How to have a distraction free, productive environment

images of useful appsI write these words whilst people talk and cups clink. I have a cup of tea and I am surrounded by the sounds of a typical coffee shop. However, I am sitting in my room, at my desk at the end of a very productive morning. Two tasks that needed doing, now completed.

I write these words on my computer, using Scrivener, without any other distractions. I am not connected to the Internet. I am not getting updates from Facebook, twitter or email. I have quite simply disconnected.

I have worked in a similar way for most of the week and it has worked. I have been more productive. I have completed tasks and I have completed them quicker than I thought. So what is the secret of my success?

Firstly I want to point out that I have already begun to be more focussed on things as part of my goal to be mindful. I am using a pretty basic to do list, with a simple autofocus approach. To be productive I, and so do you, need to know what we should be doing.

Secondly, I am using two wonderful pieces of software that I really didn’t think would make any difference at all.


Background sound has always been helpful to the creative process. However, if it gets too repetitive, or even too melodic, it can have a negative effect. Enter Coffitivity a simple program that creates the ambient background sound of a coffee shop.

I was sceptical. Could something so simple actually work? Well, for me, it certainly has. I have background sound that can be set to a certain volume and also be tweaked slightly. There are currently three background settings to choose from. This simple background noise enables me to focus on what I am writing, but also occupies enough of my subconscious so that it doesn’t run off and lose interest in the task at hand.

You can use the online version, but there is also a Mac app version to download. I am using the app version, because of the other piece of software I am using.


I was astonished at how easy I could be distracted by the Internet. I would convince myself that I was doing vital research, but exactly how much research can be done on Facebook, tumblr or news sites.

Enter Freedom. This simple app allows me to turn off my Internet connection for a set period of time. I enter the desired number of minutes I want to work on a project and off I go. I have no access to the Internet. The only way to get access back is to wait the number of minutes, or restart the computer.

I have been shocked at how such a simple application can help with focus on a project. I know that I can’t be distracted by anything online, but I also know that in a number of minutes I’ll be able to visit whatever site I want.

Simple focus

It is the simple focus given by both apps, which works for me. Coffitivity gives me ambient background sound and Freedom stops me from being distracted elsewhere. I have also been using Antisocial. This works in a similar way to Freedom, but only blocks email, Facebook, twitter and any other sites I wish to add. This means that now I have written this blog post, I can check the links, and upload it, whilst blocking any other unwanted distractions.

I’d love to hear any productivity tips you’ve found, just pop them in the comments.

Blogging is dead; long live the blog

Blogging is dead.

I look at some old bookmarks on my browser. I click on the links. I visit the blogs. They haven’t been updated for months, some even years. I feel sad for times past. I remember happy times reading what was written. I laughed at some situations, commiserated at others. I made virtual friends. Now those blogs are either finished or in hiatus. I have lost contact with those virtual friends. I miss them. Nostalgia.

Blogging is alive

I look at my RSS reader, my tumblr dashboard, Facebook news feed. I flip through Flipboard. I click through on interesting links. I visit the blogs. They are all recently updated. I can relate to what is written; the photos and videos shared. I laugh at some situations, commiserate at others. I have virtual friends and some people I know offline too. These are blogs I read now, some have run for years, others months, others just weeks. Life moves on.

I should update this more often


Scapple, digitising my thoughts

scappleScapple is a simple yet powerful program from Literature and Latte, the people who created Scrivener, a wonderful writing tool and I am using it for almost everything. However, Scapple, is now staking a claim to be the first program I open when I begin the creative process.

What is Scapple?

Imagine a piece of paper, a blank piece of paper. You have a pen in your hand and you can write any thought or idea anywhere on that piece of paper. What you write can be connected by lines. The writing can be big or small and you can also draw shapes around what you have written to highlight certain sections.

Scapple is a digital version of that blank piece of paper. But it can do a lot more than just capture your thoughts and connect them with lines. Being digital the ideas can be moved anywhere on the page. You can edit the text, format it and highlight it with different colours and shapes. You can ‘stack’ blocks of text and ultimately you can export the text.

