Grey and white cat in lap, with paws on laptop

Image cc license from Flickr user pjmorse: http://farm1.staticflickr.com/212/500139740_5046965fa3_o.jpg

My distractions at this moment:

  • Cars passing and the fact that, though the streets are dry, it sounds like the roads are wet
  • Someone playing video games in the other room
  • The cats, one trying to sleep on my lap between me and the laptop perched at my knees, the other staring at me from the floor by my feet
  • The plethora of other things I’m supposed to accomplish today
  • The Internet

The cat in my lap has now moved to sleep on my wrists. Obviously, she doesn’t see this as a distraction;  in her mind, it’s the computer and whatever I’m typing that must be distracting me from what I should be doing, namely, paying attention to her. When she gets really irritated, she puts her paws across my hand and flexes her claws, then turns to stare at my over her shoulder with that look that cats have perfected, a cross between boredom, disdain, and eye-rolling irritation. This post, ladies and gentlemen, is apparently less important than this furball.

In the book The Secret Miracle: The Novelist’s Handbook, on the topic of distractions and handling them, the responses from two different authors express very well the delicate balance in dealing with distractions.

Stephen King — Get Rid of Them

I try to get rid of the interruptions as quickly as possible. And kindly, but sometimes I blow up. — Stephen King (p. 119)

Some distractions are more easily dealt with than others. Some can be simply removed — I leave the room where someone’s playing video games, I listen to music through headphones to drown out the cars. Others are more difficult to address.  I am reasonably sure that, if I sneeze (a real sneeze and not a fake one, as they seem to sense the difference), the cat will leave my lap and probably quit the room entirely; I have yet to figure out how to remove the cat from my lap but not the room.  Some require exercise of greater self-control — I need access to the Internet for work, so disabling the WiFi is not an option and keeping myself from wandering the web and refreshing my Inbox are the best solutions. Others require tolerance — while the cat is not going out of her way to make my work any easier, I enjoy her company and will therefore try to work around her as long as possible;  however, should the cat start to delete my work by stepping on the trackpad at inopportune moments (thank goodness for Ctrl-Z!) or block the keys entirely with a great big fluffy tail, I will have to, kindly, get rid of this fuzzy distraction.

Mehmet Murat Somer — Accept the Invitations

Invitations to play canasta are the biggest distraction for me. Then comes cruising. My way of dealing is not resisting the urges. I accept the invitations.  Mehmet Murat Somer (p. 119)

Some distractions are worth giving in to or accepting. Depending on the other things to accomplish on today’s long list, there are some which can be put off in the fine and upstanding tradition of procrastinators everywhere.  Others must be completed soon — shopping for ingredients to make dinner tonight needs to be accomplished before the stores close and doing the laundry to make sure you have clothes to wear to work tomorrow must to be done to allow enough time for drying and/or ironing.  In some cases, if the items on the list aren’t accomplished today, activities tomorrow will be more difficult (if not impossible) — if one is to give a last-minute presentation tomorrow, performing the necessary research becomes a task of great urgency and something best begun and finished as quickly as possible. Finally, there are those distractions with which one can negotiate; I can allow myself an hour to read my book, at which point I will come back to writing, or I will write for another fifteen minutes and then work out, knowing that while I am downstairs on the stationary bike, I will have time to think more about where to go from here.

Q. Which is the better approach? A. Both. Or neither.

Both King’s and Somer’s approaches have merit. Some distractions are better addressed using one approach over the other.  I’m loath to give in and stay in the same room as the gamer, something more in line with Somer, because I know I will not be able to focus on my work; I’m better off removing the distraction (or removing myself from the distraction).  The interruption of a phone call from a family member is not something I might be able to dismiss, a response following the model of King; I’m better served by answering, especially in case the call relates to something urgent.

However, there are situations where neither approach is ideal and a more careful compromise is required. Upon the advice of a few friends and colleagues, I’m going to give the Pomodoro Technique a try.  A method of more efficient time management, the Pomodoro Technique gives the opportunity to address the inevitability of distractions and the necessity of both uninterrupted working time and brief breaks from tasks.  Perhaps this will improve my ability to handle all distractions, including the furry purring ones, and still get the necessary work accomplished.

Have any of you tried the Pomodoro Technique? Have you discovered for yourselves any methods for addressing distractions that you would or would not recommend?


What Is the Most Distracting for You? How Do You Deal With It? (2010). In D. Alarcon (Ed.), The Secret Miracle: The Novelist’s Handbook (pp. 117-122). New York: Henry Holt and Company.


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