How easily do you get distracted? If you’re like most of us, the answer is, well, pretty easily. According to new research from Michigan State University, it takes only three seconds to get distracted to the point where we lose flow and become unproductive. Over on New York Magazine, Melissa Dahl breaks down the impact of the research for us:
This means that “it’s not just a phone call that counts as an interruption — just the ringing counts … even if all you want to do is find your phone and shut it off,” the study’s lead author, Michigan State University psychologist Erik Altmann, said in an email.
Obviously, I don’t know what your office culture is like (or if you even work in one), but if you can, try dedicating 60- to 90-minute chunks throughout the day to totally distraction-free work. (Studies have suggested that’s about as much time as your brain can bear to produce quality work before needing a break, anyway.)
Whether you work in an office setting — where the occasional “quick question” from peers can be a more-than common occurrence — or solo from your home or a cafe, if you’re not blocking even slight distractions you could be opening yourself to breaks in flow.
Things like text messages, social media notifications, or a random email notice may be all it takes to distract you. Even if you don’t read the messages, check the notification, or open the email, as this new research shows: all it takes to break flow is a quick chime from your browser or buzz from your phone.
To really get in-the-flow and produce your best work, do what Dahl recommends in her article and find a way to set aside 60 to 90 minutes of pure, completely distraction-free work.
Read the whole write-up covering the research right here.
As we free up more time and increase our per-hour output, we can easily exhaust our physical, mental and emotional energy by working longer and harder. To help manage our energy, blogger Penelope Trunk suggests re-imagining our time by splicing it into engaged time vs. unengaged time:
People actually don’t mind working long hours when they are engaged. Burnout is not a result of how much work you’re doing but what type of work you’re doing. So instead of organizing time into work time and personal time, you could organize it into time when you like what you’re doing and time when you don’t like what you’re doing. This is actually my big gripe with Tim Ferriss. He says he only works a 4 -hour week, but he really means he only does four hours a week of work that is not engaging to him.
And as the gray area between work and life becomes ever murkier, this can be a great mindset to help find your balance. If you have high-pressure life events that can’t be avoided, it might be a good idea to reschedule that big presentation or huge project deadline for another day (or vice versa).
Being an entrepreneur can mean a demanding, unpredictable schedule; spreading oneself way too thin; and trying to pull off tremendous, seemingly impossible feats. This sometimes leads to burnout, and even if we don’t want to admit it, unhappiness. Matthew Toren penned a piece for Entrepreneur about habits of healthy, happy, and wise entrepreneurs. One of the best practices that leads to happiness? Setting and enforcing boundaries. Sounds obvious, but definitely easier said than done when you’re trying to please everyone from employees to spouses. Toren recommends:
For example, if you commit to your partner that Friday night is date night, you have to enforce the boundaries of your business creeping into your Friday nights. If you set the boundary that every morning from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. you’re at the gym, you can’t let your staff infringe on that boundary with early morning meetings.
Boundaries are really about discipline. Exercising our power to stick to our word and values helps to minimize conflict, guilt, and that doing-too-much mentality.
For many creatives, finding new clients can be challenging, and well, a real drag when all we want to do is work on our next masterpiece. Alex Mathers of Red Lemon Club developed a list of 50 ways for creative people to land clients. A creator himself, the list is both practical and creative-centric. Here are a few of his suggestions:
10. Shoot a behind the scenes film of your workspace and share it online.
15. Give a free talk on something that would truly benefit your target prospects and encourage people to connect with you at the end.
32. Create a free web-zine using collaborative writers on a topic of interest to prospects that generates leads for all of you.
34. Create a written tutorial on something you’re uniquely good at and share it online.
We have to face the facts: creatives, we’re also business people. Luckily, we have a unique advantage: creative energy that we can harness to land clients in innovative ways that align with our strengths. What better time than now to pick a new tactic from Mathers’ list and implement it with creative gusto?
Research over the last decade has shown that there are proven methods for sparking creative insights. If you want to be more creative, author and researcher Jonah Lehrer explains at The Wall Street Journal, you’ll simply need to coax your brain into it. Lehrer gives us 10 tips on how to do just that, here are some of our favorites:
Get Groggy: According to a study published last month, people at their least alert time of day—think of a night person early in the morning—performed far better on various creative puzzles, sometimes improving their success rate by 50%.
Daydream Away: Research led by Jonathan Schooler at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has found that people who daydream more score higher on various tests of creativity.
Think Like A Child: When subjects are told to imagine themselves as 7-year-olds, they score significantly higher on tests of divergent thinking, such as trying to invent alternative uses for an old car tire.
Laugh It Up: When people are exposed to a short video of stand-up comedy, they solve about 20% more insight puzzles.
While creativity has been viewed as magical concept for centuries, research like that Lehrer points to shows that it’s little more than a series of cognitive tools our brains use to solve problems. Learning how to hone those skills (as Lehrer explains) means we can spark it in ourselves and our work whenever we need it most.
In filmmaker Werner Herzog’s book A Guide for the Perplexed, he describes his ideation process and how he selects which concept to develop first:
The problem isn’t coming up with ideas, it is how to contain the invasion. My ideas are like uninvited guests. They don’t knock on the door; they climb in through the windows like burglars who show up in the middle of the night and make a racket in the kitchen as they raid the fridge. I don’t sit and ponder which one I should deal with first. The one to be wrestled to the floor before all others is the one coming at me with the most vehemence.
When Herzog is overwhelmed with ideas, he selects the concept most avid in his mind. From there he works it until completion before moving on. He describes finishing a project like having a weight lifted from his shoulders. It’s not necessarily happiness, but an ease of ending one thing before starting the next. However your ideas find you, make sure you finish through to completion – whether that means writing it down in a notebook or following it through to realization.
When we see the impressive work of others, it’s tempting to change our game plan to follow theirs in our fear of being left behind. However, Todd Henry, founder of Accidental Creative, has learned that due to unique passions, skills and experience, we each have our own path to follow. Henry advises embracing the motto of one of his runner friends:
…the most important mindset principle for success in competitive running, especially in endurance races, is twofold: stay focused on the ground immediately in front of you, and work your plan.
Don’t sacrifice your drive because you are comparing your work-in-progress with someone else’s finished product. As Henry states, “Run your race. Execute your plan. Do your work, not someone else’s.”