How to focus on the writing task at hand

You have a report to write but focusing on it seems impossible. All of a sudden, you have this yearning to create a color coding system for your sock drawer or your spices are calling you to organize them not only in sweet and savory categories but alphabetically too. This "displacement activity" is similar to a cat who grooms himself when uncertain whether to attack or flee an oncoming dog. 

What's to be done? 

  1. get a cup of coffee or green tea

  2. quit email

  3. quit skype

  4. put your phone on "do not disturb" (the moon symbol) and place it upside down or out of sight

  5. set your timer to 25 minutes

  6. write (don't worry about quality; just write in whichever shape or form it comes out)

  7. when the buzzer goes off, stop, put a checkmark on a piece of paper and take a five minute break (make sure you take the break)

  8. go back to step 5

  9. keep doing this until you have four checkmarks; now you can take a 15-30 minute break

This is my interpretation of the time management tool called the Pomodoro Method, invented by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. Each checkmark is a Pomodoro, named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer. Proponents of this method say to use a low tech timer, because the "physical act of winding the timer confirms the user's determination to start the task; ticking externalizes the desire to complete the task; and ringing announces a break. Flow and focus become associated with these physical stimuli." (Wikipedia) 

I use the Control Center on my iPhone to access the timer and place the phone upside down again. To achieve that state, I use OmmWriter, a simple word processing program that has a full screen mode (preventing me from peaking at any other screen), hypnotic sounds including crashing waves and cool keyboard sounds including one that sounds like rain on a tin roof. 

In Tim Ferris' book The Tools of Titans, some high achievers put a single song on repeat for focus, which probably has the same effect as the tick of a timer or OmmWriter sounds. Some writers I know swear by Bach and Mozart.

Some say to experiment with the timer settings, say 30- or 45-minute blocks. After a burnout that left me unable to focus on anything more than funny cat videos, I started with 10-minute blocks. After a few days, I found myself in such a state of flow, I kept writing. Funny enough, I felt I did my best writing when limited to 10 minutes.