Defeating Writing Distractions

PhD students have quite a bit more flexibility in their working day. Sometimes, too much flexibility. What makes it worse is that there are so many sources of distraction around me. I easily use it as an excuse to delay writing my thesis chapters. There’s making sure I am on top of current events and can spend an hour just reading the morning news. Then there’s finding out what people are saying about the news so I can possibly spend another hour on Twitter. Then there is reading journal articles in my field, answering emails, grabbing a coffee with other PhD students, checking and rearranging my calendar, and so on and so forth. By the end of it all, I would have wasted several hours and not have really written a single word.

I know I’m not alone in this. I think we all go through moments during the workday of succumbing to distractions. My three biggest writing distractions are social media, emails, and messages with friends. I’ve trawled through many different suggestions to combat distraction, and here are the ones that I’ve found that works best for me.

Go offline

When it’s time to write (and they recommend setting at least two golden hours each day for thesis-writing) I disable the WiFi on my laptop and have my mobile phone on ‘do not disturb’ mode. This keeps me from opening up tabs on Google Chrome and reading news and other things. It also means I don’t receive notifications for emails. I have also set up an auto-reply message on my email to let people know of the specific times I check my mailbox. The work that I do isn’t too dependent on other people’s work and most often is not very time-sensitive, so I am able to only check my mailbox three times a day and chunk this time together, instead of checking emails too often.

Set alarms

I have set alarms on my FitBit to notify me it’s time to check my emails or social media. Any other time outside of that is meant for focussed work, or face-to-face meetings and so on.

Put it in your calendar

Other times I have blocked periods out in my calendar specifically for writing to ensure that I don’t schedule meetings, catch-ups, or other work during that time. It also acts as a to-do item with a deadline.

Start super early

I’ve also found that getting up extra early to write not only is beneficial for the quality of my writing but getting up before sunrise means most of my friends are still asleep, and so the distraction around messaging with them is eliminated. Writing early in the morning also means my brain is still quite fresh and allows for more creative thinking.

Use pen and paper

When all else fails and I’m really getting close to a deadline, I put my laptop and mobile phone in a separate room and go away to physically write using pen and paper.

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