When you’re about to create, suddenly everything is a distraction. The dishes. Laundry. Your cell phone, which you check every few minutes. That conversation you had with a friend, which you keep replaying. That stack of books, which you’ve walked past for weeks, which needs to be put away. Immediately.
There are many distractions that keep us from sitting down and doing the work—whatever it is that you’re creating.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten distracted in the middle of writing this post. To wash an apple. Grab a bottle of water. Floss my teeth. Check email on my phone. Text with my mom. Check Instagram. Check another website, which led to another website, which took 10 minutes, at least. Likely a lot more.
Sometimes, we’re easily distracted because we’re burnt out. We need a break and our brains are determined to get one. We’re also used to shiny things capturing our attention, and sitting down to create can become tedious, especially if the words, ideas, images don’t come.
I keep thinking that the way to approach distractions is by getting creative. By finding silly, playful, helpful solutions. By approaching the creative process with a lighthearted, curious touch—instead of getting angry with ourselves for reaching for our smartphone or having the attention span of a flee. I don’t think we get very far by judging, criticizing or punishing ourselves.
That’s why I wanted to share a few examples of navigating these common distractions. I’d love to hear what helps you in the comments.
- Lock your cell phone in a box, which has a big sign on it that says: “Open only in case of emergencies (Instagram doesn’t count).” Keep that box in another room.
- Create a special corner in your home with quotes and images that inspire you. Work in that corner as often as you can, and pause from time to time to savor the visual inspiration.
- Collect objects, ideas, books and anything else that sparks your creativity. Put them in a shoebox. Reread and use them when you’re really distracted.
- On a Post-It note list the reasons why you create. Why is creativity so important to you? Why are you creating this very thing you’re creating? What happens when you’re creating? What’s so magical about the process? Why does it matter to you? Put that Post-It wherever you’re creating: your laptop or desk or journal. Write out a few Post-Its, and put them on the very things that distract you, such as your phone or other devices.
- Use a scented candle or any other scent to act as an anchor, to ground you in the moment.
- Make a list of strange inventions and silly ideas that help you curb your distractions. This is also a great way to get your creative juices flowing. For instance, you might list everything from a device that stops time to taping a “do not disturb” sign to your forehead to burying your smartphone in the backyard.
- Have a simple and quick ritual that signals it’s time to start. This might be a cup of tea, a few breaths or a sip of water. It might be rereading a favorite sentence or setting an intention.
- Get curious about your easily distracted mind. Write about your distracted state. Write about what’s distracting you, like your phone, your worries and frustrations and maybe fears. Get all of this out of your head and onto the page. In fact, write about it in your process journal. You never know the revelations you might find. For instance, maybe you’re leaning on random distractions because you’re actually afraid that when you do start, you won’t create anything worthwhile. Knowing this helps you address the real challenge. Your solution for navigating self-doubts will look very different from your solution for navigating a shiny smartphone.
- Take a break. If you are burnt out, you’ll likely just be spinning your wheels if you keep working. Instead, take a walk. Ride your bike. Take a dance break. Listen to your favorite music with your eyes closed. Do anything that gives your brain and body a refreshing, rejuvenating or calming break.
- Go somewhere you can be distraction-free (like a place with no dirty shirts or spoons). Maya Angelou wrote in hotel and motel rooms, where she’d keep a dictionary, a Bible, a deck of cards and a bottle of sherry.
Anything can distract us. Anything can pull our attention away from our creative work. And that’s precisely when we can use our creativity as a powerful tool. That is, we can use creative thinking to understand, reduce and eliminate distractions so we can finally focus and act on our creative dreams.