How to Avoid the Content Rabbit Hole and Write Without Distractions


Here I go, down the content rabbit hole again. As I curate content for my social media clients, I often wind up… distracted. So many good articles vie for my attention.

“This could be good to share with my network.”
“Oh, Client X could use this information.”
“Maybe I could link to this piece in an article I could write for Z….”

On and on. If I’m not careful, I could spend my whole morning just reading. Which is not all that different from what I did as a teen, poring over stacks of women’s magazines with my mom at the kitchen table. That was probably a formative experience in my life as I went on to become a magazine editor and then a freelance writer.

It’s just that now, there’s so much MORE content, and it’s so much easier to access. Those hours spent reading, while undoubtedly important, can be deadly for a freelancer who needs to actually write (and find gigs, and pitch articles) to earn money.

Here are some ways to tame the reading beast that lives inside all writers long enough to focus on writing.

Set a Timer

Content curation is a big part of my job as a social media manager. But there’s only so much content I need to share each day. Depending on what I already have in the pipeline for my social media clients and what the rest of my day looks like, I set a timer for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. That’s all the time I allow myself for content curation. If my social media duties are done for the day and I’m just browsing for fun, I give myself 15 minutes in the morning before I start writing.

Follow a List

Now that I’ve been providing social media services to companies in the audio visual and technology industries for more than a year, I know the right places to look for the best content. I have a list and I make my rounds. Then I stop. That’s it. Yes, this takes tremendous discipline, but so do many aspects of working from home.

Keep Idea Files
If you’re absorbing massive amounts of information in one short block of time, you’re bound to forget a lot of it. I keep idea files for each of my clients and the markets I typically write in: personal finance, parenting, technology, video displays, small business, etc. etc. This way, when I see a great article I may want to share, link to, or use as a resource, I know where to find it later. When I’m browsing on my phone (which is where I do most of my reading), I immediately email the link to myself with my client’s name or the relevant market as the subject line.

Give Yourself Time for Leisure Surfing
Writers love to read. And sometimes, we just want to read listicles on Buzzfeed. That’s okay. Instead of zoning out in front of the TV at night, allow yourself leisure time in the evening to read whatever you want. It’s probably still a good idea to set a timer so you’re not up until 1 AM reading about the 10 best foods to blast belly fat or where the Kardashians are vacationing this year.

Engage in Sprints
Of course, surfing the Web is just ONE of the many distractions freelance writers face. Ultimately, it’s up to us to sit down and write. Engaging in writing “sprints,” where you set a timer and simply write, non-stop, for 15 minutes up to an hour, helps improve focus.

It helps to find a writing buddy. Text or private message your writing buddy (or send out an open call Twitter or Facebook to your writer friends) and ask, “Who wants to sprint?” Set the timer. Then write. Ignore emails, phone calls, or any other distractions.

You may decide to share your work at the end of the sprint, but you don’t have to. Certainly, a lot of my work these days is under non-disclosure agreements, so I’m not going to share it with anyone other than my editor until it’s published. But even if you can’t share your work, you can always boast about how many words you wrote in 30 minutes, and try to beat your best word count next time.

Sprints also serve the purpose of helping you “turn off” your inner editor until an article is completed. It’s a technique I recommend highly. When you’re done, reward yourself with some Web surfing time. Bloggers posted thousands of new articles while you were gone, and you’re missing them! Yikes!