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Tips and Tricks for Distraction-Free Writing

Tips and Tricks for Distraction-Free Writing
Distraction-Free Writing

If you do a lot of writing, you already know the benefits of a distraction-free writing environment. It’s hard to keep yourself on-task when there are noise, people interrupting you, or the ever-present temptation of Desktop Tower Defense only a click or two away on your PC. It’s especially hard when you reach a rough patch and it’s so much easier to do something else than think your way through and out of your problem spot. And if you’re not a writer by vocation, it can be even harder!

The bad news is, there is no easy fix for a weak resolve or lack of commitment — if you’re not passionate about your work or at least dedicated to getting it out of the way, you probably need more than a handful of tips to bring your work and your soul into alignment.

But if lack of desire isn’t your problem, here are a few things you can do to help minimize distractions and keep yourself focused on your writing.

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Prepare for concentration

Help minimize distractions by taking some time before you start writing to prepare.

  • De-clutter your workspace: Although a lot of people manage to work quite comfortably in a cluttered environment, having a lot of “stuff” around you can be a problem when you’re trying to focus on your ideas. An uncluttered workspace doesn’t give your eyes (and mind) anything to “catch” on when your eyes stray from the screen or paper in front of you. It also eliminates at least one piece of major procrastination-bait — the sudden need to clean up. Keep your workspace uncluttered so you have no need to clean as a way of procrastinating.
  • Make yourself comfortable: Good workspace ergonomics are important, not only to minimize work-related injuries but to keep your attention off your various bodily discomforts and on the task at hand. Make sure your chair is comfortable, your hands rest easily at your keyboard, and you can easily see your screen without leaning into it.
  • Schedule alone time: Let people know that you’re going to be busy for the next hour or however long you need. Put up a “do not disturb” sign, or otherwise make clear to others that you’re to be left alone. Turn off the phone, shut down your email program, and close your office door. This time is for you and your writing.
  • Set a timer:You may not be able to work for 8 hours straight, but you can probably keep yourself on target for 30 minutes at a time. Set a timer to a comfortable, doable length of time, work until the timer goes off, get up and do something else, reset the timer, and do it again.

Make your software leave you alone

Although today’s software is chock-a-block full of great and usually helpful features, all those features can sometimes get in the way. Everyone remembers the frustrations of Microsoft’s “Clippy”, the far-too-helpful “assistant” that popped up at the most awkward times to say “It looks like you’re writing a letter! What would you like me to do?” — utterly breaking your concentration and demanding immediate attention.

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Clippy was truly awful, but almost any piece of software can have annoying features that limit your ability to concentrate or offer too many tempting distractions. How many hours of work has messing with fonts and margins cost you in your life?

While there’s a time and place for those whiz-bang features, it isn’t when you’re trying to write. Instead, try some of these alternatives when you’re writing, and save the fancy stuff for when you need to worry about formatting, layout, and editing.

  • Use a text editor: Every operating system ships with a basic program that just saves the words you write without any formatting, layout, or other options to distract you. Use Notepad, TextMate, VIM, Emacs, or a tabbed text editor like Notepad++ to limit your options so your only choice is to write.
  • Downsize your word-processor: If using a text editor doesn’t appeal to you, try minimizing the toolbars of your favorite word processor. In Word 2007, for instance, use the “Full screen reading” mode (select “Allow typing” under “View options” to use this view for writing); this removes the toolbar ribbon and access to most other functions, allowing you to focus on writing. Check your word processor to see if it offers a similar function — look for “full-screen” or “hide toolbars” in the menu to start.
  • Use specialized tools: There are a variety of tools that tackle the issue of distraction head-on. Try using a distraction-free writing program like JDarkRoom, WriteRoom (Mac-only), or q10 (PC-only), or the online app Writer. All three run in full-screen and offer few options other than saving what you write. Or you can try one of several quality programs created especially for authors, like Scrivener or Avenir on Mac, or Liquid Story Binder on PC. These offer a lot more bells and whistles, but they are bells and whistles designed solely with the writer’s needs in mind; all three of them also offer full-screen modes so you can get down to the business of just writing when you need to.

Use minimalist hardware

If you feel that working at your computer is always going to offer too many distractions, try leaving your computer behind and work on a low-powered device that doesn’t have anything fancy to distract you with.

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  • Pen and paper: The tried and true tool of choice for tens of generations of monks, philosophers, and scribes, pen and paper are still a valid choice when you need to focus. Neal Stephenson supposedly write his mega-epic Baroque Trilogy using a quill! A lot of people find that the feel of pen and paper keeps their creative juices flowing and their mind focused. On the other hand, hand-written work usually needs to be re-typed later, which can be a chore (though that’s a good time to do editing and revision).
  • PDA: Most Palm, Windows Mobile, and Symbian-based PDAs and smartphones have text-editing software available for them, and third-party manufacturers make folding keyboards that connect via infrared or Bluetooth, making for a pretty decent writing setup. Though they’re getting rarer, some of the older units with built-in keyboards can still be found on eBay, like the HP Jornada or the Psion Series 3 or 5.
  • AlphaSmart: Designed for elementary schools, the AlphaSmart portable keyboard has built up a strong following among authors. At under 2 pounds and running some 700 hours on three AA batteries, the AlphaSmart is easy to carry anywhere you want to go, and since it’s designed for schoolkids, it’s tough and easy to use. The AlphaSmart is basically a keyboard with some memory — it saves your keystrokes, and when you connect it to a PC, it sends them into whatever program you have open at the time, just like you were typing normally.
  • Dedicated writing laptop: For under $200, you can easily find a decent 10-year old laptop that runs Windows 95, or that you could install a Linux installation like gOS. Set it up with only the software you need to write, and enjoy distraction-free computing.

