Is distraction free writing possible in the digital age?

I was intrigued years ago, when I first saw the cell phone feature that replied to a text that I was driving. I wondered where my life feature was “no emails, no phone notifications, no meetings: I am writing.”

While we are masters of where we focus our attention, small housekeeping habits may help our writing, and in fact help us.

Years ago, I set up for myself “no meetings Fridays.” As the boss, I could do this, but all of us have this luxury to some degree. By blocking out times as busy or out-of-the-office, we can fend off some meetings that may be counter-productive to your writing and research goals. If you do block out some time, and you get the request to squeeze a meeting in (particularly from your dean or chairperson), remind them of the importance of publishing and grant work. In fact, you might be reminding them of something they tell you about all the time.

When I am at my laptop (or desktop) and am writing, I turn off all notifications (except for calendar events). Remember years ago, when you got a momentary notification that an email just came into your In Box? (Or maybe you still have that feature turned on). With the “millstone-around-your-neck” aspect of email, do we really need to be reminded that one came in? I just assume while I am doing something else that one came, and it was likely not important.

A great practice is to keep your browser closed while you are writing, assuming it is a word processing program. If your browser must be open, then keep your email tab closed. The more your computer isn’t nudging you while writing, the better off you are.

Finally, the phone. I have gotten to the spot where the only notifications I have on my phone are phone calls, texts, video chats, meetings, weather warnings. That is it. All social media, news alerts, and email alerts are off. One note: I don’t get a ton of texts, but I know some people do, particularly if you have young children and need to stay available. So, some people will have to navigate that circumstance.

My theory is that I should not be a slave to the notification. We have all heard about the dopamine rush when a sound happens for certain alerts. Train yourself, at least during your writing time, to either check less or simply put your phone in airplane mode.

Some of this requires tinkering with the settings on your laptop or phone. There are some amazing tips and tricks about personalizing alerts or the like. Do a web search to see what these powerful devices can do.

I may be from an older generation but have worked very hard to stay current and use digital tools to improve my productivity. And mostly avoid having me being used by these tools (e.g., tools = Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, etc., etc., etc.).

All of this takes resolve. Yes, you need to be available, but is moment by moment availability, at the expense of your scholarly output, really worth it?

Reprinted from the TAA Blog post: