Thursday, August 26, 2010


Many writers work at home. This seems like a big perk, you know, to be able to work in fuzzy slippers, with chocolate at your fingertips. But working at home is not without its distractions. They lurk in every corner (think dust bunnies) or hit you in other ways (a knock at the front door). Some distractions are understand- able, like family situations or emergencies. Others need to be dealt with.

I've had my share of distractions in recent months, from my Mom's extended illness and passing to other varied and interesting situations. The phone calls alone from these events would cause my days to evaporate, with nary a word typed on the computer.

I had to come to grips and realize that sometimes these things just happen and you need to go with the flow. But other times, not so much. Distractions try to poke their way in everywhere. Like for instance...

Okay, yes, I admit, I've fallen prey to the distraction of email and social media.  

Oh look, an email! 

Hey, someone commented on my Facebook page!

Like the latter falls into the emergency-must-respond-this-instant category. Okay, I suppose it could, if an agent or editor decided to contact me via FB. Emails? Well, those are more acceptable kinds of interruptions, you know, because they really could be from an editor. But usually the newest email is from your long lost second cousin's uncle's brother-in-law's mother, who wants to tell you that there is a billion dollar fund waiting to be transferred to your account. I suppose it could happen, but it probably isn't worth interrupting the writing time over it.

So enough time has been spent, I'm thinking, stressing over distractions. I decided to make a list of ways to deal with them. Some I've used off and on over the years; others I'm working to apply to my oft scattered and hectic days. The list might be a little randomly ordered, but see what you think:

1) Schedule the day.

I fare much better with even a rough schedule in place. Mornings, for example, might include exercise, devotions, appointments, laundry, phone calls and catching up on blogs or emails. Afternoons are dedicated to writing time. Easier now with the miscellaneous items out of the way and not clamoring for attention.

2) Monitor phone calls.

Some think that because you work at home you are available 24/7. Inform friends and relatives that you have a writing schedule, and you are not available between certain hours. Turn the ringer off, the machine or voice mail on, or at the very least screen calls.

3) Set daily goals.

Big or small, it helps to feel productive by checking things off a list. Even if I know a day is going to be crazy, I set small goals, like catching up on visiting blogs, sending emails, writing three paragraphs, or paying a few bills. Measure the day by the absolute necessary items on the to-do list in balance with the rest of your life.

4) Allow reasonable breaks.

It helps to know a break is in sight. Get up, stretch, grab some chocolate and a beverage, and then head back to the computer for serious writing.

5) Fill the jar with the big rocks first.

You've probably heard the story about the professor telling his students to look at life like filling a jar. The big rocks need to go in first, for if the jar is filled with all the smaller rocks first, it is likely that there will be no room for the big rocks, or the important stuff, in life. Attack that WIP, article, or guest blog post first before all the little time grabbers of the day come and steal the hours.

I've found this theory to be true, like when I've spent time skipping about the internet, visiting blogs or doing peripheral searches, only to find an hour or two has expired and now I need to race to meet an article deadline. The blog visiting and searches may be important, but maybe they need to be revised or done more efficiently after the big rocks have been plunked carefully into the jar.

6) Take advantage of little pockets of time.

I take a notebook and pen everywhere. Not only am I ready, then, when an idea hits, I also have the tools to use while waiting at an appointment, or when meeting someone, or when other unexpected bits of time are available.  I also try and avail myself to random time pockets - dinner preparations are complete, but I'm  waiting for the roast to be done - I grab a few minutes to start a blog post or an article, or research a character for the WIP.

7) Get organized.

I am usually a neat and organized person, but you wouldn't always know that by looking at my desk. Scattered projects and files, bills to be paid, items waiting to be reviewed, books about writing - my desk often whines about all the hats I wear. The solution? I budget time to get organized. I haven't perfected a system I like yet, but am getting there. When I've taken the time to neaten my desk I feel like I've got my head together and can breathe easier.


Okay, so in a perfect world these suggestions are nearly foolproof. My  theory is to use these as guidelines to preserve sanity and get stuff done. I add a liberal helping of balance and flexibility, and of course, trust for divine wisdom, and go from there. Not everyone's situation is the same, but maybe one of these ideas will strike a chord and lend you a hand.