Close your eyes and ears to the outside world

If you can’t control the noise and general busy-ness of your working space, use these tricks to remove the outside world from your attention space:

  • Music: Listen to music to drown out outside noises and create an environment that encourages creativity and focus. Try listening to ambient, jazz, or classical music — instrumental music gives you something to listen to without putting words in your head that can interfere with the work of writing. Or, if you can take it, listen to techno music to create a high-energy intensity and keep you moving forward.
  • Wear headphones: Whether you listen to music or not, try putting on a pair of headphones while you work. As it happens, people are far less willing to interrupt someone who is wearing headphones, so you create a kind of “privacy bubble” around yourself if people think you’re listening to music. Also, try a pair of good sound-canceling headphones, or even plain over-the-ear headphones — they’ll block out a lot of noise from your surroundings — again, even if you choose not to listen to music on them.
  • White/pink noise: White and pink noise are sounds that include every possible frequency; they fill the air and dampen other noises. To the ear, they sound like static; played at low volume, they can fade into the background and do a good job of blocking outside noises.
  • Reading glasses: Low-powered (+1.00 or so) reading glasses can act as blinders, keeping your eye focused at a short range and minimizing peripheral vision. They can also make you more comfortable, allowing you to sit back a little from the computer screen if you normally have a hard time reading the small text.

Whether you write for a living or just need a half-hour of quiet time to finish off a one-time assignment, getting rid of distractions is essential if you’re going to get your work done.

And, of course, much of this applies to other areas as well, whether it’s making space for a weekly review or finding a quiet time to do your quarterly tax statements — focus is key, and distractions seem to hover at every turn.

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These are some of the things that have worked for me. What do you do to keep focused and eliminate distractions?

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Last Updated on November 12, 2020

What Is Speed Reading and How to Successfully Learn It

What Is Speed Reading and How to Successfully Learn It

You have so many books waiting for your attention, but you just don’t have enough time! Don’t you wish you could read faster without compromising your knowledge intake? This is where a valuable learning technique comes to the rescue: speed reading.

Speed reading is the top skill to learn in 2020. Read on to find out all about this amazing technique!

What Is Speed Reading?

On average, an adult can read somewhere between 200 to 300 words per minute. With speed reading skills, you can read much fasteraround 1500 words per minute.[1] Yes, that sounds impossible, but it’s true.

In order to understand how this skill works, you first need to know how the reading process works inside a human’s brain.

The Reading Process

The first step is for the eyes to look at a word. This “fixation” on every word takes around 0.25 seconds.

Next, you start moving your eyes to the following word. It takes 0.1 seconds for the brain to move from one word to the next. This is called “saccade.”

Usually, you take in 4-5 words in your head, or a sentence, at once. After all the fixations and saccades, the brain goes over the entire phrase again in order to process the meaning. This takes around half a second.

All in all, this means average people read 200 to 300 words in a minute.

Speeding up the Process

The concept of speed reading is to speed up this process by at least 5 times. Since the saccade period cannot be shortened any further, speed reading emphasizes quicker fixations.

To accomplish this, scientists recommend that the reader skips the sub-vocalization: when the readers actually say the word in their mind, even when reading silently.

Basically, speed reading is the technique of only seeing the words instead of speaking them silently.

Do not confuse this with skimming. When a reader skims through a text, they skip the parts that their brain considers to be unnecessary. You may skip important information in this process, and skimming does not allow the brain to retain what has been read.

Why Speed Read?

Speed reading is not just quick, but it’s also effective. This skill saves a lot of of time without sacrificing information.

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Also, it has been proven to improve memory. The brain’s performance improves during speed reading, which allows the reader to remember more information than before[2].

Since speed reading stabilizes the brain, the information is processed faster and more efficiently.

Believe it or not, this technique leads to improved focus, too. As the brain receives a lot of information during speed reading, there is far less chance of distraction. The brain focuses solely on the job at hand.

Since the brain is, after all, a muscle, the process of speed reading acts as an exercise. Just like the rest of your muscles, your brain needs exercise to grow stronger, too.

A focused brain means improved logical thinking. As your brain gets used to receiving and organizing so much information so quickly, your thinking process will become faster. As soon as a problem is thrown at you, your brain will quickly put two and two together. You will be able to retrieve stored information, figure out correlations, and come up with new solutions, all within seconds!

Still not convinced? Read 10 Reasons Why You Should Learn Speed Reading

Greater Benefits

With a healthier brain, you can expect better things in other parts of your life, too. A boost in self-esteem is just one of them.

As you begin to understand information at a faster pace, you will also begin to figure out more opportunities all around you.

With the ability to deeply understand information in a shorter period of time, your confidence levels will quickly grow.

Moreover, all the aforementioned benefits will relieve you of stress. With all these advantages, your emotional well-being will be healthier than ever. You’ll feel less stress since your brain will learn to tackle problems efficiently. Speed reading will lead to a relaxed, tension-free lifestyle!

How to Learn to Speed Read

Speed reading is a superpower. Fortunately, unlike other superpowers, this one can be learned!

There are different techniques that can be used to master this skill. Opt for the one that best suits your learning style.

1. The Pointer Method

The person who is credited for popularizing speed reading, Evelyn Wood, came up with the pointer method. It is a simple technique in which the reader uses their index finger to slide across the text that they’re reading.

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As the finger moves, the brain coherently moves along with it. It is an effective technique to keep the eyes focused where the finger goes without causing any distraction.

Readers have a tendency to back-skip. The pointer method prevents this from happening, thereby saving at least half the reading time.

2. The Scanning Method

In this technique, the reader’s eyes move along one part of the page only. This can be the left or right side of the text but is usually the center since that is the most convenient.

Instead of pacing through the entire text from left to right, the vision shifts from top to bottom.

This method involves fixation on keywords, such as names, figures, or other specific terms. By doing so, the saccade time is minimized.

3. Perceptual Expansion

Generally, a reader focuses on one word at a time. This technique, on the other hand, encourages the brain to read a chunk of words together. In doing so, this method increases the reader’s peripheral vision.

Here’s the thing: even though the fixation time remains the same with perceptual expansion, the number of words that the eyes fixate on increases.

Basically, the brain receives 5 times more information within the same amount of time.

This technique is the hardest to master and takes the most time to learn. You’ll need help from speed reading tools in order to practice the perceptual expansion method.

However, once you master it, this technique will offer you the fastest reading pace with the maximum knowledge intake.

The Best Speed Reading Apps

The easiest tool to aid any process in any part of life these days is your smartphone.

You can use mobile applications to learn speed reading on the go. It has been proven that regularly practicing speed reading is the fastest way to learn this skill.[3]

Here are a few great options to look into:

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1. Reedy

If you own an Android smartphone, you can download Reedy to your mobile. Otherwise, get the Chrome extension on your laptop to enjoy speed reading with Reedy.

This app trains readers to read faster by displaying words one by one on the screen. Instead of having to go through lines or long texts, Reedy prepares the user to focus on one word at a time.

Although this isn’t an effective method to learn speed reading long texts, it is a great way to start.

2. ReadMe!

Whether you’re an android or iOS user, you can take advantage of the ReadMe! application. This app even comes with some e-book options to practice speed reading on.

Start by choosing your desired font size, color, layout, etc. Other than that, there are different reading modes for the user to choose from.

 

If you want to practice reading sentence by sentence or in short paragraphs, you can choose the focused reading mode.

The beeline reader mode changes the color of the text to guide the eye to read from the beginning to the end at a certain pace.

Lastly, there is the spritz mode in which the app focuses on chunks of words at once. This controls the reader’s peripheral vision. However, this mode is not fully available in the free version of the app.

3. Spreeder

Spreeder is available on both iOS and Android. However, users may also gain benefits from Spreeder’s website. This application lets the reader paste in any text that they would like to speed read.

Starting off at a rather low speed, the app flashes words one by one. Gradually, as the user becomes more comfortable, the speed increases.

Slowly, the user is trained to speed read without having to skip any words.

This app is different from the rest because it tracks the user’s reading improvements, recording the overall reading time and speed.

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The Controversy Surrounding Speed Reading

Truthfully, speed reading does sound too good to be true. It’s hard to believe that it is humanly possible to attain such a fast pace without compromising the quality of information you receive.

Perhaps as a result, there are people who do not trust the process of speed reading. They believe that when you read through a text at such a high speed, speed readers cannot develop good comprehension.

It is true that speed reading will be of no use if you do not understand the text you’re reading, no matter how quickly you did it.

Similarly, if you were to read slowly and still not retain or understand the information you read, that would be useless, too.

However, there are a few factors to consider here. When reading at a normal pace, there is enough time in between every step of the process for the brain to get distracted.

Conversely, speed reading leaves behind no time for the brain to focus on something else. It is unlike skimming. No part of the text is skipped, which means that the brain receives every single bit of information.

If you’re still not convinced, take a look at this video to learn about reading faster:

Conclusion

Keeping all of this in mind, speed reading cannot be labeled a hoax or a failure. Science has backed up this technique, and numerous readers have been using this skill to improve their learning ability and reading comprehension, even when reading for pleasure.

At the end of the day, it is your decision whether or not you want to trust this process.

However, if you decide to take advantage of the opportunities speed reading provides, you will find a world of possibilities opening up to you.

We live in a fast-paced world. Consuming information faster will help you keep up with that pace and find further success.

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Featured photo credit: Blaz Photo via unsplash.com

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