Why Can’t You Focus?

Maybe it’s your environment.

Have you ever had one of those days where you just couldn’t focus, no matter how hard you tried?

I don’t know why I’m asking you that. Of COURSE you have. We all have.

There are a lot of possible reasons for not being able to focus. You could just be having an off day — it happens. You could not be totally into the idea you want to start writing about (in which case it’s OK to move on to another writing project). You might, honestly, just want to do anything – everything – besides write. And I suppose that’s OK too.

But maybe it’s not any of those things. Maybe the problem is that you still haven’t learned how to sit down, block everything out, and enter into a fully productive, uninterrupted flow state.

Maybe you’ve just never realized how important, and necessary, it is.

There are a few reasons why I don’t write in coffee shops, and one of them is that I am easily distracted. I can’t write in a room where any kind of conversation is happening. The TV can’t be on. Sometimes I can get away with writing a blog post while I’m watching a livestream turned down as low as possible in another tab, but I’m almost never as happy with the result as I would have been if I had written in silence. My university’s library had an “ultra-quiet zone.” No talking or any kind of avoidable noise allowed. I wrote four NaNoWriMo novels up there. It was like heaven.

You might need that kind of eerie silence in order to sit down and get your work done. You might need ambient noise, whether you’re in a coffee shop or not. The point is, if you really want to get some deep work done, you’re going to have to figure out how you work. Under what conditions are you most productive? What do you have to turn off, block or ignore in order to meet that deadline?

I’ll tell you what doesn’t work: stopping every five minutes to check Facebook, “just in case.” Stopping every time you misspell a word. Stopping at all, unless it’s absolutely necessary.

The deeper you dive into your work, the easier it is to get into a flow state. And once that happens, it’s very difficult to stop writing. Which really isn’t the worst problem in the world, if you think about it.

Sometimes, your inability to focus isn’t because you don’t know what to write about, or because of social media, or because you’d rather be doing something else. Often, people are just writing in the wrong type of environment for their preferences, and they don’t even know it.

Even if you’re not having any problems focusing, I encourage you to dedicate one week to writing in a different environment every day. Try letting music play once. Sit in the living room with your family as they watch TV and try to write something. At the end of the week, reflect on how productive you were in each setting. It’s likely the environment you got the most writing done is a great time/place/experience to set yourself up in when you really need to focus on your work.

It’s not the most scientific way to do this kind of experiment, but it’s a start. Either you’re having trouble focusing or you don’t even know you are yet. But your ideal writing environment is important. Don’t miss out on that piece of the writing success puzzle.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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