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My top 5 tools to beat distractions and get more writing done - or any work, really

To avoid distractions, I enlist a particular set of tools. Whatever your writing platform - Linux, MacOS, Windows, Android, or iOS - help is here.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
A ball protected by various abstract walls
MirageC/Getty Images

I get tunnel vision when I'm writing. Once I'm deep into the flow, most everything disappears, and it's just me and the words. However, I can't always get deep into that flow. Sometimes my mind wants to wander. Typically, I allow such curiosity, because it often leads to a thought I might not otherwise have had. Either that -- or my brain simply needs the break.

Also: I've published 60 novels - and these 5 free writing tools helped make it possible

But at times, those distractions do throw me off my game. Writing is a finicky beast. A five-minute break can easily become 15 or 20 minutes as you must take the time to get back into that zone you walked away from. 

You don't want that.

To avoid such distractions, I have a particular set of tools I can turn to (for when my mind is feeling particularly wander-ish). Here they are.

1. Calmly Writer: No-nonsense focus

Normally, I use LibreOffice as my word processor of choice. It's free, open-source, cross-platform, and powerful. But sometimes I need to pare the features down until it's just a bare-bones writing tool --just me and the words. 

When I need my concentration to be laser-focused on composing a narrative, I turn to Calmy Writer. Imagine having what looks like a standard terminal window but with the power of a word processor. That's Calmy Writer. This app strips away the nonsense and presents you with only what you need to get the words down. 

Also: 5 ways LibreOffice meets my writing needs better than Google Docs can

There is minimal formatting but just enough to allow you to create H2/H2, bold, italics, bulleted lists, numbered lists, links, and quotes. You also get real-time feedback for word count, character count, and average reading time. The tabbed interface can also be used in full-screen mode, which makes it an ideal tool for pushing away distractions.

Calmly Writer offers a free trial. To continue using the app, you'll have to drop a one-time $14.99 license fee. You can install Calmly Writer on Linux, MacOS, Windows, and ChromeOS.

2. Opera: Yes, a browser - for research

Including a web browser in a list of distraction-free tools might seem counterintuitive, but hear me out. It's inevitable: While writing, you'll have to do some research now and then. I regularly have to look things up when writing. For example, my current book series is set in Boston. Since I don't live in Boston, I need to check on street names, neighborhoods, and other facts that could distract readers if they're wrong. For that, I need a browser. 

Why Opera? Two reasons: Workspaces and Aria. Workspaces is the best tab management system on the market. I have a Writing workspace, which I only use for -- you guessed it -- writing. When I'm writing, I don't leave that Workspace and I don't open social media, shopping, or other non-writing-related sites. 

Also: 5 reasons why Opera is my favorite browser (and you should check it out too)

Aria is Opera's built-in AI and I use it strictly for research. Why do I opt for Aria over a Google search? Because I can get the answers I need faster and without worrying about landing on sites overloaded with ads or other distractions. I can type "What is the average amount of snowfall in Boston between January and March?" and get an immediate answer. Beyond research, I do not use AI in my writing (nor do I copy/paste anything from Aria's responses).

Opera is free and can be installed on Linux, MacOS, Windows, Android, and iOS.

3. Limit: Cut down on distracting sites

Speaking of web browsers: If you have trouble governing your web browser usage (especially on social media sites), consider using an extension like Limit, which allows you to set time limits on distracting sites. For instance, you could set a five-minute limit (the minimum) on Facebook, so every time you feel a need for a distraction, you can be sure it will only last five minutes. Any website can be added and you'll find 10 pre-configured sites (that are known for being distracting). 

Also: The best smart notebooks: Expert tested and reviewed

If you find yourself constantly doom-scrolling when you should be writing, Limit is a must. Limit is free and can be installed on Chromium-based and Firefox-based browsers.

4. Blanket: Ambient sounds instead of music

Every so often I need sound to keep me centered. The problem with listening to music when I write is that the tunes tend to color my prose, narration, and dialogue. Because of that, I would always have to switch to music that matched the tone of what I was working on. On top of that, I can't listen to music with lyrics because I might allow those words to inform my writing. 

Also: I listened to over 100 hours of music last year. These headphones sounded the best

What I now use instead is an app like Blanket, which creates ambient sounds like rain, storm, wind, waves, stream, birds, summer night, train, boat, city, coffee shop, fireplace, pink noise, white noise, and even custom sounds that you add. You can raise the volume of each sound to create a noise scape of different sounds, such as storms and waves or rain and coffee shops. 

Blanket is free and only available for Linux, but you'll find plenty of ambient sound apps for MacOS and Windows.

5. Pomodoro: Set a timer and - go!

Typically, I "time" my fiction-writing sessions by word count and not by time spent. I aim for 1,000 words per day. But once in a while, I'll do a writing sprint, where I'll set a time limit and just start writing stream of consciousness. This is a great writing exercise because it challenges you to not stop writing for a set period. It doesn't matter what you write, as long as you don't stop writing.

For that, I need a good timer and the Pomodoro timer on Linux is a great option. (If you're curious, the Pomodoro Technique is a time management system  that uses a kitchen timer to break work into intervals.) This timer is also an option for breaks. Set the timer for five minutes and give your brain a rest. 

Also: 5 ways to manage your time more effectively at work

Pomodoro is free to install on Linux. You'll find plenty of Pomodoro timers for MacOS and Windows

And there you have it, five apps I depend on when distractions become an issue. I'm confident that at least one of these tools will help you focus so you can get the words to the page more efficiently -- and without suffering under the weight of your mind's wanderlust.

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