Turn Your Focus Into a Gold Mine (and Earn an Extra $69K per Year!)

Woman in headphones writing on laptop in home office

According to a UC Irvine study from just a few years ago, it takes an average of 23 minutes to refocus your writing mind after an interruption.

The same holds true for getting started in the first place. Few of us can power on our laptops and dive right in. Instead, we poke around here and there — maybe surfing internet, maybe skimming email — until we have a goal and a kickoff point.

And then we write.

Unless we’re interrupted, in which case we waste 23 minutes until we’re interrupted again.

But this is no way to work, or earn for that matter!

It’s frustrating and wasteful.

Think about it …

If you could regain five of those wasted 23-minute chunks, you could claim almost two hours a day in extra writing time.

Two hours a day, five days a week, working maybe 46 weeks a year is 460 reclaimed hours.

Let’s say you average $150/hour (which is low for this industry) …

That’s an extra $69,000 earned in one year!

Even if you reclaim only half those hours, you’re still pulling in an extra $34,500 a year.

Which is a lot when you think about how easily it could be syphoned away to interruptions.

I’ve lately been working hard to regain and reclaim my ability to focus. A year and a half of kids schooling from home and the world in flux has done a doozy on my attention span.

I’ve found the changes I need start with avoiding interruptions in the first place. Here’s what works for me:

#1: Shut out your loved ones.

For ages, my husband and I have taken advantage of my relaxed work schedule to go out to lunch, meet with contractors (for home improvements or whatever), or even just catch up over the phone. (It’s surprising how little we communicate once all our kids are home.)

And while that connection and flexibility is important, and a valuable tenet of the writer’s life, if you have a project to work on or the opportunity to bring real money in the door … then it’s okay to tell your friend or family member, “I’m flat-out not available.”

I find this easiest to do when I take advantage of technology, such as using the “do not disturb — work” setting on my iPhone to silence and hide all notifications.

It also helps when I take a moment at the end of the day to share with him just how much more writing I got done — and what that dollar value is — in an effort to reinforce our new commitment to quiet.

While connection and flexibility are important, and a valuable tenet of the writer’s life, if you have a project to work on or the opportunity to bring real money in the door … then it’s okay to tell your friend or family member, “I’m flat-out not available.”

#2: Find and use quick-energy fixes.

One ironic distraction for me is that with all the quiet and lack of interruptions, I get sleepy.

And when I’m sleepy, I either go take a nap (because I can), or I find something to munch on in the kitchen. Both sleeping and eating cost me 30+ minutes of time where I’m not writing, and then comes the additional 23 minutes it takes to refocus after those interruptions.

So my fix is to try and avoid both sleeping and eating while writing. If I’m sleepy, I do a series of jumping jacks or stretches. I also find that inhaling the scent of peppermint oil aromatherapy is energizing, as is taking 30 quick (panting) breaths followed by holding my breath for 30 seconds (weird, but it works … and remember, the point here is not to look cool!).

In lieu of snacking all day, I have two to three glasses of water at the ready, plus a handful of nuts or carrots in grabbing distance. They’re easy to eat, filling, and don’t spark the need for more food (as opposed to getting stuck on the salty/sweet teeter-totter).

#3: Hand-write your writing goals at the beginning of the day.

There’s something about putting pen to paper and writing out your goals that makes you more likely to achieve them.

Do this every morning then, and your overall focus will be more centered, making you less likely to jump around, get distracted, or multitask.

So those three tips will help you with avoiding distractions …

But the second part of the puzzle is getting yourself back to a focused place after inevitable interruptions.

Because if you work from home, the doorbell will ring at some point with a package you need to sign for.

The dog will bark and startle you out of a writing reverie.

You will need to get up and walk around, or grab a snack, or run out to that appointment you could only schedule during your designated writing time.

Here’s how you reclaim that interrupted focus:

  1. Leave projects open. If you have to get up from your computer, leave everything open — your Word doc where your writing is, your research notes, your email correspondence about the assignment, all of it.

    That way, when you return to your desk, you can jump right back in without having to figure out where you left off. (And without any new distractions tempting you from your work.)

  2. Use the five-minute trick. If you’re having a hard time refocusing, tell yourself you’re just going to work on something for five minutes. That’s it. No big commitment, nothing hard.

    What you’ll find is that after five minutes, you’re more likely to continue with the task because that “getting started” barrier has been removed. So by starting with just the five-minute-plan, you can sidestep the 23-minutes-wasted trap.

  3. Assume you won’t finish. Especially for bigger projects, it’s easy to think you need a two-hour block to really make a dent. So if you only have half-an-hour, it’s not worth even starting, right?

    Wrong. 30 minutes here, 12 minutes there, 41 minutes later on … that’s how people get things done. Part of the dilly-dallying that goes on in the 23-minute refocus challenge is simply the fear of starting, which is triggered because of the fear you won’t finish.

    So try this: Don’t expect to finish, and instead just aim to add a few more solid sentences, read a few dozen pages, or find five good sources for your project. You can do that in small chunks, which then become easier to dive right into because they don’t require a huge chunk of time.

    But if you keep doing this, then before you know it … you will finish that thing you’re working on.

All that aside, the final and most important thing you can practice is self-compassion.

You’re going to have off days, you’re going to get distracted …

And that’s all okay.

Just keep putting in the effort, be conscientious of the challenges (like interruptions and refocusing hurdles) …

And you’ll still be able to build the writer’s life of your dreams. (But hopefully this helps you build it a teensy bit faster!)

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Published: November 15, 2021

4 Responses to “Turn Your Focus Into a Gold Mine (and Earn an Extra $69K per Year!)”

  1. #3 - Another trick is to plan out your tasks for the next day before going to bed. Not much thinking required to get started.

    Mike Davis

  2. F.O.C.U.S. = Follow One Course Until Successful!

    Guest (Rick Hewes)

  3. Mindy,

    This is so helpful! You hit the nail on the head. And nice to know it's not just me. Difficult to set those boundaries for others and myself.

    Guest (Karen)

  4. Thank you, Mindy. I'd already started shutting out loved ones, but your article gave me ideas on how to do it better. I need to try your ideas on quick-energy fixes. Mostly, I'm eager to try your ideas on refocusing. I'm a caretaker, so there is only so much shutting out I can do. Refocus will be my watchword this month.

    Greg Fisher

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