To stay focused on your writing project, use these ten tips consistently:
Find your flow
Prepare the night before
Get up earlier
Finish the hardest thing first
Know what distracts you
Use a writing timer
Change your surroundings
Use a calendar
Take care of your health
You won't find your writing focus in a cup of coffee, and it's not some magical thing that the select few writers experience: it takes tried and true tips like those above to determine what works best for you. If you leave it to chance, writing focus wanes. But follow the detailed guide outlined below, and you'll be amazed how much more work you can get done in the same period of time!
How to Stay Focused on Writing
There's nothing that feels better than a productive writing day. Here's how to do it on the regular.
Find Your Flow
You know the feeling: you start writing, and before you know it, hours have passed, and you're wondering where the time has gone. That feeling is called "flow." At its core, it's a strong concentration that happens only when you are completely engaged in the task.
To find your flow, you have to shut out all distractions, and typically, you also need to enjoy or be curious about the task at hand.
For the best chances of finding your flow, follow steps 2 through 10 below.
Prepare the Night Before
By limiting the decisions you'll have to make tomorrow, you'll make more space in your brain to focus on writing. It is so easy to get sidetracked as your day is just getting started, and it makes a world of difference if you can avoid distractions that use your valuable energy and motivation.
Simple things such as deciding what you're going to wear and eat and what time you'll leave for work can all suck precious energy from your mind that you could otherwise use for writing.
If you're planning to write in the morning, quickly visualize what your morning might look like. Hopefully, it includes taking a deep breath before you get out of bed, avoiding your mobile device at all costs, and perhaps, setting the alarm a bit earlier than usual.
Get Up Earlier
Speaking of setting your alarm a little bit earlier than usual, try moving your writing time to the morning if you're used to writing at night.
Science says that people are more proactive in the morning and can anticipate issues and develop solutions for those issues before they arise. This makes morning people more productive, too, and even happier.
While not everyone does their best work in the morning, there is something to be said about morning people: they often get more done in 24 hours than non-morning people because they're using the undistracted time to focus on their priorities. Before everyone else in the house has woken up, morning people are finished with whatever matters most to them, taking back that time and not letting anyone else get in the way of what they want most.
Finish the Hardest Things First
A difficult task only gets more challenging as the day drags on and our energy levels wane. And when procrastination sets in, your ability to focus is hindered by constant thoughts of what still needs to be done that day.
If you have difficult tasks on your to-do list – and perhaps, writing is one of those tasks – do those first.
You'll get the tasks out of the way before you lose energy and motivation. Because motivation, after all, is simply energy. It's not that we lose motivation, but rather the drive to complete a task because we've already used up that energy on other tasks (or worrying about other tasks).
Science proves that our brains are most sharp during the earliest parts of our waking hours. Sort your to-do list by hardest to easiest tasks, and start checking off those boxes! By the end of the day, when your energy is wearing off, you'll only have easy to-do's left.
It is challenging to find a state of flow when you're multitasking. How could you possibly, since you're not concentrated on any one thing but instead leveraging a lack of focus to do many things at once?
While you may be good at multitasking, it is certainly holding you back from doing "deep work," which is exactly what writing is. Deep Work, a term coined by author Cal Newport, is the ability to focus on a single task and perform it to the best of our ability. A distracted mind cannot perform deep work.
Know What Distracts You
As I write this blog, I am sitting away from my usual desk, which has three monitors and typing only from my laptop. Do you know why? While all those monitors help me get a lot done and more quickly for light tasks, they distract me from writing flow. There's a time and a place for three monitors, and writing is not conducive to that environment – at least for me.
But that's what you need to figure out, too. What distracts you? Learn what takes your mind out of writing flow and do your best to eliminate those things.
Meanwhile, understand that distraction is natural. You probably won't find your writing flow every day, but you can at least set yourself up for success.
And if something does distract you, recognize it and then fix the problem. Now, get back to focusing on writing.
Use a Writing Timer
If you're having trouble focusing, facing a writing block, or worrying about turning your phone off because you might lose track of time, one of the best things you can do is set a writing timer.
Writing timers are simply a timer that you set for a short amount of time in which you promise to yourself that you will write.
This forces you to shut out distractions entirely and get words down on the page. When the time is up, you can check your phone again. Sometimes, the simple promise of a time limit allows us to focus on the task at hand.
The words don't have to be great, but simply starting is sometimes all we need to get into a state of flow.
Staring at a blank page is daunting, but if you tell yourself that you only have to write for five minutes, the idea becomes less intimidating.
Timers are also a great reminder of how much time has passed. If you set a time limit of ten minutes but find you've written nothing at all once the time has elapsed, you can quickly recognize that you've just wasted ten minutes because you were distracted. Timers help us put wasted time into perspective.
Change Your Surroundings
I was in a writing slump a few months ago. I would sit down at the same desk where I always sit, stare at the screen, and decide to focus on a different task than the writing projects that were high on my to-do list. I couldn't break out of the funk.
