Musicians, photographers, designers and artists in general are usually referred to as the creative types. However, the ability to create is a necessity which goes beyond the “art” profession and also comes into play for people who write reports, a teacher who produces lesson activities for students, an executive who is expected to come up with strategies and basically anyone whose work involves some creation tasks.
Without our knowledge, people’s facility to create is more than ever under attack in this digital era which is actually the Age of Distraction. There is a new enemy subtly injecting some poison into your creativity. So, like a druid −without the long white beard, though− we will tell you how the poisoning works and −if you aren’t too close to death already , we’ll give you tips on how to eliminate the poison so as to be able to focus and to create more for better performances in your life and business.
Being aware of distractions in the digital era
Distraction is anything that diverts you from a task to do, from a priority to handle and leads you to missing your goals at the end of the day. We often get distracted without realizing it.
With technology advances, being connected is now part of our lifestyle. It has become a way of living and also an essential part of work. “What’s wrong with being connected?” you’d ask.
Let’s take a little test: as you read this, have you quickly checked some incoming notification yet, or have you briefly switched to another task or were you tempted to do anything outside of this page?
Honestly. If you have answered “yes”, then it is obvious that an intruder has tried to steal or did capture your attention for a while. If you replied “No”, then be sure by the time you finish reading this article distraction may pay you a visit. You need to get conscious of it.
They go by the name of Email, Instant Messaging, Social Media, Videos, Text Messages, Online Games, Advertisements and more. They can affect productivity in many ways.
How the dirty work of distractions goes ?
Distraction causes you to split your attention into many tasks. They make you think you can execute effectively other tasks at the same moment that you are performing your creative work. That isn’t true actually.
For instance, when shifting between writing a report and answering a chat, you cause your brain to do a tricky gymnastic like “unplug from A then focus on B, then unplug from B and focus again on A…” No wonder, you forget some good ideas, during the creative process, progressively lose your creative efficacy and even finish in an “I’ll do it later” cycle.
As distraction provides instant pleasure, you allow yourself to be guided by the impulsions of having the same distracted behavior every time and before you know it, it has grown into a habit which generates the actual poison: addiction.
What oxford dictionary calls Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) increases in you and you can’t help opening the door every time when your beloved distractions knock. Consequently, your attention span decreases. Research suggests that technology is influencing people’s attention span, reducing it from 12 to 8 seconds. You develop the compulsive need to switch to distraction; it’s responding to some external triggers and pushing you from the inside…
You’ll need to make better conscious decisions about your habits. Creative tasks need more prolonged dedicated attention; which distractions are poisoning.
Look, we’re not giving you a potion that will cause you to ditch technology and go back to the epoch of Aterix & Obelix. We love technology too; it’s useful. However, creative tasks require focus and there’s no compatibility between focus and distraction. Reflecting and single-tasking are beneficial to creativity. Breaking free from compulsive habits is the result from using this antidote. So, grab the recipe below.
1. Make a list of what generally steals your attention
Identifying your distraction triggers is the beginning of taking control. Be frank with yourself and write down situations, impulsions, hobbies, other little activities which often divert your attention as you’re trying to focus. In other words, things you can barely resist and which cause you to let distraction in. Knowing them helps you raise your level of consciousness about the threat.
This might be a bitter pill to swallow depending on the level somebody’s connectedness addiction but the unchangeable reality is that you have got to block out time to concentrate. Cut off your internet connection. Use internet blocking software on your PC to impeach distractive tabs. Switch your phone to Do Not Disturb mode. Yes, this feature which goes unnoticed, is built-in on many smartphones. Let your contacts know in advance that you’re not available from X to Y hour….And focus.
3. Anticipate and prepare your reaction
Disconnecting might not be sufficient. Chances are the temptation would still arise among your thoughts. No police officer will fine you for violating your own ‘’no Wi-Fi decree’’, right? It’s important you get ready to make conscious decisions at the very moment temptation shows up. Use a simple If-this-then-that pattern to match a positive reaction to each trigger or situation previously identified. For example, “IF I feel like checking my Messenger chats, THEN I’ll tell myself that they won’t vanish from my inbox and that I’ll answer properly when I complete this priority at hand”. Feel free to find what personally works best for you.
4. Implement focus rituals
In the same vein as point #3, creating new habits is crucial to fully recover from the distractions poisoning. Focus rituals are a set of conscious repetitive actions conducive to more focus and then to creativity. Here are some useful ideas.
Consider waking up before your neighbors early in the morning. Do meditation, jog, drink coffee, or read if you like. Refrain from checking mails and other online distractions. Write down your to-do list on a paper or in a dedicated text file. Choose one (or more) task(s) as big priority (-ies) of the day. Start right away to focus on executing the 1st priority. Accomplishing it will give you even more drive to happily tackle the next ones.
You can also organize your creative time into focus and rest intervals. Giving yourself built-in periods of rest helps refresh your brain and can lead you to greater periods of focus. According to your preference for long periods of concentrated work or for shorter chunks, apply: 25 min of focus + 5 min of rest; 45 min focus + 15 min rest or any other combination.
Another method is to start the day with your mail checking and other communication activities. You allow them to occupy your attention for a precise length of time and then you pull out and lock the door behind you to go for a couple of hour creative focus. Then you restart the cycle, say, 45 min distraction followed by 3 to 4 hours of full creative immersion.
Practice refocus sessions once, twice or more times during the day. Since the morning ritual, you may have lost some focus due to the incoming stream of activities that have certainly brought some distractions in already. Thus, take just a couple of minutes to come back to your to-do list and recall your next priorities of the day.
5. Place limits to non-creative activities
All this isn’t to say that you should build a permanent wall between distractions and your life. Distraction is somehow valuable, in that it helps you take some time off, it helps you recharge your mind and it is fun. Life would be too boring and monotone without any entertainment. What you actually need is balance. Making focus a major force for your creative life and limiting distractions to what is essential; what really adds to your whole life. You don’t need to be in your inbox every time. You can’t respond to everything. Accept it. Choose what is strictly significant and let go of the need of staying updated. You’ll progressively end up gaining control over mails, social media, and other notification urges which are unconsciously controlling your attention now. It’s possible to maintain a connected lifestyle and remain highly creative without being a slave to distraction.
As you should have understood it by now, this is a DIY antidote. You need to cook the antidote yourself by following the little recipe in the lines above. Sure, it’s easier said than done in this information cluttered world where focus is becoming a luxury.
However, achieving F.O.C.U.S., what we like here to define as Finding One’s Concentrated Undisturbable State, is a beneficial habit to your ability to create and stand apart. Drink this antidote and you’ll get as outstanding as these.
PS: many thanks to our master druid, Leo Babauta, who let us read and learn from his manifesto – Focus!
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