kids trained to leave you alone when your office door is closed. That’s not always easy!

We all need breaks, and social media can be an effective and useful break for many people. I find, however, that what I think will be just 5-10 minutes on social media often turns into 30 minutes or more.
John Soares recently posted…My Interview With Carol Tice About Freelance Writing


33 Jerry Clifford October 20, 2011 at 3:49 AM

I know what you mean, and working at home is no easy task. I hear people saying that working at home is easy, all the time which couldn’t be farther from the truth. With all the distractions and procrastination that occurs while working at home, it’s amazing for a person to work consistently for long hours at home. It takes a lot of discipline and practice to resist these temptations and distractions.


34 Marla Beck November 9, 2011 at 3:28 PM

Great ideas, John. Love the suggestions here, esp. the rainymood link & Eren’s “hang out on Skype voice” tips. @Anne, how lucky to live between two waterfalls. Poetic.

One of the apps mentioned earlier is actually called “WriteRoom.” When I use it I’m often reminded of my old Brother word processor screen. How much did that portable machine weigh, anyways? :)


35 John Soares November 11, 2011 at 7:29 AM

Marla, I leaped from a typewriter to an Osborne computer when I started graduate school in the late 1980s. The Osborne had no other programs, so I had no distractions (from the computer anyway) when I had to write those monster papers for seminars.
John Soares recently posted…The Power of a Small Website


36 Hamish November 10, 2011 at 4:02 PM

Hey John,

Good suggestions for avoiding interruption. Thanks for those.

The most effective time saver that I ever introduced was to mute the “bong” that used to announce an incoming e-mail. I check my e-mail once an hour these days. Maybe it could be less often – but it works for me.

The second best productivity enhancement that I made was to let my kids grow up. When they were toddlers, they would come into my study and demand entertainment. My oldest boy (18 now) used to love banging my keyboard (before he could even walk). One of his first words was “fish” – I had a screensaver which showed an aquarium in those days.

I freely admit that reduced my productivity – but spending time with my kids is one of the reasons that I like to work at home. The interruptions are easier to handle these days. I either give the kids the money or “explain” why they can’t have it.

Kids aside, I am pretty well immune to ringing phones, salesmen at the door and other external noises. Social media – ok, a slight weakness. I may need to adopt your suggestion of scheduling time for that.


Hamish recently posted…Kindle Touch


37 John Soares November 11, 2011 at 7:33 AM

Hamish, I don’t have kids, so I can only imagine how much pleasurable distraction they can be to a writer. And it’s interesting that we can adapt to a variety of noises. I find that when I house-sit in San Francisco I quickly get used to all the city noises happening around me.

And I never set up audio e-mail notification, which I think has to be one of the biggest distractions possible for a writer.
John Soares recently posted…Should You Edit As You Write?


38 Sarah Li Cain March 31, 2013 at 10:37 AM

Great article :) I’m finding it hard to work and my husband doesn’t really realize I’m ‘working’. It’s been a lot of discussions and I’ve finally had to set some times where he cannot disturb me so I can get work done. He respects that.


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