Then one day, it occurred to me: maybe this office was the problem! I was so accustomed to the surroundings that I fell into the same pattern of procrastination, like clockwork each day.
So, I moved my computer to a different room in my house. And voila! Maybe it was the light in this room, or it was just me breaking a difficult neuropathway that had lodged procrastination into my habit when I sat down in that same spot every day.
Pro tip: you can use this technique to get rid of other bad habits in your life, too. Sometimes, you don't even have to go to a different room. Light a new candle, change the thermostat, turn on a different lamp, face another wall, go to a coffee shop, or put on some background music or white noise. Change your patterns and watch your world change!
Use a Calendar
Don't wait until you're inspired to start writing. Inspiration may never strike. The best writers know how to sit down and work even when they don't feel that creative spark.
To do this, block out time on your calendar to accomplish your daily goals. If you're writing for work, tell your team that you won't be reachable during this time. If you're writing for pleasure, consider it work, and don't let your family and friends distract you during these writing blocks.
All it takes is blocking off time on your calendar and committing to yourself. Write as if it's your job or as if it is just as important a task as any other to-do on your list.
Then, stick to it. Keep this time on your calendar as a date with yourself, and don't let yourself get stood up!
Take Care of Your Health
Maintaining writing focus becomes so much easier when you're healthy.
Fueling your body with the right foods, taking your vitamins, and getting enough sleep all contribute heavily to whether we can concentrate on our writing projects.
Brain foods like green leafy vegetables, antioxidant-rich berries, nutrient-dense nuts, and moderate amounts of caffeine can keep you satiated and energized throughout the day.
And sleep is essential. The best way to get a good night's rest is to stick to a sleep routine, keep your bedroom nice and cool, get plenty of exercise during the day, avoid alcohol at night, and stop drinking caffeine by noon each day.
Don't forget to hydrate with plenty of water to keep your brain functioning at optimum levels.
I think you'll be amazed how taking care of your health can make a significant impact on your ability to focus on writing.
Why do I lose focus so easily?
There are a few reasons why some people have difficulty focusing on writing while others seem to be writing machines. The difference comes down to factors entirely within your control: distraction, sleep, movement, and food.
We can probably all agree that we are more distracted now than at any other time in human history. We're bombarded with pings and alerts, from phone calls, text messages, and social media notifications, to podcasts, television, and even in-music ads that pop up when we're simply trying to listen to some nice classical music in the background! These online distractions take our focus offline and drain our mental energy.
Speaking of distractions, our digital environment is severely impacting our sleep habits. It's harder to fall asleep after you've been looking at screens all day, and a lack of healthy eating habits, movement, and healthy bedtime routines impacts our sleep quality. Lack of sleep means you'll be less alert during the day, have a more challenging time focusing, and struggle more with deep work.
Most Americans spend less than two hours per week being physically active, less than half the recommended amount. It's a vicious cycle: we spend hours a day hunched over our computer or in front of a screen but can't seem to focus. Then, we're so tired from our lack of movement that we don't get in any movement at all. And it starts all over again tomorrow. But if we can make time for some physical activity, be it a brisk walk, a bike ride, or even walking around our house or office every hour or so, it can do wonders for our ability to focus on writing. This will loosen up your muscles, increase blood flow, allow you to concentrate, and help you sleep better at night.
Food has a significant impact on our mental clarity and ability to focus on writing. Eating heavy, processed, fatty foods contributes to feelings of fatigue. On the opposite end of the spectrum, highly restrictive diets can prevent us from getting the nutrients and fatty acids our brains need to function. Food may be the root culprit if you're not sleeping well, have no energy for exercise, and can't focus on writing.
Can you train your brain to focus?
Your brain is a powerful muscle, and just like you can train your muscles to lift heavier weights, you can also train your brain to focus more intently and for more extended periods of time.
We exercise regularly to train our bodies for physical tasks, slowly increasing repetitions and progressing difficulty. To train our minds to focus, we have to practice doing it every day.
Start with just a few minutes of writing, and each day, add a few more minutes. When you get distracted, take note of what distracted you, remove the distraction, and start again. Create a disciplined schedule and hold yourself accountable.
When you feel like you can't write anymore, push yourself to go one to two minutes longer. This is how you grow your mind muscles! In no time, you'll be able to focus for big blocks of time, and you'll be amazed at how much you can accomplish in the amount of time you may have previously wasted away.
If it helps, remind yourself of your ultimate goal. Why do you want to write? What project are you trying to complete? What is your "why"? Connecting emotionally to your writing goals will help you stay on task.
If you're having trouble focusing, the solution is within you. Don't simply chalk up the idea of focusing to a skill you're simply not good at doing; take a deep look at your environment, lifestyle habits, and goals to understand why maintaining writing flow is so difficult for you.
The ability to focus is a superpower in some industries, including writing. Practice writing as a way to train your brain.
With a few easy tweaks, you can gain focus back and get better at it!