All Focus and No Distractions Makes Jill a Dull Girl

benefits of distraction

There’s a well-known saying – “All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy.” But for creatives and writers, there’s a bigger paradox.

shinyThe Battle between Single-Minded Focus and Open Minded Inspiration

Willpower or discipline is very difficult to solely rely on when part of any creative’s life nowadays is tasked to building a presence on the web, with its many pulls for attention. But as we all know, the internet and social media can be very distracting.

Multi-tasking vs Singular Focus

Productivity gurus are always telling us we must “ship it”, must produce more, must “finish” and “repeat”.  Must build our portfolio of products that we can offer our readers/fans.
The message which was previously interpreted by some, came through as – do a lot of stuff. At once.
Multi-tasking, in other words – which suited me to a tee.
Bringing out the stereotypes – Women are meant to be good at multi-tasking, right? While men are single-focused, which works particularly well when you’re producing a quantifiable and measurable product. Like a book, or painting, or entrepreneural product.
But when your multi-tasking is more to do with supporting and providing an happy environment – something all the stay at home parents or multi-project managers may account for, then it becomes more difficult to measure your own personal output.
As I’ve worked in both areas – as a mother and a multiple project manager, I know how important it is to embrace change, and move on from a task that is not working or show-stopped for whatever reason. Change management is inherent in all of our lives, but we also have the double devils of –
  • Distraction Addiction – it’s what you see around the family tables and cafes of the world where a group of people get together, then spend all their time on cell phones, texting or reading social media sites, and not communicating with the people around the same table.
  • Shiny Object (or Squirrel!) Syndrome – the attraction of something new and shiny, which has to be so much better than the current one, right?
All of which makes it increasingly more difficult to lean into the whole singular focus necessary to start and complete one project at a time.  For some of us, this is a new pattern of working.
Big important goals take time. Writing a book takes time – it used to take many writers a year a least, and several after that to have it published. Nowadays we read of writers who publish three, four, ten books a year! Yet – nothing has altered. Big important goals take time. And normally they take a singular attentiveness to starting and completing an ordered list of tasks.
There is a large list of tools designed to help with concentrating and effort in focus, to keep us on-board with the work side of things. Later this week I’ll be publishing a large list of Distraction Blocking tools for focus in the #52tech series.

What about Creativity?

All this talk about singular focus, tasks and getting things completed is all fine and dandy. But we creatives also know that when we allow our mind to not focus, we often allow in some of our most creative thoughts.
The contrariness of writer’s or creative block finds us seeking out further advice on how to actually stop this type of block. Some of the best advice for this problem is to stop and play or relax, to go on artist’s dates, seek out new things, walk in nature. Start-up and particularly web companies embrace the environment with play-park offices or employee opportunities to take time to work on playful personal projects.
But because of the focus-writer type advice – to sit down and create, and complete a project, the side to creativity of “doing nothing” or “being open” is sometimes not seen as legitimate time usage at all. It’s even given labels like “resistance” or “fear” depending on the amount of output you’ve mastered before the craziness hits.
But being still is a big part of any creative’s life.
When I’m halfway to dreaming, or vacuuming, or washing dishes – those are almost guaranteed times when my mind is allowed to wander enough to not be so focused. Those times are when creative problems are resolved, blocks broken down or new ideas come to me.
In the past I’ve easily been distracted into more noisy areas also – the internet, games, sometimes even social media, thinking I’d just play around, have some fun, and lighten the load of so much concentration. I wrongly thought these areas would provide the same creative incubation environment sitting out on my garden bench did. But I found little benefit from allowing such distractions.
Although there are some benefits, if the above infographic is to be believed. Is it? Does Facebook give you work-life balance? Is Facebook ‘life’? For some, it may well provide the medium for maintaining that facsimile.
For creatives, there’s a fine line between juggling the single-minded focus of getting work done, and the mind-wandering that allows our minds to be distracted but relaxed, and what that open state may bring.

Levels of Distraction, and Benefits

Although I disagree with some of the points of the infographic (5 Benefits to Distractions) seen above, this post uses the same graphic, but also adds a further 5 benefits including nurturing creativity, fighting depression and refreshment – quoting:
“Huffington Post’s Linda Stone attributes her professional success to “receptive distraction,” a concept that isn’t exactly new, but well worth promoting all the same. Quite simply, it just means remaining open to small opportunities for rejuvenation throughout the day, like a cup of tea or a walk.”
So, there are various types of distraction types – what one person considers a refreshing distraction (a cup of tea) may well be wrong, depending on timing, for a person sitting in the next office in “flow”.
For any of us, it comes down to control, change management, and awareness of what are our own personal forms of negative and positive distractions in our working domain. Scheduling in creative play as a task is as important as a doing task. Separating out work and play (or distractions as some are called) doesn’t always work for creatives. So lets approach it all with an organised approach – and blend our work with what makes us passionate about it.
And maybe in using any tools, plans and to-do lists to get us through and complete on important tasks.
grant snider cartoon on creativity
Later this week I’ll be publishing a large list of Distraction Blocking tools for focus in the #52tech series. The list includes tools which provide notifications on taking breaks too – for the workaholics.

Calling Out Myself

This post has been some time in the making. I was, for a while, perplexed by the sudden turnabout I was seeing – some of my favourite gurus who had only last year talked about multi-tasking and running with a list of tasks, have very recently started talking about single focus, working on one objective to completion. Others who had recommended producing multiple books during a year as a way to build platform, are now telling us that books take time, and we should allow them the time needed.

Part of my issue with this personally was because I came out of a multi-tasking open-office environment where I took pride in my ability to work on more than one project at a time, and succeed. Turning to parenting at home seemed very similar in some respects. I am constantly pulled in multiple ways, and have learned to make decisions on my feet.

But, I’m also prone to shiny object syndrome. I have no problem in coming up with a new idea for something and therefore a passion to get on with it. Despite copious planning, scheduling and methods of setting tasks, I found myself disheartened on entering this new year, with many partially complete ideas, and new shiny ones that I really wanted to explore.

The jury was in. Books do take time and attention, but I couldn’t sit there and focus on only one without becoming disenchanted with it too quickly. There had to be a half-way house between the singular focus and boredom I was finding on working to complete something, and the new stuff, or being open-minded to change when it was the right thing to do.

This year I’m trying a new technique, created by Warren Buffett – I’ve selected my 5 top tasks that I’m truly passionate about, and am working on those – but only one at a time, to completion.  All the rest become Avoid at All Costs. I’m not sure where to put something like this – blogging – onto a list like that, however. And I’ll be helping my task concentration using some tools I’ve found in curating the big list of tools coming up. We’ll see how it all works out.

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