Back when I started freelancing in 2005, my working day was straightforward and quiet. I checked my emails a couple of times, but other than that I spent the day editing in Microsoft Word or marking up paper proofs at the kitchen table. A break involved making a cup of coffee and drinking it by the window, watching the birds on the lawn. Simple, calm and super-productive.
Fast-forward to today, right through the digital revolution, and a working day could look very different. I could check my emails a dozen times or more. I could drift onto social media, LinkedIn, news sites, all sorts of websites relating to my work – and, of course, many more that aren’t remotely useful for my job (YouTube video of a trampolining hamster, anyone?). I could spend the whole day sitting at my desk flitting in and out of Microsoft Word and the many internet browsers I have set up. A break could well involve making a cup of coffee and drinking it while checking even more content on my phone. Simple, calm and super-productive? Not remotely.
Note the conditional tense usage in the preceding paragraph. I could do all that, but I don’t – because in order to do my job, I need to focus.
A deep work ethic
In his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, computer science professor Cal Newport advocates cultivating a deep work ethic. He defines deep work as follows:
Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.
Writing and editing are deep work: they require all of my attention and brainpower. So I write and edit in a quiet room, alone. And – crucially – I cut myself off from digital distractions, by using a program called Freedom.
Freedom does exactly what it says on the tin: it frees me to concentrate. With a couple of clicks, I block the internet for a designated amount of time. No emails. No Google. No trampolining hamsters. Just the words on the page that I’m writing or editing. For two or three hours, the world recedes: it’s just me and the words. Simple, calm and super-productive.
Creating ‘am writing’ time
How easy it is to carve out the time to write your book, only to waste that time online. You can tell yourself you’re researching or learning or being inspired, but are you? Are you in fact procrastinating?
Fiddling about online is easy; writing is hard, really hard. Dorothy Parker put it best:
I hate writing; I love having written.
If you want to ‘have written’, you’ve got to get through the ‘am writing’ stage. The only way to do that is to give yourself the freedom to write: no distractions, no excuses, just you and the page for hours, over and over again.