Creative Distractions

First things first: If you read these posts through email or an RSS feed (thank you for subscribing!) and haven’t seen the new background photo on the blog’s website, please take a moment at some point to check it out. The photo was taken by my very good friend Caroline who has an excellent eye for composition and has generously allowed me to use her work on my site. I hope you find the photo as peaceful and beautiful as I do.

Given our recent discussion of distractions and interruptions, I want to be sure to alert you to Jonah Lehrer’s recent Wall Street Journal article, “Bother Me, I’m Thinking,” which suggests that, for some creative types, inattention may not be such a bad thing after all:

“[L]apses in attention turn out to be a crucial creative skill. When we’re faced with a difficult problem, the most obvious solution—that first idea we focus on—is probably wrong. At such moments, it often helps to consider far-fetched possibilities, to approach the task from an unconventional perspective. And this is why distraction is helpful: People unable to focus are more likely to consider information that might seem irrelevant but will later inspire the breakthrough. When we don’t know where to look, we need to look everywhere.” Read More

How many times have you come up with your best ideas when you are multi-tasking like crazy, often with tasks that aren’t at the top of your to-do list? Or do you ever find that you do your best creative work when you get distracted by something else–and all the while your mind continues to hone your primary project or idea?

Lehrer’s article gibes with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of creative complexity, which states that successful creative people have seemingly opposite traits and tendencies, such as discipline and playfulness: “Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility. There is no question that a playfully light attitude is typical of creative individuals.”

At the same time, both Lehrer and Csikszentmihalyi remind us that the ability to focus is still necessary. When I feel a morning slip away from me as I “refresh” and putz and sit too long in my virtual sitting room, I can usually tell that I’ve crossed a line between creative distractability and plain old wasting time. I also find that some ways of putting things off are more creatively productive (and less mentally draining) than others.

Lehrer’s piece is a good reminder that occasional lapses of attention may be not only acceptable, but even, for some creative work and some creative individuals, necessary. We certainly needn’t beat ourselves up each time we daydream or allow our minds to wander.

How do you find the balance?

8 thoughts on “Creative Distractions

  1. I must say that distractions for me are both a blessing and a curse. I can understand the need to change ‘scenery’ every once in a while; particualrly when you’re staring at a monitor for hours at a time. But, as you said, where do you draw the line between welcome distractions and time wasting?

    Having a project that needs finishing (particularly when it’s for someone else and/or for pay) gives me a straight goal. But having 24/7 Internet and access to games and having friends a few clicks away is a bit like driving down a motorway to an important destination but stopping off at every service station on the way. And some of the service stations have naked people in them…

    I’ve said too much…

    • I think your analogy is perfect! It captures the aspect of distractions that is out of our control (although we don’t realize it at the time).

      Glad to know someone else is working to find that balance. Thanks so much for stopping by my service station. 🙂

      ~ Lisa

  2. Like the new background…yes it is quite serene. Finding balance I think is the key but I think technology is distraction overload. There are times when I think that it would be nice to have an old fashioned typewriter, a beautiful window view and silence. Hmmm….maybe this is what I shall do? I think I’ve been creatively distracted! 😉 (keep them coming…enjoy the information).

    • Your ideal writing space and tools sound wonderful! I do think we probably have more choice in that regard than we realize. I know someone, for example, who writes her blog posts by hand before typing them up. It probably doesn’t take any longer overall, and she gets the extra revision step, plus she is unplugged for a few more minutes of her day.

      Thanks for encouragement! 🙂 Have a fantastic Wednesday.

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