Monday, January 12, 2009

Distractions

As I write this my dog is at my feet, staring up at me with big brown eyes that beg me to take her for a walk. The buzzer just went off on my dryer and I have to run downstairs right now to fold the laundry or else I’ll have to iron everything. It’s almost five o’clock. What am I going to make for supper?

Distractions are the bane of my existence. I am not good at tuning out the world, at closing my mind to everything but the characters on my page. I struggle to keep my butt in my chair in front of the computer and my mind firmly in my story.

In a perfect world I could spend all my time writing. Someone would clean my house, cook my meals and generally organize my life. Someone else would go to work at my day job for me. In one of my fantasies, I no longer require sleep, and so am able to devote a solid eight hours per night to my writing without any of the interruptions that occur during the day. In my other fantasy, I have two clones. One cooks, cleans and looks after all domestic chores. The other clone goes out to work, leaving me free to write. Oh, the masterpieces I could create! The sheer volume of work I could crank out! Oh bliss!

Okay, back to reality. In the real world, no one else is going to work at my day job for me, and with very few exceptions, no one else is going to clean my house for me. And no one but me can write my story. Why can’t I do all three? I know of writers who work full time, have young children and still manage to meet their writing goals. What’s wrong with me?

In my quest for answers I turned to the Internet. Turns out there are many articles on “Time Management for Writers.” I guess I’m not the only one easily distracted and frustrated by not writing as much as I would like. Some articles suggested vast lifestyle changes, going so far as to schedule every hour in your day. But then I ran across an article by Terescia Harvey (http://www.teresciaharvey.com/hea/articles/timemgmt.html) who, like me, had read many books on organizing and time management but was too much of a procrastinator (also like me) to implement any of the suggestions. Terescia came to the conclusion that if she wanted to make more time for writing, the best thing to do was – nothing.

Say what?

Terescia’s point was that she was doing things that wasted time and took her away from writing. Her biggest time wasters (aside from wasting time trying to reorganize her life): TV, excessive Internet surfing and email checking, reading when she was supposed to be writing, and volunteering.

Her ideas struck a chord with me. I began to wonder; maybe it’s not that things are acting to distract me. I’m letting them distract me.

I know I let TV distract me. Quite often what pulls me away from my computer is the siren call of the boob tube. Instead of writing I’ll watch a show I may not even like that much. I’ll tell myself that I really didn’t have a lot of time to write anyway so why start. Or I’m too tired, especially in the evenings, which just happens to coincide with the time slots of the best TV shows.

I waste time in other ways but nothing comes close to the amount of time I waste on TV. Even if I factor in the things I have to do, like go to work, exercise, walk the dog, and cook and clean, I’d still have plenty of time to write if I didn’t squander the precious time left to me.

In my research I found other things I could be doing to be more productive. Like setting goals. I have occasionally written down my goals but I have never been consistent about sticking to them. Usually I’d write a few goals down and then stick it in a drawer and forget about them. Setting goals only works if you physically keep your goals in clear sight, and monitor the progress you’re making towards them.

Time for an attitude adjustment. It’s the beginning of 2009. A new year means new beginnings. I am going to address my “distraction” problem and see if 2009 isn’t the year I turn a corner in my writing as far as productivity. I vow to significantly reduce my TV watching time. I think this is going to be hard for me, because I suspect I’m something of an addict. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

What about you? What are your time wasters? What distracts you from writing? What are you doing to overcome your time wasters so that you can do the things that are really important to you?

9 comments:

Karen said...

I hear you, Jana. I am very good at allowing myself to be distracted by a multitude of things. I'm a stay-at-home Mom, you'd think I'd have plenty of time to devote to writing. Not true but I'm going to try and do better. My plan is to do my blogging and emailing early in the morning, at 7:00 am and forget about it until after supper. I have planned out my supper menu for the month and attempted the once-at-a-month cooking idea (which actually took me three days)and my freezer is semi-stalked. If errands need doing they will be done in the morning and I plan to leave afternoons for writing. By this I mean from 1:00 pm til 3:00 pm until the kids needs me for whatever. And I'm going to follow your link and check it out. Thanks for a great post.

Karen

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karen,
You plan out your meals for the month? Wow, you've got me beat by a mile. I know I should be getting my act together and doing the same because I waste a lot of time and mental energy figuring out what to make at the last minute and then running to the store for a missing ingredient. I have gone the make-things-ahead- and-freeze-them route, but I haven't done that for a long time. Thanks for the good ideas, Karen. Sometimes you have to spend a little time now to save a lot of time later.

Jana

Suse said...

