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.

My word for 2014 is…

2014 word mindfulnessThis is the post that reveals my ‘word’ for 2014. Your reading this after I have struggled for days to make a decision on what it should be. I have pondered several words, for several days, but I wasn’t content with them. None of the words really captured everything that I wanted them to say. For someone who has a love of words, that was quite frustrating.

Some of the words and phrases I was considering were focus, live it, travel and journey, but they were disparate. They relate to things I want to do, but not necessarily the way I want to do them. So I needed something else, and I think I have found it. It encompasses my goals but also the way I will achieve them.

My word for 2014 is mindfulness.

I am not referring to a specific brand of mindfulness. This isn’t about a shift in religious perspective, although I hope that it will influence every aspect of my being, including the spiritual. This is about being in the moment as I do something and being in the moment as I journey.

Mindfulness takes care of my focus. I have wasted far too much time, particularly on things that are unimportant and more accurately don’t enhance my life. Therefore in 2014 I will be mindful of what is important and needs to be done.

I will be mindful in my work. This will be exemplified with a focus that I have lacked. I have always flitted from one idea to another, but this year I want to give each idea my full attention whilst working on it.

Being mindful will enable me to enjoy and be grateful of where I am, and yet give me scope to aim toward other destinations. I tend to look toward to the future and worry about what may or may not happen, so a year of being mindful on where I am will hopefully bring some balance.

I don’t know where I will end up in 2014. There are huge changes going on in my life at the moment. What I do know is that I will be focussed on each moment. I will take note of where I have been, grateful for where I am and enjoy each step of the journey I take.

Do you have a specific focus for 2014?


How to banish the blues?

It is better to move toward a dream that appears out of reach, than stand still watching a nightmare on the horizon
I get the blues. I don’t know if it is a side effect of a creative nature, or just that I can be a little miserable. Being creative involves digging deep into our emotions. As such we share a lot of time with some of our deepest, darkest feelings. We also share time with the lightest and happiest moments we have. Creatives can swing quite easily from one feeling to another.

At times I find myself with an attack of the blues. I find my emotions just flip to the negative. I get overwhelmed and I find myself unable to see the positive in anything. I wouldn’t say it is depression*, because it isn’t a constant feeling. I just flit from being happy to flirting with sadness.

Unable to see the positive

During these moments I find myself unable to be positive. I find myself dwelling on an unknown future, and bringing it into the here and now. What if x does, or doesn’t, happen, then things will be terrible? What if I am still in this same position one, two or six months from now? I feel like things will never get better, will never change, things will always be this way.

Or, I do the opposite. I bring the past into the present. If only I had done this, or if only I had done that, and why couldn’t things have happened differently? It’s because of those things that I am here, in this situation now. It is all my fault.

Both the above are projections of events I have no control over in the present. I don’t know what the future holds and I can’t change the past. However, I am letting it affect how I feel. When the blues hit, I can be paralysed into inaction.

What can I do about this?

The solution is to let the present affect the future, and accept that the past is done. I can only control what I do here and now. If I am fearful of a certain future, then it is down to me to avoid it and make the necessary changes in the present. Dwelling on a future that might or might not happen has only one outcome, it makes it more likely to happen.

I remind myself where I would like to be, what I would like to be doing; I realign myself with my goals and desires. I then take the next practical step that will bring that goal closer. It may be something tiny, such as finding out a piece of information. What this does is push to one side the negative thoughts that were stopping me from from acting.

The story of the blues

The blues still return. I still fear certain futures and regret certain past events. These feelings will never be far from me. But I can stop them from controlling me, and you can too. This isn’t the only way to cure the blues, and I’d love to hear what you do, just leave a comment below.

It is better to move toward a dream that appears out of reach, than stand still watching a nightmare on the horizon.

I have uploaded desktop versions of the image above to pinterest for you to download and use. Currently in two sizes, click and download, 1920 x 1080 and 1024 x768

*If you do think you may be suffering from depression please talk to your doctor, or seek medical advice. This post is not written to be a cure for depression, but to add a little colour to the blues.

How to achieve your goals and dreams

This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless.

I don’t want to be a Jedi, but Yoda’s words are relevant. I find myself looking to the future far too often. In itself this isn’t a bad thing. I do want adventure and I do want excitement, there is nothing wrong with having those in my life. I believe we should have goals and ambitions, things that we want and would like to do. My problem, and perhaps yours, is that I often spend so much time looking at that horizon, I forget to look at my footsteps.

There is no point dreaming of a destination without wondering how you’ll get there. It is useless wanting to be somewhere else, without taking the appropriate steps. Once again, I find myself in that same situation. If I want to achieve something, I have to make sure I get the here and now sorted.

x marks the spot simple map

Currently point A, where I am, and point B, where I want to be, are a long way apart. I’m not going to sit back and just dream of what could be, to live in a fantasy of ‘if only’ and ‘wouldn’t that be nice’. I am going to get to point B. This isn’t about travel, but the metaphor works well. I will create a map, with the various steps marked out. I’ll use the map to guide my feet, to take each step, with the destination clearly marked and coming into view. That’s the metaphor, now for the practical.

How to get there, from here

  • Decide what your goal / destination is
  • Break the journey into small steps
  • Always have the next small step as a current focus
  • (But) Remind yourself of the big prize – keep it in view
  • If a next step is overwhelming break it into smaller steps (next actions1)
  • Take a next step every day, or as often as is possible
  • Reward yourself for the steps you take along the way
  • Be accountable – if possible have others who can prod and prompt you
  • Remove other distractions – you may have to give some things up, to take the steps

I have a dream, a goal and a destination. Time to draw my map. That’s my first step, what is yours?

1 Next actions are a much better way of looking at the the steps. David Allan’s Getting Things Done: How to Achieve Stress-free Productivity
is a great tool for learning how to break things down into next actions.

Scrivener, my goto writing app

I am finding myself using Scrivener, the writing application from Laureatte and Latte, for more and more of my writing. For a writing application I suppose this is good news, and to be expected. However, I bought Scrivener to write fiction, and now I am finding it useful for almost every piece of writing I do.

I suppose it is the way that the application can be configured in so many ways, many of which I still haven’t got my head around, that make it so versatile. Being a productivity geek, list writer and index card user, I find the virtual cork board a wonderful tool. The variety of export functions from html, epub to standard text formats, means that my finished work can be ready for its purpose. I am able to plan, develop, write and then publish my content all from one application.

I am using Scrivener for fiction, non-fiction reports, research, blogging and general idea development. The list is growing too, as I find out more about the application. I thought it was worth the cost just to write fiction, but now I am using it for most of the writing I do, it has become one of my best buys ever.

Just to balance things out, Scrivener has got a lot of functionality and it can be daunting to get your head around. But, I am a geek, and one of the joys of geekdom is playing with a piece of software and discovering what it can do. There are a lot of tutorials online and that helps, but just to warn you, it may take a while to feel comfortable using it. They do offer a free trial version though, so if you want to see what it can do, you can have 30 days at no cost.

If you want an application that will help the process of writing, then Scrivener could be for you. It was originally a Mac app, but there is a windows version available, and with a free trial available, what’s stopping you form giving it a go and creating something wonderful!