Most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?” – Marcus Aurelius
Excerpt from Focus:
If you’re someone who creates, in any way, focus should be important to you.
And this includes a much larger group than the traditional “creative types” — artists, writers, photographers, designers, musicians and the like. No, people who create are a much larger group than that, though creative types are included. Those who create include:
» those who invent and create products or services
» teachers who create lessons and activities and content for students
» professors who write syllabi and lectures
» anyone who writes research papers
» stay-at-home parents who create activities for their kids
» executives who create plans, presentations, visions, proposals
» ad execs who create ad campaigns
» people who make websites of any kind
» anyone who writes reports
» someone who crafts physical products like clothing, cars, etc.
» kids who have to do homework
» and many other types of people
In short, it includes most of us, in one way or another.
Focus is crucial to those of us who create, because creating is so difficult without it.
How Distraction Hurts Creativity
It’s fairly difficult to create when you’re reading a blog or forum or tweeting or sending an email or chatting. In fact, it’s almost impossible to do these things and create at the same time.
Sure, you can switch back and forth, so that you’re creating and engaging in any of these activities of consuming and communicating. We’ve all done that.
But how effective is that? When we switch between creating and communicating through email, say, we lose a little bit of our creative time, a little bit of our creative attention, each time we switch. Our mind must switch between modes, and that takes time. As a result, our creative processes are slowed and hurt, just a little, each time we switch.
Here’s the catch: creating is a completely separate process from consuming and communicating.
They don’t happen at the same time. We can switch between them, but again, we’re hurting both processes as we do that.
All the reading and consumption of information we do, all the communicating we do, and all the switching between modes we do — it all takes away from the time we have to create.
We should note that communicating and consuming information aren’t necessarily evil to the person who creates: they actually help. We shouldn’t throw them out completely. Communicating with others allows us to collaborate, and that actually multiplies our creative power, in my experience. When you communicate and collaborate, you bounce ideas off people, get ideas from things they say, learn from each other, combine ideas in new and exciting ways, build things that couldn’t be possible from one person.
When you consume information, you’re helping your creativity as well — you find inspiration in what others have done, you get ideas, you gather the raw materials for creating.
But consuming and communicating aren’t creating. They aid creating, they lay the groundwork, but at some point we need to actually sit down and create. Or stand up and create. But create.
How to Beat Distraction, and Create
If the problem is that these separate processes of creating, consuming and communicating get in the way of each other, the solution is obvious: we need to separate the processes. We need to create at different times than we consume and communicate.
I know, easier said than done.
But that’s what the rest of this book will be about: how to separate these processes. Because in the end, when you separate them, you’ll free up your time and mind for creating, and create better and more prodigiously than ever before.
Separate your day: a time for creating, and a time for consuming and communicating. And never the twain shall meet.
You can split your day into many different combinations of the two, but don’t put them all together. Or if you do, just be aware that you’re hurting your creativity. That’s OK sometimes, as there isn’t a need to be uber productive, as long as you’re doing something you enjoy. But if your interest is in creating, separate your day.
Focus, Distraction and Happiness
There’s more to focus and distraction than just creating, though. Constant connectivity and distractions, and a lack of focus, can affect our peace of mind, our stress levels, and our happiness.
In the days when computers took up only part of our lives, there were times when we could get away from them, when we were disconnected from the grid. Unfortunately, many people still filled much of that time with watching television, which isn’t much better.
But it’s important to get away from these constant distractions — we need some quiet, some time to reflect and contemplate, some time for solitude. Without it, our minds are constantly bombarded by information and sensations, unable to rest. That constantly stresses our minds in ways we’re not meant to handle.
We need the rest. It’s important in ways we don’t often think about. We need to de-stress, and we need to recharge our mental batteries.
Quiet and solitude and reflection lead to greater happiness when they’re a part of our daily lives, at least in some degree. What you do during this time — read, write, run, nap, sit, watch, listen, even have a quiet conversation, play, study, build — isn’t as important as the simple fact of having that time of disconnection.
We’ll look at how to find this time, and how to find focus, in later chapters. At this point, we just need to note that these things are important.