The best creative work happens when we’re focused and inspired. But as creative people, we have a problem working against us: distraction.
And distractions are everywhere. In fact, this post could be manifesting itself as a distraction to you right now. Completely eliminating distraction is impossible, but there are a ton of great ways to combat and minimize it. As an expert in being easily distracted, I offer you these tips for reining in a wandering mind.
Desk Clutter & Disorganization
A messy workspace is the most preventable source of distraction. Ditch those magazines, memos, brushes and books that can accumulate around you. File them away in a safe, organized place so you can get to them later. Having a clean desk also just feels good. It sets a subconscious chill vibe for your personal and collective office environment, and eliminates anxiety. The same goes for your digital desktop. Keep that thing tidy so you can focus on your current task. There’s no way those screenshots from last summer still spark joy. Set yourself up for success with some quick decluttering.
Meetings & Chit-chat
Work when you’re the most creative. If you’re more productive in the morning, work with your team to schedule check-ins in the afternoon (or vice versa). When meetings are necessary or unavoidable, be prepared on your end so the meeting can run efficiently. Make sure it’s essential for you to be there in the first place. We’ve all been in bloated meetings that seem to have 50 people in them for no good reason. Don’t be just another warm body in the room, help your team out by quickly determining who should stay and who can keep working elsewhere. Avoid swirling chitchat by rocking headphones to politely signal to your coworkers that you’re in the zone. As long as you’re not constantly ignoring people or intentionally anti-social, you won’t be seen as an asshole for trying to focus your work time on making some sweet designs. Figure out the right balance of productivity and break time that works best for you.
Close slack. Minimize email. Put your phone away. If something is super pressing, someone will send a raven. Check in with your notifications on the hour. Allow your brain some time to get lost in focused or singular thought. You’ll be surprised how efficient you can be.
Too many things on your plate at once can be paralyzing. Not knowing where to start will keep you spinning your wheels interminably. Talk to your team to see if there’s a way to share the load. If this isn’t an option, try breaking up one massive project into small, achievable tasks and make yourself a checklist. Slow and steady wins the race.
Speaking from experience, this is a hard addiction to shake once you’ve started down the path. Want to catch-up on a show? Or maybe mindlessly watch reruns of an old favorite series? It doesn’t matter who you you are, watching videos while designing is going to slow you down. I’m not advocating for designing as fast as you can, I’m simply making the point that videos will bog down your brain with additional stimulus. As tempting as it sounds, put off watching, or even listening (you’ll eventually be tempted to watch), to shows and movies, and opt for media that will keep the gears turning without setting them in the wrong direction. Look to music, podcasts or an audiobook if you need something to keep you inspired and focused. I like to throw on something instrumental when I’m designing. I’ve found music without lyrics intensely focuses my thoughts and creates a stronger connection to the words or visuals I’m crafting.
We all have days when there’s a project you’d prefer to be working on, rather than one you should be working on. When inspiration strikes, it’s difficult to discipline your emotional pull toward making what’s in your head. If you find yourself in this scenario, the best first step is to simply recognize you’ve entered into a mental battle with yourself. Block time on your calendar to ensure proper work time for both. Create a simple goal / reward system. If time allows, work on the something-for-them for two hours, then switch to the something-for-you for an hour as a reward.
Illustration by Andrew Beckman