How do you fend off distractions? What challenges do you face and what solutions have you used? Please share, your input is greatly valued!

Happy weekend and happy writing with no distractions! :)



  1. All your ideas to manage your day are great! I know for myself, a treat, an award I promise myself (like a latte, or a night out to the movies) when I complete what I set out to do, helps motivate me to stay focused.

  2. Very good suggestions. I am going to focus on #5 for the rest of this week. That is a very good mental image to take into the office with me. Thanks.

  3. Your list is pretty complete Karen... guidelines to preserve sanity... haha, I like that! I think I am going to print your list (if I may) and frame it above my desk!!

  4. Hi Karen .. having had three and a half years of my mother's illness and more ahead, & my uncle, I felt like a headless chicken .. and the chickens came home to roost .. however things now are on the up and I look forward - always have done .. but clearing the way - certainly helps.

    I hope you continue on the upward path in all ways and setting our parameters each day will help us all .. those rocks are number one!

    Thanks .. lovely ideas about helping ourselves at all times .. Hilary

  5. Hi Karen - Please accept my condolences on the loss of your mom. The grieving process for the loss of a parent never ends, but it eases after a time.

    Thanks for the tips. I try to do most of these, but I have a lot of those really big rocks! I'm most productive either out of the house entirely (Starbucks loves me) or after 10 pm when everyone else is snoozing and the house is quiet. I sometimes write for hours, only to realize it is 2 am and I have to be up in 3 hours for work. ZZZzzzz....those are tough days! My Franklin Planner is my buddy, though, and does help me carve out time. Great post!

  6. Prioritizing is the key. Like any of us do it well, though!

  7. Great post! Wonderful suggestions that I'm sure everyone can relate to and benefit from.

    My biggest challenge is health issues...body parts that aren't co-operating with my writing schedule. I'm learning better ways to manage my chronic health problems so that I can write more and more often.

  8. Put the big rocks in first... great advice! :O)

  9. Please accept our condolences at the loss of your mom, Karen...

    This is a great post. You've nailed a lot of good points. I especially identify with the rocks, too--it's funny how much time we fritter away on the not-so-important things. Thanks for the reminders!

  10. Your post intrigued me. I dream of staying home and writing. Currently, I'm at work 45+ hours a week and writing is done in the wee hours of the night, during lulls at work, and on weekends. Then, I feel guilty as if I were robbing my husband, pets, and other family members of their time. And of course, there's church.

    But I see staying at home could be very distracting. The phone, TV, facebook, housework, and the temptation to shop or do otherwise.

    Good post.

  11. Lynn,
    Thanks! Yes, a treat is big on the list for me too. I often feel like a little kid with the promise of a reward waiting:)

    Thank you. Hoping you have a productive time using the big rocks first!

    Yes, of course you can print the list! I'm flattered that you would want to:) Hope it helps!

    Thank you. I know you can relate in many areas. Glad you see a little sun through the clouds. Hope things continue to go well:)

    Thank you for your kind words. I know what you mean, I can get writing and lose track of time, and the following days are a challenge. And yes, my planner is a big help - good point!

    Thanks and blessings to each of you,

  12. Alex,
    Yes, it is a challenge, isn't it? And about the time I think I have it down, something else very important pops up. Works in progress - that's what we are!

    Thank you. I was hoping they would be helpful:) Will pray for you and your challenges.

    Yes, a good slogan to adopt! Big Rocks First! :) Let's make some bumper stickers:)

    Thanks so much for your kind words. I am glad you thought the post was good:) Think we could all use a personal assistant, but in the meantime, some of these tips might help!

    Your days are full, that's for sure! I admire that you get as much writing done as you do!

    Thanks and blessings to each of you,

  13. Thanks for this great list, Karen. Your suggestion of scheduling looks especially helpful to me, who has to shoehorn in a part-time job on top of other responsibilities.

    Sometimes we have to treat our writing time LIKE a job so that we don't feel guilty for tuning out the dust bunnies and random phone calls.

