Finding time to concentrate while remote working through a pandemic can be a tall order
Getting your head down and focusing on the task at hand can be really difficult at the best of times (and we’re definitely not living through the best of times). Blogging on behalf of your small business takes time, concentration and creativity. But, when distractions are coming at you from every direction, how do you find that headspace to focus on one thing at a time?
Lose the distractions, gain the action
The best productivity advice I’ve ever received came from international mega-selling author Stephen King. I wish I could say that this advice was issued over a cup of coffee and a shared pack of doughnuts. Sadly, it was offered to millions of his other fans via the pages of his memoir, On Writing.
There are lots of good tips in there, especially for creative writers. But the one that resonated most for me concerned the location where you work. King advocates a writing room with absolutely zero distractions:
“If possible, there should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with. If there’s a window, draw the curtains or pull down the shade unless it looks out at a blank wall. For any writer, but for the beginning writer in particular, it’s wise to eliminate every possible distraction.”
For me, this was excellent advice. I’d been struggling to make progress on my creative writing projects, until I realised that I was trying to write on my work computer – which also hosted my work email, personal email, social media accounts and the whole internet – in a room shared with my partner, my dog, a doorbell and a large window with stuff happening outside it.
Literally, as soon as I moved into the house’s smallest bedroom, shut the door and turned off my mobile phone, it was like a switch had been flipped. My productivity went through the roof. Ever since then, whenever I’ve needed to really focus on getting a job done, eliminating distractions has been the key to success.
How do you eliminate distractions during a pandemic?
However, this advice was issued many years before the Covid-19 pandemic was even dreamt of. Some would argue that Stephen King himself couldn’t have imagined the nightmare we’re all living through right now, along with the impact it’s had on our professional endeavours and daily working lives.
So, how can you focus on just one task, such as writing your small business blog, when you have so many demands on your attention?
For many people, across many industries, life in early 2021 is almost unrecognisable compared with life 12 months ago. The pressures on our time, energy, attention and mental health have grown exponentially and it’s far from over. When you’re juggling an array of responsibilities – working from home, homeschooling your children, taking care of relatives, keeping your household afloat financially and logistically, trying to stay safe from a potentially fatal disease – ALL AT THE SAME TIME, finding a time and place where you can enjoy a distraction-free period may seem like a blissful fantasy.
However, if you just need an hour here and there to keep on top of things like your blog, here are a few suggestions that might help.
Negotiate the time in advance
If you have a partner who is also working from home and you’re sharing child-minding and homeschooling duties, you probably already have a system for working out who does what and when. Diarise your blog-writing session and treat it as an important job like any other. Add that time to the hours you need to be available to your business this week and protect it against all comers.
Take another look at your workspace
Even if you can find the time to concentrate for a while, do you have the right environment? When your homeworking desk is the kitchen table, or at the centre of another shared space, the answer is probably no. If there’s an opportunity to take a laptop and move to a quieter part of your home where you can close the door, just for that hour, do so. Bedroom, bathroom, garden shed – anywhere will do. Remember Stephen King’s advice: you don’t need a nice view, you just need solitude.
But if that’s not an option, could you create the sensation of solitude in your existing workspace? Headphones that play soft music or white noise, or even ear plugs to keep noise out, could help to create that feeling of splendid isolation.
Turning to face the wall, so you can’t see what the children or the dog are getting up to, could also help you to don the mental blinkers for a little while.
Banish the digital time sponges
When you're trying to escape distractions, giving the world fewer ways to reach you and snatch at your attention will really help. If your laptop or tablet is loaded up with email and social media accounts that keep pinging you, it's time to go back to basics. While digging out your grandmother's 1940s typewriter might be taking it a bit far, the more obsolete the device, the better! Remember that old digibook you bought in 1999 that doesn't even connect to the internet? As long as it's got a word processor function on it, it might prove to be your new best friend.
Or (whisper it) pen and paper could be about to make a comeback...
Take it outside
Okay, so January isn’t the greatest time to advocate outdoor working. But at least the garden will be yours and only yours!
Realistically, setting up a desk outside probably isn’t feasible until the weather warms up a bit. But there’s nothing stopping you doing your thinking in the great outdoors, which is really the most important part.
Often, it’s not the writing up of the blog or project that’s the most difficult element. It’s getting your thoughts in order, which is when distractions and intrusions can really derail your efforts. Next time you need to write something creative, why not plan to take a walk or run first, during which you can ponder what you want to say? Take a notebook or use voice dictation to record your thoughts. Then, when you get back to your computer, at least the bare bones of an idea will be in place, ready to be captured on the page.
What are your top tips for fighting off distractions during this most distracted of times?