“Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.” — P.J. O’Rourke
In Homer’s epic poem, Odysseus orders his men to plug their ears with beeswax and tie him to the ship’s mast in order to suppress his urge to listen to the seductive songs of the island’s sirens.
In Greek mythology, sirens were depicted as both beautiful and dangerous, their angelic voices luring unsuspecting sailors to shipwreck.
Today, sirens are alive and well, veiled as smartphones, email, and mindless entertainment.
Writers, in particular, have to work overtime to two-step around the daily onslaught of the increasingly loud sirens we face today.
The focus and grit required to be a master craftsman is constantly besieged, luring us from our pens, pads, and chairs. Metaphorically speaking, we must stuff our ears with more beeswax than ever.
The truth is, poor self-management is the culprit. Contrary to common belief, we can’t actually manage time. It ticks with irreverence, regardless of country, creed, or culture.
Time is set in her ways and can not be courted, duped, or reasoned with no matter how hard we try.
A sturdy and consistent approach to avoiding distraction brings you closer to creating work that can inspire, challenge, and create meaningful impact.
And similar to football, writing is a game of inches, every advantage you can get, any yardage you gain, worth leveraging.
In Airplane Mode I Trust
“It’s easier to avoid distraction than resist it.” — Darren Hardy
During Shakespeare’s day, performances always started at 2:00 pm.
That was when the sunlight flooded the stage. This meant despite the smorgasbord of distractions like the geese and pigs being sold in stalls, the 2,800 or so mostly impaired patrons, and pickpockets roaming the aisles, the show still had to go on.
Ultimately, a choice was made to cut through the noise.
Like The King’s Men, you too can make that decision by understanding a few basic principles.
First, both discipline and motivation wane. They are as fickle as the seasons and neither repellents for distraction.
The key is to set up an environment that gives you the best chance to succeed.
Productivity writer James Clear notes that positive habits in a negative environment are not sustainable on their own. You need to get rid of the friction.
The first task is determining what that friction is.
Once I figured out what time of day I could sit and write without demands on my time, I had to determine where I was getting in my own way.
In the past, no matter how hard I tried, other people’s priorities crept into my mornings.
To put it plainly, I needed a better fortification system against distraction.
— I raised my walls by blocking off non-negotiable time blocks.
— I filled the cracks by putting my phone on airplane mode, while I worked.
— I improved the armor of my soldiers by letting others know I couldn’t be bothered until my top priority was completed.
— I worked in “time blocks,” no allowing myself to do anything else until my alarm went off.
It might sound like a lot, but in the process, two things happened:
I established my non-negotiables. This freed up mental space. I didn’t have to think about what I’d do in a situation because there was already a handbook.
Also, by implementing desired behaviors I cultivated a desired identity I didn’t want to part from. “I am a disciplined writer.” I enjoyed the sense of individuality those words brought on, so any aberration from it hurt like hell.
As a result, I continually aligned my actions to sustain that vision.
Getting more writing done was ultimately about doing the right thing over a sustained period of time.
As James Clear also notes, “A habit must be established in order to be optimized.”
In other words, we have to learn to “show up” consistently before putting pen to paper.