  14. This is exactly why I go to the coffee shop early in the morning to do my writing. As a telecommuter with a day job (besides the writing), I am literally at home all the time. Secondly, we have a very small house, and there is literally no place I can go where I am able to shut the door and write.

    Going to the coffee shop gets me out of my four walls and puts me in an atmosphere that is conducive to creativity. I can't see the Mount Everest in my laundry room, and the Pull-Up crowd can't ask to have Sesame Street turned on.

    That's how I have to do it for now.

  15. Laurel,
    You are welcome! Sounds like your plate is abundantly full. I like how you 'shoehorn' things in. That's about right sometimes:)

    Sounds like you have come up with a wonderful plan that works well for you! I am considering the same, perhaps to the library too.

    Thanks and blessings to each of you,

  16. My biggest distractions...I tell them to go outside and play :)
    The second biggest...I close the laptop and write with paper and pencil.
    Loved all the ideas. I think right now I needed to think about setting a daily goal.
    Thanks, Karen.

  17. Karen,
    My sympathy on the loss of your mom.

    Great list. I think we have to have a plan, but sometimes, part of my plan is to stop, get quiet, listen and observe, and then, the words come to me. I have been off work for the summer and have not done the huge amount of writing I thought I would. I do better under pressure. When I return to school I will write like crazy. Guess I won't retire.

  18. Carol,
    Funny! I am sure you are training those wonderful little distractions how to attack those dust bunnies too:) Daily goals have been helpful for me. Most days, anyway!

    Thank you for your kind words. It was a distraction of the saddest and sobering kind, and one I don't regret. Just getting back on track can be a challenge. Well, I think that us writers never retire! :)

    Blessings to each of you,

  19. Oh dear. Sometimes I fend them off, and sometimes I let them lead me off my goals. It helps if I set a time limit on internet activities. Because they can be so addictive, this is challenging for everyone who is trying to build an online presence.

    Thanks for asking, Karen!


  20. I don't do this, and I need to. Thanks for blogging about it--I need a little kick to try to organize my days I'm not at work.
    You rock!

  21. Jen,
    I hear ya, me too! Take today for instance. Got stuff done, but it was a whole lot of nothing on my goal list. Oh well:) Good point too, about the online presence thing. It is a tricky balance.

    You are welcome, and please know I'm preaching to myself here each and every day! :) Think we all need a little kickstart now and then.

    Blessings to each of you,

  22. Karen:
    I have had this concern for a long time. Then this summer has been a virtual nightmare. I understand the need to schedule and prioritize. One day this week, I was doing some research and I heard someone banging on our front door. I went answer it. On my front porch was a son of one of my dad's friends and that son's brother. The brother lives in Virginia and we haven't seen each other for close to 40 years. Yes, I did take the time to invite them in and sit and talk. Jim joined us and we reminisced about people Dad and then Jim knew, our guests could remember them as well. It was nice and it doesn't happen very often. I was able to get back to my research.

  23. Thanks Karen for this wonderful post..there are days when my writing schedule goes for a toss. But I am definitely going to follow your list and set small goals to start with and then move on to bigger goals. The only thing I do is to avoid phonecalls when I am writing. Long conversations are a distraction for me.

  24. Excellent post here , Karen. I think you've pretty much covered any suggestion I may have contributed.:-)
    Be well.

  25. Such good advice. Whether writing or weaving, it never hurts to be intentional. I do so much better when I live life on purpose than I do when I make it up as I go.


  26. I am so easily distracted, especially lately. But your list is fantastic, and I follow many of the suggestions listed. I've also been practicing offering myself a little grace when I fail to cross things off that way-too-long list at the end of each day.

    Hope you are doing well, Karen. I'm looking forward to coffee again soon!

  27. Awesome list! I especially like the part about filling the jar with big rocks first. I try to answer all my emails at once, instead of every time I get one... Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

  28. Cecelia,
    You know, it's all with a balance. I think for me, these tips speak to the time I allow to slip through my fingers or fritter away not heeding the time. Sounds like you had a nice reunion!

    You are welcome; I am glad to be of help. Yes, phone calls can hinder us from getting to things. Again, I think it lies in a good balance.

