How to Banish Interruptions from Your Writing Time

Happy to welcome Colleen Story back to WHW. She’s got some great advice on how to protect our time from interruptions so they don’t derail our writing sessions. Read on! 

Some writers have complained to me recently: “I want to get more writing done, but it’s so hard to deal with the interruptions all the time.”

Learn how to minimize distractions and get the words on the page. Perfect for writers looking to be more productive!

It’s true that interruptions are deadly to a regular writing routine. Researchers reported in 2014 that people who were interrupted while writing produced poorer quality essays than those who worked undisturbed. Other research has found that it can take an average of twenty-three minutes to recover lost concentration after an interruption.

Twenty-three minutes. If you’ve set aside 30 minutes to write, that’s pretty much your whole writing time, blown.

Sometimes life just happens, but there are a number of things you can do to reduce the amount of interruptions that interfere with your writing. If all else fails, there are ways you can limit the time it takes to get back into your work.

 3 Ways to Reduce the Risk of Interruptions

Let’s start with reducing the odds you’ll be interrupted in the first place.

  1. Choose a time when people don’t need you: If your writing time is regularly interrupted, think about adjusting it to a different time. Maybe you could write first thing in the morning before anyone else gets up, or last thing at night when everyone else is asleep. Maybe you can grab thirty minutes of your lunch hour, or write after work before you go home. Choose a time when others think you’re doing something else to reduce the risk they’ll try to contact you.
  2. Isolate yourself: When I worked for a corporation, I wrote in the stairway because no one went through there. Despite all the focus on health these days, most people still take the elevator! Think of somewhere no one will find you.
  3. Shorten your writing time: If your writing time is constantly interrupted, shorten it. Twenty minutes of focused, uninterrupted work can be worth more than an hour filled with interruptions.

3 Ways to Protect the Time You’ve Chosen

Once you’ve chosen your writing time and duration, you can take steps to protect it from interruptions.

  1. Have a talk with your family: If you’re writing at home, let your family members know that your writing time is not to be disturbed except in an emergency. (You may also need to explain what a real emergency is!) Make it clear that your time is to be respected.
  2. Close the door and put up a sign: Families need reminding, so go somewhere you can close the door and put up a “do not disturb” sign. If your family is particularly stubborn, add some other reminders, such as, “Knock at your own risk!” or “Interrupt only in the case of an emergency!” Make sure you turn your phone off or silence it so you won’t be interrupted by messages and alerts.
  3. Stick to your guns! Many writers—women especially—feel such a maternal instinct that they allow interruptions to their writing time even when they don’t want to. Remember that you are the only one who can protect your time, and that you deserve to have it so you can make progress toward your goal. Stick to your guns. You have all the rest of your day to nurture everyone else.

3 Tips to Help You More Quickly Return to Your Work

Even if you accomplish all of the above, you may suffer an interruption now and then. When that happens, try these tips to shorten the 23 minutes it usually takes to get back into your story.

  1. Write down what you just went through and put it aside: This helps you dump the issue out of your brain so you can tend to it later. Jot it down on a notepad (Johnny needs a permission slip signed), and get back into your scene.
  2. Use earphones or noise-cancelling headphones: Some writers find using music while writing can help them more easily slip into their make-believe worlds. If you find music distracting, get yourself a nice pair of noise-canceling headphones to help you focus.
  3. Read aloud: If you’re struggling to get your mind back on your work, backtrack a few paragraphs and read your prose out loud. It increases focus, shuts out extraneous thoughts, and helps you zoom in on your story.

Bottom line: interruptions kill your writing progress. See them as the dastardly villains they are, and banish them from your writing routine for good.

Your turn! How do you eliminate interruptions from your writing time?

Sources
Foroughi, C. K., N. E. Werner, E. T. Nelson, and D. A. Boehm-Davis. “Do Interruptions Affect Quality of Work?” Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 56, no. 7 (August 2014), 1262-1271. doi:10.1177/0018720814531786.
Pattison, Kermit. “Worker, Interrupted: The Cost of Task Switching | Business + Innovation.” Fast Company. Last modified July 28, 2008. https://www. fastcompany.com/944128/worker-interrupted-cost-task-switching.

