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Laura Turner: On Beating Procrastination and Distraction to Write

Laura Turner

At Freedom, we love our users – not just because they use our product, but because they’re cool – cool people working on cool stuff. Academy Award-nominated screenwriters, bestselling authors, editors, developers, illustrators, designers, academic researchersexplorers, andentrepreneurs – the Freedom community is packed with curious, creative, and efficient go-getters. We love to share their stories and advice, because how better to learn about productivity than from the productive?

Meet Laura Turner.

Laura Turner is a Freedom user and San Francisco-based freelance journalist who writes about religion, culture, and politics. Her work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Politico, and The Verge. A publisher turned author, she is currently at work on a book that examines the cultural history of anxiety.

As another productive writer of the Freedom community, we decided to sit down with Laura this week and learn a little more about how she beats procrastination and distraction to do the writing that matters most.

How did you know that you wanted to be a writer and what were your first steps in making this your career?

I didn’t know until maybe seven or eight years ago. (I’m thirty-three.) I liked writing as a kid, and loved to read, but thought for a while that I wanted to work in publishing, or be an attorney. I did work in publishing for a short while, and it was while I was doing that job that I realized I wanted to be on the other side of the equation. I got an MFA in creative nonfiction writing–something I was able to do because my husband’s job afforded me the ability to take time off of work and pay for grad school with no debt, which was important to me–and just started pitching things from there! It’s been about five years now.

At what point did you realize that technology was taking a toll on your productivity, time, and relationships?

Oh gosh, it didn’t take long for me to realize that Twitter would be a total time suck when I wanted it to be. Procrastination comes naturally to me, so it didn’t take long for me to realize I’d need some help staying off of social media, particularly when I don’t have the kinds of typical coworkers that I need as an extroverted writer. So I joined a coworking space, to fill the conversational need, and got Freedom, to help me block Twitter, email, and other social networking sites that can be both fun and distracting.

How do you prioritize what gets your time and attention each day?

I try to think about the old “urgent vs. important” question, and try to write down the urgent things that need to be accomplished on a given day the night before. I’m a big fan of handwritten lists.

How do you stay focused and motivated on a daily basis? Do you have a routine, ritual,  or process that helps to get into a productive flow?

I’ve been reading Deep Work by Cal Newport, and have found that blocking several hours in the morning for me to do my most creative work is incredibly helpful. I’m no good at writing or doing other creative work past 12pm. For whatever reason, my brain just works best in that direction in the early morning. But I also have a 10 month-old baby! So I spend the early mornings with him, and then get off to work making sure that I have space each morning to dig into the writing work I need to do for the day. And when I need breaks, I try to get outside. That helps me recalibrate or shift between tasks.

How do you optimize your environment for productivity and focus? How do you incorporate Freedom into your schedule?

I am a big fan of the Deep Focus playlist on Spotify, which drowns out the conversations I would otherwise spend all day eavesdropping on. I build in breaks throughout the day, and save administrative tasks for the afternoon, when my creative mojo is starting to wane. And I use Freedom a lot in the mornings – usually for a 90- or 120-minute session first thing when I sit down, to block my email and all social media sites.

What is the most challenging aspect about your work or working process? Do you have any strategies that you use to help overcome these challenges?

As an extrovert, I often find the work of writing to be isolating and tedious. When I’m in the flow, I really love it, but many days I find myself wondering if I should go get a job where I talk to other people all day. And maybe someday I will, but I have to remind myself that back when I had those jobs, I wished I could write! So having joined a coworking space, particularly one that is for women, is very helpful because I’m making all these new friends.

I think the most important strategy I have is to be kind to myself when I don’t accomplish all I set out to do. I tend to have very high expectations for myself, which means I feel disappointed easily when I don’t have an A+ day. Learning not to criticize myself has been one of the best–and hardest–lessons I am constantly learning.

What resources or tools do you use daily and have found most beneficial to your working process?

This is kind of embarrassing, but I email myself a lot. It isn’t the most efficient way to create a to-do list, but it works for me, which is more important than looking good! And I get a rush when I delete the email – it’s like checking something off a to-do list. I use a large Leuchtturm notebook for handwriting research notes – I like having everything on one page, and find that handwriting things helps them stay in my mind better than simply typing them out. I also really love the Timepage app as a calendar – it is simple and intuitive to use.

What projects are you currently most excited about?

I’ve really loved some of the articles I’ve gotten to write about anxiety, because I feel strongly that shining a light on subjects that feel taboo can actually help reduce the stigma and promote community. I’m currently applying for a fellowship in that arena, and working on a book project (still early stages!) about the cultural history of anxiety.

What do you do outside of your work routine that helps you stay healthy and productive?

I try to exercise 4-5 times a week. There is nothing else that helps me feel better in the same way that consistent exercise does. That said, I am often unable to fit that in as much as I’d like, but I do spend a lot of time on the living room floor with my son, who is currently very charmed by balloons and all foods. My husband and I are currently watching BILLIONS, which is a great show and interferes with my plan to be asleep by 10pm every night.

Where are you currently based?

San Francisco

To learn more about Laura Turner or her work, you can visit her site at