distractivity

January 17, 2016

Procrastination encourages divergent thinking


While procrastination is a vice for productivity, I’ve learned that it’s a virtue for creativity.

Our first ideas are usually our most conventional. When you procrastinate, you’re more likely to let your mind wander. That gives you a better chance of stumbling onto the unusual and spotting unexpected patterns.

In every creative project, there are moments that require thinking more laterally and more slowly. My natural need to finish early was a way of shutting down complicating thoughts that sent me whirling in new directions. I was avoiding the pain of divergent thinking — but I was also missing out on its rewards.

Adam Grant in the New York Times.

June 17, 2015

A New Theory of Distraction


The pleasure we get from being distracted is the pleasure of taking action and being free. Distraction is appealing precisely because it’s active and rebellious.

Why do so many writers find distraction so scary? The obvious answer is that they’re writers. More generally, distraction is scary for another, complementary reason: the tremendous value that we’ve come to place on attending. The modern world valorizes few things more than attention.

Behind the crisis of distraction, in short, there is what amounts to a crisis of attention: the more valuable and in demand attention becomes, the more problematic even innocuous distractions seem to be.

Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker

July 01, 2012

Internet distractions make us more efficient

When you itch, scratch.

Stressed out, on a deadline, I was frustrated to the point of uselessness and began to post a handful of items to Twitter and Tumblr. For a while, my mind and fingers wandered aimlessly around the Web. When I grew tired of this, I turned back to my assignment, completed it and turned it in. The entire detour took less than 10 minutes, and it seemed to make me more efficient.

I’ve found that losing myself in the Web can be invigorating. Instead of needing to turn off the noise of the Web, I often use it to calm my nerves so I can finish my work.

It seems that instead of fracturing my focus and splintering my attention span, digital distractions have become a part of my work flow, part of the process, along with organizing notes and creating an outline for each article I write.

Jenna Wortham in the New York Times.

February 28, 2012

Distraction gives you time to breathe

When you’re stuck in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging.

Harvard University researcher and psychologist Shelley H. Carson, author of “Your Creative Brain,” says distraction isn’t always a bad thing.

If you are stuck on a problem, an interruption can force an “incubation period,” she says. “In other words, a distraction may provide the break you need to disengage from a fixation on the ineffective solution.”

Carson’s studies show that not only are creative people more susceptible to “novelty,” and thus distraction, but that mind wandering itself is associated with highly creative people.

Jan Brogan in the Boston Globe.

February 19, 2012

The Art of Distraction

A flighty mind might be going somewhere.

It is incontrovertible that sometimes things get done better when you’re doing something else.

Some interruptions are worth having if they create a space for something to work in the fertile unconscious. Indeed, some distractions are more than useful; they might be more like realizations and can be as informative and multilayered as dreams.

There might be more to our distractions than we realized we knew. We might need to be irresponsible. But to follow a distraction requires independence and disobedience; there will be anxiety in not completing something, in looking away, or in not looking where others prefer you to.

In the end, a person requires a method. He must be able to distinguish between creative and destructive distractions by the sort of taste they leave, whether they feel depleting or fulfilling.

Hanif Kureishi in the New York Times.

November 12, 2011

The Benefits of Boredom

When you’re doing nothing, you’re just getting started:

It’s easy to underestimate boredom.

However, boredom and its synonyms can also become a crucial tool of creativity. When people are immersed in monotony, they automatically lapse into a very special form of brain activity: mind-wandering.

In recent years neuroscience has dramatically revised our views of mind-wandering. [P]eople who consistently engage in more mind-wandering score significantly higher on various measures of creativity.

From the ever-fascinating Jonah Lehrer's essay, The Importance of Mind-Wandering in Wired.

June 25, 2011

On the Art of Puttering

A moment of calm reflection:

We are a driven people… We keep lists; we crowd our schedules; we look for more efficient ways to organize ourselves.

But every now and then there comes a day for puttering. No one intends to putter. You simply discover, in a brief moment of self-awareness, that you have been puttering…

Your attention is diverted almost immediately and then diverted again. You move through the morning with a calm, oblivious focus, taking on tasks — incidental ones — in the order they present themselves, which is to say no order at all.

Puttering is small-scale, stream-of-consciousness problem-solving.

Excerpted from a New York Times editorial, June 24, 2011.