When our copywriter, Chad, needs to get focused and do some deep work, he places a framed picture of punk rock icon Henry Rollins on his desk. It lets his coworkers know some serious concentration is happening and subtly invites them to come back later when Henry isn’t watching. It’s a simple tool that protects his creative flow from interruptions.
According to Cal Newport, the author of the essential productivity book Deep Work, you lose creative momentum every time you shift attention away from the task at hand. Unfortunately, our digitally distracted lives and workplaces seem like they’re conspiring to create new ways to interfere. And it’s taking a toll on our creativity.
Neuroscientists explain that reacting to disruptions (emails, texts, Slack notifications) hampers high-level thinking, reduces cognitive abilities, increases errors and slows us down. It takes an average of 25 minutes to get back on track after an interruption. That means every time you shift focus, you’re losing time and the attention needed to create your best work.
This has consequences. Ever notice how much creative is starting to look the same? This isn’t just groupthink. Workflow distraction creates mental friction that causes shallow work.
We set out to put the flow back in creative workflow when we developed our creative project management solution, Workstream. During the process, we learned a ton of innovative ways to make space for creativity. Here are some great tools and techniques to keep you and your team dialed so great creative can happen.
Approach Meetings Intentionally
Meetings can really steal time from pure creative work. Research shows employees go to an average of 62 meetings per month for an average total of 5 hours per week. Managing this time is critical. Here are several innovative approaches you can try to make them more effective and less disruptive.
- Meeting free days. Some companies, like Asana, ban meetings one or more days a week to allow everyone to focus. This carves out time to think creatively and take on time-consuming projects that require sustained concentration.
- Meeting full days. Southwestern Consulting takes the opposite tack and schedules meetings all for one day. It’s the one day of the week when everyone knows they need to be present, come with an agenda and walk away with action plans.
- Schedule creative time. Intel’s Software and Services group schedules “think time” on a shared calendar to reserve time for creative thinking and problem solving. It’s four guaranteed hours when employees can go deep into projects without interruption.
Use Helpful Technology
Technology gets its fair share of the blame for being a concentration killer. If you’re not using it purposefully, it can definitely take more than it gives. That said, there are some first-rate apps for getting your game face on.
- Moment helps you manage your mobile habit by showing you hard data about how much time you’re interacting with devices. If this isn’t time well spent, you can set daily usage limits and get notifications or even cut off access when you exceed them. Apple users can also try Freedom.
- Headspace features guided meditation and mindfulness practices for all kinds of needs, including creativity. Sometimes taking a moment to breathe can give you the reset you need to be inspired.
- Focus prevents you from visiting procrastination promoting sites like Facebook, Reddit, or Twitter. It also provides you with a dose of inspirational messaging to help improve your mood.
Never Stop Learning
We’re always exploring thought leadership on new ways to cultivate creativity. Here are a few content resources our team admired while researching workflow improvement. They offer great insights on how other creatives handle their distractions.
- The Unmistakable Creative is a podcast that features interviews with thought leaders, authors, artists and entrepreneurs about what their makes their work unmistakable.
- Magic Lessons is a podcast hosted by Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame. She interviews creatives and experts about unlocking creative potential.
- The Distracted Mind was co-authored by a neuroscientist and a psychologist. It offers science-based explanations about why and how to focus better.
Technology offers today’s creatives more powerful tools, and powerful diversions, than ever before. The key to achieving deeper work is knowing how to control it to foster creativity and dominate deadlines. By building better habits, we can get into a deeper flow when we work. That way we can focus on the creative stuff that robots can’t do—yet.