“You can always find a distraction if you’re looking for one.” – Tom Kite
For those of you currently immersed in a large writing project (dissertation, anyone?), taking a day or afternoon to write from home can be a good way to maximize productivity by eliminating time spent on commute, meetings, and putting on real pants. However, as we all know, the promise of accomplishing much when writing from home is easily thwarted by the black hole known as YouTube (there are literally hours of must-see Beyoncé music videos), or the immense desire to clean your refrigerator in the middle of the afternoon. In addition, the invisible tug of e-mail doesn’t go away just because you’re away from the office. Because we’ve all been there, I’ve compiled a few tips below to help you steer clear of these distractions so you can spend more time writing (and finishing) your project.
1. Create a writing space
In your office it’s much easier to get down to work because this space was designed and organized specifically for such an endeavor. The area of your desk where the computer sits is where you write, but this space is separate from the couch where you read articles, from the table where you meet with students, and from the conference room where you attend meetings. These spaces provide expectations (and tools) for the work that will be done there, but their boundaries are harder to establish at home. As a consequence, tasks can easily bleed together and make it more difficult to carve out time for writing when away from the office. Help yourself out by dedicating a room, corner of a room, or even a corner of your kitchen table just for writing. Acknowledge that when in that space, you’re committed to writing rather than checking e-mail, answering the phone, or grading papers. Clear clutter out of the area and add in items that help you write, such pen and paper for making notes on the fly, ear-plugs or headphones, and your favorite chewing gum or mints. You may even consider putting out a specific candle or incense and burn it only when writing to more fully distinguish this space.
2. Stock a writing bag or drawer
Part of the trick to creating a writing space is filling it with the things that are conducive to writing, as mentioned above. So in order to maximize your ability to carve out a space in your home for writing, store all the things that help you write in one place (even if that’s in a single tote bag). The point here is to have everything at the ready and in advance so you don’t waste time searching around the house for these items.
3. Place your phone in another room
If your phone is visible on your desk, you will be tempted to look at it. Save yourself the mental effort from trying to ignore this distraction by putting it as far away as possible.
4. Schedule, schedule, schedule!
Once we set up shop at home to write we think that scheduling doesn’t matter. After all, you’re there to do only one thing: write! But scheduling becomes even more essential at home as it helps set reasonable expectations for this period on what you’ll accomplish. Alternatively, its unreasonable to assume you’ll be able to sit for multiple hours straight banging away at the keyboard in a constant stream of productivity. As the task of writing may involve reading source material, building tables and figures, and editing (to name a few things), schedule how you will use your time for each of these tasks when at home in addition to when you will use the keyboard to put thoughts into words. Be as detailed as you need to in your schedule. For instance, you may want to schedule time to read a specific article, time to write a summary of this piece, and time to integrate your thoughts into your ongoing draft. And don’t forget to schedule breaks! Which brings me to my next point …
5. Take (healthy) breaks
Scheduling when you will take both small and large breaks will save you from burnout, which often leaves you vulnerable to distraction. Schedule time to take a walk, refill your coffee, or play with the dog. You may even want to schedule when you will stand up and stretch. Breaks can include food too, but beware the distraction that is cooking as this may lead to a full-blown desire to re-organize the spice cabinet (anything to save you from the misery that is writing!). If you do want to eat at home, prepare meals ahead of time so you spend less time fussing in the kitchen. Finally, while breaks that involve TV or the Internet sound like a good idea in the moment, we all know it’s far too easy to get sucked into a show (or series), so avoid these if able.
Hopefully these tips can help make writing from home work for you. If you have advice of your own, feel free to leave it in the comments!
Editor’s Note: Want more writing tips? Check out these previous gradPSYCH blog posts:
- 6 Tips to Help You Become a Better Writer
- Principles of Good Writing: Avoiding Plagiarism
- Writing for Publication: Lessons from the Trenches
Jacklynn Fitzgerald currently serves as the APAGS Member-at-Large for Research and Academic Affairs and is a 5th year graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Department of Psychology, Behavioral Neuroscience program. Jacklynn’s research investigates the impact of psychological trauma on neural functioning in domains of affect and affect regulation using fMRI and EEG methods. Outside of the lab she considers ways training in psychological science can be improved, and is committed to advancing under-represented students in the sciences, particularly women. She can be contacted here.