Distractions and Creativity

Cats creative

My “coworkers” do their best to distract me.

Last year I wrote about how my increase in productivity and efficiency since getting a second computer monitor. I continue to love my multiple-monitor setup, but I’ve noticed that it–and my computer–are actually quite counterproductive for a specific subset of my job: creativity.

Part of my job involves designing and developing board games, so I spend a fair amount of time brainstorming and conceptualizing games. I do this with pencil and paper.

For a while, I did this in front of my computer, e-mail on one screen, web browser on the other. But I noticed something: I wasn’t able to get into the creative “zone.” You know, that magical place where ideas are flowing and your synapse gaps are firing at full throttle.

It took me a while to realize what was happening. While stooped over a piece of paper, pencil in hand, I might get a few ideas down on paper. But before I could get into a good rhythm, I’d get an e-mail or an alert of some kind, and I’d be pulled out of the creative session. When I returned–even just a few seconds later–it took me a few minutes to get back on track.

It’s like if you’re trying to fall into a deep sleep, but someone pokes you in the eye every time you get close.

I tried moving away from my desk, and that helped, but my curiosity would get the better of me every time I got an e-mail. So eventually I decided that I needed to commit to creative time by putting my computer to sleep.

All of this may seem super obvious to you, but it wasn’t to me. The results, however, were incredible. I finally found myself slipping into creative zones. I can’t speak to the quality of work I produced, but it’s more of a feeling–you know when you’re in the zone, and I realize that it was a lot easier to sustain than I had remembered, as long as there wasn’t the distraction of my computer present.

In fact, I found that I didn’t need huge chunks of time to be creative and imaginative. I had convinced myself that I needed 2-3 hours to produce anything remotely interesting, but without distractions, I can churn out a ton of ideas in an hour, sometimes less.

Now, I have the advantage of working from home. I can’t even imagine trying to get creative work done in an office where you’re constantly interrupted or distracted. How do you do it? How do people even go to Starbucks to write? I can’t imagine that being a good environment for creativity, but I guess everyone’s different.