Hi Jana,

I am a big time procrastinator. My biggest time waster is Solitaire 13. That's what I was talking about on someone's blog last week when I talked about buying a timer. I used to set the timer for 15 minutes and play solitaire. Once the 15 minutes was up, I'd get to the writing. I'd had my solitaire fix without guilt, and then the writing flowed better. I need to get back to that. My second biggest time hog (I wouldn't call it a time waster) is quilting. I spent several hours this weekend sewing quilt blocks. One thing about quilting is that I can see the finished product a lot quicker. I really must be an impatient person. I already disclosed that I prefer to write short, and I'm even avoiding writing short to quilt. I bought myself a daily planner specifically for writing to set writing goals. I guess I should start using it.

Suse

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana - this is a very good blog post. I'm finding it hard to concentrate on my writing these days as well. The main distraction is the internet. Last Sept we changed our internet service to satellite and now have unlimited hours.

Unlimited hours? Yeah...I can be on the net all day whereas before we were limited to 100 hrs/month for 5 of us. But now...oh the freedom! Do you know how many things there are to look at on the net? And how many blogs to read? And how many comments to make?

Why, I don't even do the daily jigsaw.com puzzle any longer because I'd rather be reading and writing blogs.

Seriously...I'm writing everyday...just not always on what I should be writing.

And Suse - quilting is never a bad thing. You just need better time management like Jana says. You could always cut something out to give you more time to write and quilt. Like...sleeping...or eating...I mean who said we need 3 meals and 8 hrs sleep a day ? Or maybe you could eat while you write and sleep while you quilt...no, that wouldn't work...eat while you quilt - no, that wouldn't work...can't get the fabric dirty...hmm....

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita and Suse,
Doesn't it seem like we're always trying to cram more into our day? Do you think it's a woman thing? I don't see my husband feeling guilty about playing golf or having a nap in the middle of the afternoon.

There's a song by the country group Alabama that goes like this:
"I'm in a hurry to get things done, I rush and rush till life's no fun."
I feel like that sometimes. Yes, I want to get things done, but not at the expense of my happiness. There's got to be a happy medium someplace.

So Suse, if quilting is fun for you and makes you happy, don't feel guilty about enjoying it. Same with reading blogs and doing the jigsaw puzzle Anita. As long as it's not taking over your life, and preventing you from doing other things that are important to you, I say enjoy!

Cheers from Jana,
The Organizationally Challenged One

Anita Mae Draper said...

Jana - you asked how we're going to make time for writing (overcome distractions). The funny thing with me is that even if I don't have any distractions during the day ie kids at school, no internet svc, no one at home - I still only get a third of the writing done that I do between 9pm and 2-3 am. I was a shift worker for many years and used to do my university correspondence courses during the midnight shift while I babysat the equipment. I don't know if I trained myself to be more productive at night or if it's just natural for me, but no matter how much time I waste during the day, once those kids go to bed and TV is off, I buckle down and write.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Jana, I can definitely relate to time-management now that school has started again. With readings, research, essays and all, on top of classes, chores, and those little luxuries like feeding myself, it's so easy to shrug off writing saying "I simply don't have time, I shouldn't be expected to write right now!"

Not true! Luckily I tend to get restless, irritable, and frustrated when I go too long without writing (much to my husband's chagrin), so I know when I need to crank out a few words and get back on an even keel. Must appease the cranky muse!

I'm testing my productivity with BIAW next week, to see if I can meet a fairly moderate writing goal, and then at least stick to it - if not improve it - for the rest of the semester.

And I loved this comment from you: "In one of my fantasies, I no longer require sleep, and so am able to devote a solid eight hours per night to my writing"

If only we could have been that X-Men mutant who doesn't need sleep!

Janet said...

Great post, Jana. Distractions - too many to count. Of course, I'm with Anita and blogging. My list of favorites gets bigger every day as I add new ones that look interesting. Luckily, I have a day job where a few minutes here, a few minutes there reading a blog isn't a crime (hope my boss isn't reading this!). And just surfing the web can take me forever. My biggest distraction is playing Suduko online. I'll promise myself one game then it's straight to writing. But when I'm done, I think, 'Huh, I can beat that time. Just one more.' Well, you get the picture.

Funny, I'm never distracted by housework, laundry, or cooking. If it comes to that, then I can definitely open up a document and get to work.

Thanks for the link. And good luck with the distractions

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I think we all have times when we just write better. For me it's the morning. On the days that I don't have to work, I try to protect my morning writing time by not scheduling anything else. By evening I'm usually semi-comatose with no energy left to write.

Hayley, I know what you mean about getting cranky when you haven't written for awhile. I can get right surly if things prevent me from writing.

Janet, fortunately I don't have a blog habit that I'm supporting, but I understand how you feel. Like I said in my post, the television is my vice of choice. I've as I'm writing this, I can hear it in the other room, calling my name ever so seductively. Do they have a 12 step program for TV addicts?

Jana