How to Avoid Online Distractions Yesterday I mentioned that I’m taking Malcolm Gladwell’s writing course on Masterclass.

To say it’s making me think about my prose differently is an understatement.

While I’m still in the middle of the lessons—and haven’t yet attempted the homework—my brain is swirling with new topics, new themes, new data, and new ways to present what I write about here.

It also has motivated me to write beyond my normal 5 a.m. it’s still dark and the rest of the world is sleeping, schedule.

But writing while everyone is at work presents its own challenges—there are far more distractions so it seems to take twice as long to get anything done.

Which prompted the question: how do you avoid online distractions when you’re writing?

I don’t normally write when everyone is awake so this is new territory for me.

Can You Write With the Internet On?

It’s not easy. In the 18 minutes since I started this article, I’ve checked Slack (twice), Facebook (once), and email (twice).

Oh, and responded to two emails and talked to my neighbor, who is also working from her porch right now.

But yay! I have 150 words on proverbial paper.

For me, before the crack of dawn is perfect because I don’t have to make a concerted effort to avoid all of the online distractions.

It’s clearly so bad right now, I’m considering turning my WiFi off, just to not have the temptation.

Thankfully, it’s not just me!

Several authors speak to this idea of how to avoid online distraction.

Tim Ferriss has been known to say he writes best from midnight to 5 a.m. He also says:

The best way to avoid the temptation of the internet is to write when your friends aren’t online.


But it also begs the question…when does he sleep? And, coming from the author of The Four Hour Workweek, that seems like he’s not taking his own medicine.

Others, like  Clay Shirky, author of Cognitive Surplus, have to turn the internet off altogether.

That’s precisely where I am right this second.

How Do You Avoid Online Distractions?

But it’s easy for authors, who spend their entire days writing, to provide advice.

What about the rest of us who have day jobs, in addition to our content creation?

To get real-world answers to the “how to avoid online distractions” conundrum, I asked the agency owner group in the Spin Sucks community.

Greg Brooks, the owner of West Third Group and someone who always makes me laugh, said:

I don’t. I’ve always had the attention span of a gnat on Adderall and the only consistent workaround in my career is to be so lightning fast *when* I’m actually writing that it all works out and deadlines don’t get missed.

Case in point: I’m composing this answer in the middle of a four-alarm-fire deadline I should be attending to. 

Ninja edit: as someone once said… my life is almost certainly an example for others. What kind of example is up for debate.

Paula Kiger, author at Big Green Pen and SmartBrief editor said:

The only thing that works for me is turning it all off. And I frequently fail.

Katie Robbert, co-founder and CEO of BrainTrust Insights said:

I put on the “concentration” channel on Spotify, and tell myself I can have a reward if I finish my task first (food, water, shower) depending on time of day.

Julia Carcamo, founder at J Carcamo & Associates said:

I get up at 6 and start writing before I do anything. All bets are off at 7! For instance, right now at 5:30, I’m checking Slack, considering taking a picture of my dog and watching the news…rather than writing.

Eden Spodek, founder and CEO at Spodek & Co. said:

I head to Starbucks or another coffee shop, stay away from my iPhone and don’t login to the WiFi until I earn a break.

Tim Frick, CEO at Mightybytes said:

Write early and often. I roll out of bed every day, grab some coffee, and start wordsmithing immediately before anything else. My aged brain is freshest then. I also close down any applications that provide distractions: Slack, gmail, Facebook, the refrigerator, the list goes on.

Katie Hollar-Barnard, CEO at Firesign Marketing said:

I build in rewards. “If I write this section, I can look at [this].” By which I mean “[this insightful piece on politics, literature or legal marketing].” Or dog videos. One of those.

(I think we all know Katie really means just dog videos.)

Greg Mischio, CEO at Winbound said:

Turn off the phone. Turn. It. off. Then open only the necessary tabs on your browser. That’s really all there is to it.

Randy Ksar, senior social media at 8×8 said:

I work from home or if at work I find a conference room and crank out the work. Oh, and turn off all notifications.

Shane Carpenter, founder at Shane Carpenter Strategic Communications said:

I shut everything down and put on some music. For some reason music helps me focus.

Amber Pechin, partner and storyteller at Amplitude Media said:

I turn off my WiFi or use an app (selfcontrol) to block access to all the fun places if I need the internet for research. I use the “focus” view option in Word to black out everything on my screen except for my writing project. It’s hilarious to me how much work it is to just get myself to sit down and do what I love (and am pretty good at) and I feel like a toddler who has to be coaxed to eat her broccoli, but I love it once the flow starts. Are all writers gluttons for punishment?

Mary Barber, president of The Barber Group said:

I don’t have a system except I check in the morning and try really hard not to check again until noon. I write better in the morning so do that. But…squirrel. Just being honest.

Christopher S. Penn, co-founder at BrainTrust Insights said:

I write at off hours. You’re much less likely to be interrupted when you write early or late in the day. I also strive to write about things I actually care about. If I’m not feeling it, there’s a good chance I shouldn’t be writing about it until I find an angle I like.

Keri Jaehnig, founder and chief marketing officer at Idea Media Girl said:

It’s increasingly harder to avoid distractions! I’m most successful during summer months when I can turn everything off, head outdoors to my “outdoor office,” and click off all social networks with tabs only open to what is absolutely necessary to compose and edit the blog post … or marketing strategy … or other important project. Sipping coffee helps. 

Kathryn Mason, founder and CEO at Masonry said:

Inbox Pause plugin on gmail for my business email, everything else on Chrome closed. Well that’s the plan.

Survey Says! You Have to Turn it All Off

It’s fascinating that it’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, but the general consensus is you have to turn off internet access, turn off your phone, and close all your tabs.

Otherwise, none of us can be trusted.

There also are a few tools you can use:

Music was also mentioned a few times.

But, all-in-all, the only way to truly avoid online distractions when you write is to turn them all off, write when no one else is awake, and make sure your creativity is tuned before you sit down.

We’ve heard from lots of people—authors of all kinds. Now it’s your turn.

How do you avoid online distractions when you’re writing?

Photo by Rob Bye on Unsplash

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich