Creating a ‘distraction-free’ writing machine (using whatever you’ve got available) 

Sometimes, you’ve got to get things out of your system, following them to their logical conclusion. Yesterday, for some reason, I became obsessed with the idea of a ‘distraction-free’ writing machine. By this I mean something that would allow me to write without distraction, as opposed to interruptions. The latter are fine, because the person who is doing the interrupting knows what they’re doing. Distractions, however, are things that are (or should be) under your own control.

So I set about thinking first of all about purchasing some kind of machine for different tasks. So I’d have a permanent setup for the video calls I do on a daily basis as a remote worker, and then another device for writing. That looked needlessly expensive, so I thought about the resources I’ve already got. Given that I’ve always wanted to do something more than just tinker with the Raspberry Pi (and Pi Zero) I’ve got lying about, I set about thinking how I could use that. Given that I’ve also just upgraded monitor, and the old one is handily rotatable and height-adjustable, I experimented:

Raspberry Pi - rotated monitor

This was running on an original Raspberry Pi with Raspbian and LXDE as a window manager. For some reason, FocusWriter, which is what you see loading on the screen there, didn’t work properly. So I was kind of back to the drawing board.

While messing about with the settings on my phone, I suddenly realised that any machine can be a ‘distraction-free’ writing device. Almost every operating system has a ‘guest mode’ these days, so I could switch to that while writing. I started with my Android device:

Add guest (Android)

Once you’ve activated the Guest account, clicking on the cog to the right-hand side brings up options for that account. On my Android device there was only one option, namely whether or not to allow access to phone calls for the Guest account. I turned that on, so I could make and receive calls while in writing mode.

Allow guest phone (Android)X-Ray Goggles

The benefit of that is that I can’t be distracted by ambient messages from Slack, Telegram, etc. However, if a member of my family calls me, I can answer that straight away.

When it came to my Ubuntu Linux-based laptop, I simply set up a new ‘standard’ (i.e. non-administrator) account:

Add guest account (Ubuntu)

I decided to call the account I created ‘Guest’, although I could have named it ‘Writing’, ‘Distraction-free’, or anything I wanted to, really. Note that I’ve ticked ‘Show my login name in the menu bar’ to be able to quickly see which account I’m in. I could also change the desktop background and/or theme to indicate this, too.

Switch to guest account (Ubuntu)

Switching to the Guest account is as simple as clicking on the menu to the top-right and selecting the other account.

I’m looking forward to trying out this setup to encourage the kind of ‘distraction-free’ writing I’ve been seeking ever since reading Cal Newport’s excellent book Deep Work. Happy to answer any questions in the comments below! I’m pretty sure almost every device (with the exception of iOS?) allows for multiple users.