 Colleen M. Story is the author of Overwhelmed Writer Rescue—a motivational and inspiring read full of practical, personalized solutions to help writers escape the tyranny of the to-do list and nurture the genius within. Get your free chapter here! For more information, please see her motivational blog Writing and Wellness and her author website, or follow her on Twitter (@colleen_m_story).

Psst! For more on how to reduce interruptions, boost productivity, and add more sanity to your writing routine, click here for your two free chapters of Overwhelmed Writer Rescue!

About ANGELA ACKERMAN

Angela is an international speaker and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also enjoys dreaming up new tools and resources for One Stop For Writers, a library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.
This entry was posted in Focus, Guest Post, Time Management, Writer's Attitude, Writing Time. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to How to Banish Interruptions from Your Writing Time

  1. Wendy says:

    This has been a big problem for me. Even though I am alone during the day, the constant telemarketer calls, neighbors and salespeople at the door, plus calls from my husband (or interruptions on the weekend when he is home) basically destroyed my creative writing time. I can write related marketing at home, but the creative process needs uninterrupted time. In desperation, I fled to my local coffeehouse and put in earbuds as a do not disturb sign. Suddenly, I was getting the quality output I was looking for. Now I schedule 2 to 3 hour stints at the coffeehouse five times a week. Bliss. The coffee is not bad either. 🙂

  2. I have finally succeeded in setting aside the morning hours for writing. My biggest problem is my church responsibilities that leave me a little bit on-call, but I’m training myself to look at who is calling/texting and then ignoring it until afternoon most of the time.

    But just as I got into the groove, my husband took early retirement on short notice. If my office door is partly open, he’s free to come in–I’m not concentrating on word flow. But if it’s closed, I’ve had to resort to “if you open the door, it better involve blood or fire!” He finally got the message.

  3. Victoria says:

    What a great and helpful article! I like Becca’s time management;-)
    I can recommend FocusMe to block all digital distractions like Social Media platforms, news, games, email etc on phone or laptop.
    Everybody can try it for free here: https://focusme.com

    Hope that helps!

  4. Susan Haught says:

    Isolate yourself…that’s what I had to do when hubby retired from teaching. He does not own an “indoor” voice, even when he talks to the dog, and when baseball is on? Forget it. So, he built me a She-Shed with the explicit instructions he’s not allowed in unless he’s bleeding from a main artery or the main house is on fire!

    It was cheaper than a divorce.

  5. In a time management seminar years ago, the pro said, “If the telephone rings, it means someone wants to talk to you. You then have the choice as to whether you want to talk to them right then, or not.”

    Set up a time you will take phone calls. In today’s cell phone, immediate-access, society the immediate gratification of the caller may not be in your best interest. By publishing a statement on your web page or contact info like, “Telephone calls will be returned between 3 and 5 PM,” and then following through, you’ll have more time to kill elephants instead of ants.

    • So true. I’m always set times for business calls (because I’m always writing), but it’s amazing how many people find that rather of a foreign idea. Like you say–everyone used to immediate access. Stick to your guns!

  6. joanna elm says:

    I heard author Dorothea Benton Frank tell an audience at a book festival that “people don’t see you as doing real work when you’re a woman author.” She said she’s had her work interrupted by friends who say, ” I knew you’d be home, just typing.”
    Is that like “just loading the dishwasher?”

  7. Great reminders, and they’re common sense too! My boys are older (high school & college) but they still need their mom 🙂 Happy Sigh. I need to protect my writing time better.

  8. This is such a big problem for me (and most writers, I think). Because I’m a horrible multi-tasker, particularly when my kids are around, I have to write when they’re away. That means during the school day. Right now, for instance, I should be working already, but we have a delayed start due to snow, and while I’m able to get some stuff done, I’m not nearly as efficient. So when the kids are in school, I take steps to protect that time. The phone is off. I don’t do lunch dates. And I schedule all my errands on one day so I waste as little time driving around as possible. It’s not perfect, but I’m able to maximize my time. If we all can do that, with whatever amount of time we have, we’ll be much for productive. Thanks for the tips, Colleen!

    • Colleen says:

      It’s amazing how one thing (like snow) can create a cascade of “behindness,” isn’t it? I do the same thing with the errands on one day–high five. We’re all so busy we have to be conscious about where the time is going…thanks, Becca!

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