Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 22:

“I get distracted by web surfing, e-mailing, and text messaging.”

The internet is essential for modern life and work; we can’t opt out of it.

Unfortunately, becoming conscious of that moment in the day when it has become a drag on productivity is tough.

In particular, email is the zombie behind the closed door and we are the idiot characters who open the door, thinking, “I just want to peek at what’s in there, it will just take a second.” And hours later we come to ourselves, among the undead.

What’s the solution?

First, let me say that, research suggests that the distraction of the internet can be good. “A short study break—five, ten, twenty minutes to check in on Facebook, respond to a few emails, check sports scores—is the most effective technique learning scientists know of to help you solve a problem when you are stuck. Distracting yourself from the task at hand allows you to let go of mistaken assumptions, reexamine the clues in a new way, and come back fresh” (Carey 2014).

But, if you mean to go for a few minutes and spend hours, try closing down email software when writing.

Research shows that people who check their email only three times a day are less stressed than those who check it repeatedly (Kushlev and Dunn 2015). Also, those who choose when to check it, instead of responding to email alerts, are more productive (Mark et al. 2016). So, if you can’t turn off your email, at least turn off sounds and text alerts that show up in print over your typing screen in programs like Outlook, Gmail, and Facebook.

Set up automatic replies to texts on your phone (e.g., “Sorry, I’m writing and can’t reply right now”).

Aside from email, social media and nonacademic websites can also distract us when we go online to do research. Try not to have those sites always open in your browser.

Or, try one of the free distraction-deterring software tools (such as StayFocused, Cold Turkey, or Focus Booster, which block access to a particular site after a certain number of minutes set by you).

Alternately, some of the time management or personal analytics services like RescueTime, ManicTime, or Toggl are useful, since they don’t prevent you from doing anything, but they track and categorize your computer activities. It can be shocking to see how little time you devote to writing, which can push you into doing more to avoid distractions.

Works Cited

Carey, Benedict. 2014. How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens. New York: Macmillan.

Kushlev, Kostadin, and Elizabeth W Dunn. 2015. “Checking email less frequently reduces stress.”  Computers in Human Behavior 43:220-228.

Mark, Gloria; Shamsi Iqbal, Mary Czerwinski, Paul Johns, and Akane Sano. 2016. “Email Duration, Batching and Self-interruption: Patterns of Email Use on Productivity and Stress.”  Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Association for Computing Machinery

Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 22, one of the distraction obstacles listed on page 32 of Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success (University of Chicago Press, 2019).