Adjust Your Lighting, Enhance Your Writing

Adjust Your Lighting, Enhance Your WritingPhoto by Ciel Cheng on Unsplash

Why is having your phone next to you while you’re trying to do something meaningful so distracting? imple, it lights up thereby shifting your attention off the current task at hand. From police car lights to lighthouses along the coast, light can be used to direct our attention. Similar to a spotlight in a theatrical performance, our attention shifts to the subject to which the light shines upon. What’s more is that light can boost your alertness and mental sharpness under proper conditions. It is the same reason it might be harder to wake up in a room with the windows shut versus having the shades up with the sun shinning in, regardless of the number of hours of sleep. While blue light can affect your circadian rhythm which is not conducive for sleep, it can be beneficial for writing.¹

Most people have a room light that shines on the entire room while writing. It showcases everything within the room. This makes it easy to focus your attention on virtually anything in the room while you’re writing. That book on the shelf next to you, there it is. That piece of paper resting next to you on the desk, there it is. That trash you’ve been meaning to take out for hours now, there it is. There is always tons to do, but that’s not the point. The point is to focus on what you’re trying to write. So how do you take away those distractions?

I accidentally found the other day that by turning off the main light in the room and just leaving the lamp on above my laptop helped me to focus. It removed the other distractions in the room without having to physically remove anything. When there’s nothing competing for your attention, its easy to choose what to give your attention to. Having too many distractions takes away our freedom to choose where to consciously devote our time to.

It’s a simple concept, albeit an obvious one but its still worth mentioning. Sometimes the real reason you can’t finish that document is because there are things around you that might be distracting without even realizing it. You might not be physically interacting with anything in the room but mentally it could alter your train of thought. By having the light shine only on your laptop, your eyes won’t be able to help themselves focus solely on the laptop in the room.

How about coffee shops

A busy coffee shop with many people workingPhoto by Wade Austin Ellis on Unsplash

Many writers have spent time at some point in a coffee shop writing. While it is entirely possible to be productive in a noisy environment, it may not be optimal when struggling to write a particularly challenging composition. What works for me is keeping background music, without lyrics (classical music) in distracting environments to help maintain focus. Icing on the cake is if you have a pair of noise canceling headphones to help fade into your own little world.

Lets face it, life happens, you can’t just go off the grid every time you need to write something. In fact, there maybe cases where being in an environment surrounded by people trying to accomplish similar tasks can be a powerful motivator. It can be channeled into positive peer pressure, that works to your advantage even in a distraction riddled environment. This is where how well you work, varies from person to person. I find solidarity helps me to achieve deeper thought processes. I am the type of person who can’t help but look up every time someone walks past my desk (especially with headphones on).

Regardless of which type of environment you prefer, knowing which type you perform best in is essential. While some find it hard to motivate themselves in isolation, it’s worth mentioning that while effective, achieving optimal performance might not be possible in a chaotic environment.

An example on stimuli

Enter a room with 5 people inside and ask yourself what was color of the floor was after you left; it will probably be difficult to answer. Enter a room with no one else inside and it will probably be easier to recant the color of the floor. The truth is, we are flooded by our senses on a daily basis. So much so, that we unwillingly have to ignore certain stimuli. This is the same reason why a blind person can usually hear especially well (compared to the average person). It would stand to reason that by eliminating external factors that seek your attention, will you be able to direct where your attention is channeled.

The concept of ‘Deep Work’

An author by the name of Cal Newport published a book called ‘Deep Work.’ In it, Cal explains (better than I could) how any mental work worth while, can only be achieved with complete focus. Deep, intrinsic, meaningful thought is typically achieved through uninterrupted periods of concentration.²

“I don’t want just words. If that’s all you have for me, you’d better go.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

Scientists used to claim, we only use 10% of our brain capacity in our lifetime. It would stand to reason that any technique to increase our cognitive abilities would be beneficial. Cutting distractions is essential for mastering your craft, especially when it comes to mentally demanding tasks. Case studies suggest that uninterrupted dedicated time blocks, help to produce better results in less time.

Theories such as ‘Deep Work’ argue that peak performance could only be achieved through 100% concentration. The hypothesis then becomes meaningful work is contingent on deep concentration. Knowing what works best for you and deciding when you need motivation versus meaningful work is something for you to decide. It’s important to distinguish between optimal performance versus which conditions you prefer to write under.

Pro-tip

Still having a hard time focusing? Try recalling how many hours of sleep you got the night before. Often we keep ourselves awake just trying to finish that one last thing, when in reality going to sleep now and finishing in the morning when we are fresh and wide-awake is usually the optimal state for effective writing. Though it may seem counterintuitive to postpone your writing for eight hours, chances are you will awake refreshed and will be more likely to produce a higher quality piece of writing. When you’re asleep, time goes by in the blink of an eye. There shouldn’t be too much of a concern in regard to picking up where you left off.

The holy grail

Though you may have your light focused on one thing, it doesn’t necessarily mean your mind is ready to focus. Just go through a breakup? This technique probably isn’t going to help much. Just receive some bad news? The lighting probably won’t matter all that much here. Just start to feel like your coming down with a cold? Again, no amount of lighting is going to help clear your mind from the heavier things weighing on it.

Techniques like meditation can help with this. There is something I like to call the three basic essentials. Eating nutrient rich foods, sleeping the right amount of hours and exercising at least 20–30 mins per day will automatically get you 80% of the way to your peak human performance. While there are things out of your control, if we can optimize the things we have control over, our achievements are limitless.

Final Word

If you read this far, it would be entirely pointless to let your phone come between you and your finished body of work. There have been documentaries (on Netflix) that go into how engineers studied human behavior to gain your attention every time you receive a notification. Cellphones will work against your progress. ‘Do not disturb’ mode is your best friend. There is no such thing as, “I’ll only check it if it’s urgent.” If you can’t take a break from your phone for only 30–45 mins, then you probably have other priorities you need to iron out first.

With the sheer number of notifications (aka distractions) in 2021, actual meaningful work will become increasingly rare in the future. Those who can accomplish more in less time or have better quality work within the same amount of hours, will be considered an asset in today’s work force.

With a surge in online writing and a plethora of new teaching courses released on a daily basis, being able to stand out amongst the crowd is one way to guarantee success. When it comes to writing, being able to focus can mean the difference between writer’s block and publishing a work of art.

If you know you have to finish writing something you just don’t have the patience for or if that article is simply taking longer to write than it should, then give this simple but effective technique a shot. You have nothing to lose.

References:

¹ Harvard Medical School: Blue light has a dark side

² Cal Newport: ‘Deep Work’

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