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Why a Three-Day Distraction Cleanse Will Jump-Start Your Writing

From Bryan: This is a guest article by Nicole Gulotta. Nicole pens the literary food blog Eat This Poem. You can follow her on twitter @nicolegulotta.

I don’t have time.

Have you ever used this excuse to avoid pursuing a writing project?

We live in a distracting world, and can easily get off track despite our good intentions.

Creative Commons by Mpclemens

As relaxing as it might be, we don’t need to watch the latest singing competition. As tempting as it is, we don’t need to check our Facebook feed to see pictures from our high school best friend’s summer vacation.

Distractions simply pull us away from the real work of writing.

(Tweet This)

Instead of confronting our distractions head on, we lie to ourselves. I don’t have time. We blame our lack of writing on other obligations.

I have to go see a movie this weekend. I have to meet my co-workers for a drink tonight.

These are merely choices we make.

We often choose mindlessness over creativity, and although that’s fine once in a while or after a rough day at work, if making excuses becomes a habit, we’ll never carve out time to write.

It’s All In Your Head

Not only do we face external distractions, but our mind can also stop us from embracing productivity. The January/February issue of Poets & Writers offered some wisdom on the subject.

In an article titled “The Inspired Mind,” Arnie Cooper explains everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the writer’s brain, including how the three elements of your brain—the brain stem, limbic system, and cerebral cortex—work both for and against your creativity.

Even if we want to write, there are mechanisms at work we must overcome.

“There is a reason you’re not sitting at your computer pounding out that story you’ve wanted to start for the past month. And it has little to do with a compulsion to check Facebook or rearrange your office furniture. Instead, it has everything to do with limbic-system takeovers and the release of stress hormones by the amygdala, a tiny mass of gray matter inside each cerebral hemisphere.”

With this kind of roadblock, it’s a wonder we writers are able to write at all. The good news is that there are ways to overcome both the physical and mental roadblocks that impede our writing. In making suggestions for how to combat this subconscious threat to our productivity, Cooper recommends a self-care approach, like finding music you like to listen to, getting enough sleep, and exercise.

If you’re struggling to find time to write, a deliberate distraction cleanse is also a great step in the right direction, because it resets our body and brain to support us in creative pursuits.

Step Away From the Kale Juice

January is usually the month of resolutions, but we shouldn’t wait until New Year’s Eve to take stock. Whenever you’re feeling stuck, take inventory of your goals and make adjustments. I find this especially true for writers.

We might begin the year with grand plans to write a book proposal or blog more regularly, but after a month or two of motivation, we fall back into old patterns and lose the momentum we began the year with.

Most food magazines offer recipes for juicing, clean eating, and raw meals that will help detox your system from holiday indulgences. I’ve been known to eat a raw meal or two, and I love a kale smoothie, but there’s something else we need to cleanse that is often overlooked: distractions.

This is not a drastic measure by any means, but being mindful of the distractions that keep us from the real work will help you make changes to your habits that will help ensure greater productivity over the long-term.

How to Conduct a Three-Day Distraction Cleanse

1. Identify your distractions. This could be television, Facebook, constantly checking your phone, or watching Netflix movies the day they arrive. Whatever it is, make note of it, and then commit to avoid it for three consecutive days.

2. Pick a project. Now is the time to plan which project you’d like to work on. Ideas might include drafting a guest post, prepping several blog posts, writing a short story, or finishing a book proposal.

3. Time it right The cleanse should fit into your normal schedule and be based around the time of day you usually embrace your distractions. The idea is to replace your distractions with bouts of productivity instead.

If you spend twenty minutes in bed checking your phone each morning, get up and write. If you catch up on your favorite show before your spouse comes home, spend that time writing. If you always go to lunch with co-workers, decline.

Also, don’t sabotage yourself. If your son is attending a soccer tournament over the weekend or you have a big deadline at work, avoid starting your cleanse when you know real obligations will get in the way.

4. Make an announcement. Writers need a support system, so it’s important to let those close to you know about your new schedule. If you’re planning to set the alarm an hour earlier, tell your partner. If you need help prepping dinner so you can write, enlist your kids. You can even let your social networks know that you won’t be active for a few days.

5. Reflect. At the end of the three days, give yourself a pat on the back (and maybe celebrate with that kale smoothie) because you most likely made some real headway on an important writing project.

“Work is hard. Distractions are plentiful. And time is short.”
-Adam Hochschild (Tweet This Quote)

Have you tried the distraction cleanse, or are you planning to? Share your experience in the comments!

About Nicole Gulotta

Nicole Gulotta is a writer, blogger, content developer, community builder, and good food advocate. She is currently eating her way through Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband and French bulldog. Twitter: @nicolegulotta Blog: Eat This Poem

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  • Nicole,
    I enjoyed your post. Not only did you point out some of our common distractions, you gave practical suggestions for facing them head on. I loved the part you shared about the brain and how there is scientific reasons for some of our wandering when we should be writing. Great job.

    • Nicole Gulotta

      Hi Anne, Thanks for your encouraging words, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  • Pas de Deux Blog

    This is exactly the advice I have been looking for for the past few weeks… I will be trying this three day “cleanse” as soon as I get back from a work/family trip next week. Thanks for the wonderful suggestions, Nicole.

    • Nicole Gulotta

      Glad to hear this post is helpful to you. Let me know how your cleanse goes next week!

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  • I love your ideas. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the most effective. As an aside, I do think it’s hilarious that a “tweet this” link is embedded in a distraction cleanse post. Irony at its best.

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  • I really like the idea of a distraction cleanse. I like it even more as the starting point for installing better long term habits for sustained productivity. Have you ever investigated the idea of a morning productivity ritual? I just posted about it on my blog and then saw this post today. I’d love to get your thoughts on the idea! Thanks again, Mark