Unlike traditional mind-mapping techniques and software, you are not limited to building your thoughts around one central idea. In fact you don’t need to connect your thoughts at all. Scapple is a free-form text editing tool.

How do I use scapple?

I am using scapple for three things:

  • Capturing my thoughts and ideas
  • Organising my thoughts and ideas
  • Exporting my thoughts and ideas

The final step, exporting my ideas, is where Scapple’s pedigree comes into its own. I am able to drag and drop selected text from Scapple onto the cork board view in Scrivener. I don’t have to be concerned with export settings, I just open up Scrivener and drag and drop.

What would I like to see?

Scapple is still very young in its product cycle. There are, I’m sure, plenty of additions planned in further iterations, however, Scapple’s genius is in its simplicity. I would like to see more drawing and image options, but at the same time I understand this is a text tool. I have a couple of times created a large amount of text notes, all connected and covering the digital sheet of Scapple. When I have selected all the text and dragged it into Scrivener, it then takes a while to re-organise the text into the places I want. There could be some way to ‘tag’ notes in Scapple that made sorting easier. Once again though, that is something that Scrivener was made for and handles very well.

What is wrong with Scapple?

To be honest I don’t think there is anything wrong with the software. Okay, so I’m not blown away by the name, it does sound like a disease from Victorian times, but I can live with that… the name, not the disease.

The only downside is that Scapple is Mac only at the moment. But then so was Scrivener a few years back. So perhaps other operating systems will get their own version in time.


I am using Scapple whenever I begin a project. It has become a vital tool to help me organise my thoughts, and more importantly save time as I process and take them to the next stage in the project I am currently working on. Oh, and I forgot to mention there is a free trial, so why not give it a go. I think you’ll like.

If you are using Scapple I’d love to hear how you are using it and if you have any tips to share.

WordPress install woes

I like WordPress, I really do. It is the easiest to use content managed system available. It has a wide user community that offers great support. It is flexible and allows almost any configuration that you desire. And it is free. Normally everything works fine, but if it doesn’t there is a user base that seem to have the answer for every situation.

Normally everything works fine. Until this morning when I did my weekly update check and clicked the upgrade button to the new version of WordPress (3.6 if you are interested). It broke this blog. This blog that I lovingly care about, despite the lack of posts. So this morning, when the update stalled and I began to get error messages, I knew that something was wrong. What made it worse was that the error messages were as clear as a politician’s intentions. Therefore, for a while I felt like this…

Me this morning

 I felt like this

As mentioned previously though, a quick search through google (other search engines are available) brought me to the support page. From there I was able to find a solution and get the site back up and running.*

Life will always throw up difficulties, problems and issues. But I believe there are always solutions. We may need a search engine, or we may need more drastic measures, but there are always solutions… often preceded by a brief moment of panic!


*The solution was to re-install the WordPress files manually. A little time consuming, but in the end the simplest solution. Because WordPress is so easy to use, it didn’t mess up any settings that I had previously created. Another reason for my WordPress lovefest to continue.

Goodbye google reader, hello leaf

If you’ve been living offline you won’t know that on 1st July 2013, Google will stop its very good RSS reader service. There are calls from the digital corpus to save this great service, but I thought I’d kill two digital birds with one virtual stone.

For a long time I have been meaning to sort out my RSS feeds and focus on the ones that I enjoy and learn something from. The impending demise of Google reader has given me impetus to do this. I would find a new RSS reader, but instead of simply migrating my feeds from Google to the new reader, I would sort them out too.

Leaf homepage

After a little searching and listening to others I am beginning a trial of Leaf. It has a beautiful minimal design, and is nice and cheap. It also syncs with Pocket, which I already use. I will be able to store any articles that I want to digest when I have a little more time and view them wherever I have Pocket access.

Hopefully this set-up will work well and I’ll have saved time and sorted out my feeds. Perhaps some good will come from google dropping another service.