    Thank you! I think these are universal tips for any endeavor or occupation.

    This is a good angle from which to view things! I love the idea of living intentionally:) I need to more consciously adopt that mindset.

    I can be easily distracted too, and this year has been more challenging in that respect for me. Yes, coffee soon! :)

    Thank you! I love the big rocks part too; it helps frame things better somehow. That email idea - it's a good one. I think it could apply to responding to comments too.

    Blessings and happy weekend to each of you,

  29. Hi Karen -

    Recognize the "big rocks" and give them priority. The last two weeks, almost everything has taken a back seat to finishing edits and getting my full manuscript out to an agent. That's one GIANT rock, and I'm glad it's done. :)


  30. Karen, thank you very much for sharing this list. I find the organization piece to be the most important for myself. And also planning out the day.

    Another thing, it helps me to change the setting once in a while... the local library, going to work on my day off and doing writing or editing... that sort of thing. I don't own a laptop, so I am limited by where I can use a computer, but in other places I am not thinking about the dust that is gathering on my black printer, even though I just dusted it three days ago... (hint: don't buy a black printer -- if you don't see the dust, you won't be tempted to clean it).

    And perhaps the other tip I would give is to think about what you want to write as you are doing other things... I do a lot of my thinking while I ride my bike, shower, or when I'm falling asleep or waking up. If I know what I am going to write, half the work is already done when I sit down at the computer.

    I love the dialog you get going about the writing process. Thank you!

    Warm regards,

  31. Susan,
    Glad you got that giant rock placed where it needs to be! Congrats on your progress:)

    You are welcome. Yes, I love the dialogue that happens here too! My blog gang is great, and I am glad you are a part of it. Thanks for the tip about the black printer!

    Blessings to each of you,

  32. Great list! Oh that phone! People think I am here waiting for it to ring. I should turn the ringer off:)

  33. Great advice. I really need to work on #5! I have 3 small kiddos at home so I have a sitter come twice a week. I edit at a coffee shop just down the street from my house. I am able to get so much done away from home!

  34. You have comprehensively covered this topic here and your suggestions are superb. I don't get many telephones, but I certainly get bogged down in the email and blog quagmire. I really need to schedule and organize more and I have been trying to do precisely that. Unfortunately, time is the constraint and eventually some of the attention to the social aspect of blogging will have to be sacrificed in order to accomplish the other things I want to do. I hate to have to do it but I think it will be inevitable.

    Excellent post!

    Tossing It Out

  35. Terri,
    Thank you! Yes, the phone is one of my big challenges particularly when family members are in need. You of course want to be there, but it takes a good balance to see it through.

    Thanks so much:) Seems like you've hit upon an excellent solution! Glad to hear it.

    Thank you; I appreciate your support and input. I hear you; I know my blogging habits have changed and suffered due to shifting projects and such.

    Blessings to each of you,

  36. I'm sorry about your mom!

    I know exactly how distracting working at home can be. I need to implement some of your suggestions. I need to get more done and I know I can if only I get organized.

  37. (it should read) If only I can get organized. *I meant to edit, sorry*

  38. So sorry to hear about your Mom, Karen!

    This post was meant for me. I've been hanging on every ping from my inbox for the past two weeks because I'm waiting to hear from an agent. It helps I've now got research materials to read for the next book, but that also means I need to get more organized so I can handle the additional chore of research! LOL Thanks for the reminder!

  39. Anne,
    Thank you. Organizing is part of the key to getting things done. You'll hear about it here if I find the perfect balance!

    Thanks so much. I am glad to hear I am not the only one who hangs around the inbox sometimes, waiting for an email:) So you and I both will be implementing some of these this week, right?

    Blessings to each of you,

  40. WOW!
    This is definitely the place to hang out!
    You CERTAINLY won't get any work done here!

    LOVE this list!
    It helps ME to figure out a couple of issues with writing at home.

    And there's always your sweet voice!!

  41. Patti,
    You're making me blush; thanks for your sweet comments! Always glad to be of help. Plus, you do know that I am speaking to myself as well here. One of these days I'll have it all figured out. lol
    Thanks and blessings to you:)


Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Have a blessed day!