7 Ways Writers Can Beat Digital Distraction

Solitaire used to be the writer’s dirty little secret, the crazy little productivity chewer-upper that authors resorted to in moments of blockage. Nowadays, most writers are wrestling with a whole lot more than a deck of cards: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and my personal nemesis–Pinterest. Oh how the hours can fritter away…

The truth is digital distraction is the bane of just about everybody in this wired world–not just writers and media-addicted teenagers. Whether we are novelists or office workers or stay-at-home dads, we have to learn to manage our focus.

Focus, it turns out, is paramount. We know it’s a key to productivity and good academic outcomes, but psychologists have linked focus to something far more primal, namely happiness. “…A wandering mind is an unhappy mind…,” say Harvard researchers Killingsworth and Gilbert.

That’s right–our digital meandering could be making us miserable.

Having some tools to harness focus can boost productivity, improve creativity, and, apparently, make us happier. Here are a few tools to keep yourself on track while working on the computer.

There’s an App for that…

Apps for the iPad

30/30 (iPad & iPhone, $10)

This app lets users assign a time frame to their tasks. It’s easy and fun to use. Just create a list of tasks and a time length for each. Start the timer and off you go! The app sends a notification when it’s time to move on to the next task.

Pomodoro Technique (a variety are available, priced from free to $1.99)

Like 30/30, this app is based on a timer, but it works on a series 25-minute blocks followed by a five-minute break.

Computer Apps and Web Tools

Freedom (Mac & PC, $10)

Freedom enhances productivity by blocking the internet for periods of time—up to eight hours at a time. A reboot is necessary if the user plans to circumvent the blockage.

SelfControl (Mac, free)

SelfControl is similar to Freedom, but rebooting won’t make a whisker of difference. You can select which sites are blocked and leave the internet available for research.

Anti-Social (Mac, $15)

Anti-Social is made by the people who make Freedom. This tool shuts down all social media for specified periods while allowing access to search engines. It’s useful for those who need to do research but want to avoid being tempted by Twitter or Facebook (plus a long list of other social media sites.)

StayFocused (Mac & PC, free)

StayFocused is an extension of the Chrome browser. Rather than blocking the internet or social media, it lets you set time limits on how much time you use time-wasting sites. For example, you can specify 60 minutes a day. Once you’ve used that up, you have to wait until the next day to update your FB status.

Concentrate (Macs, $29)

The brilliance of this one is its versatility. Concentrate lets you customise your computer to the types of tasks you’re working on. For example, you need to 1) Write an assignment, 2) Research, 3) Plan a reunion. Each task requires different tools. Writing needs the word processing and search engines. Planning the reunion might need access to Facebook. The app restricts and allows applications depending on what you’re doing. End result: Productivity is optimised!

[This post was reblogged from my other blog, www.e-quipped.com.au, a blog devoted to helping parents foster digital citizenship, technology management, and cybersafety at home.]

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