The Right Kind of Distraction

There’s a fairly good chance that distraction is the devil. That for many of us, the inability to ignore the wealth of options before us is the root of all our failures. And while it very well be true that distraction is the very source of pure evil, it’s unfortunately the likely root of every great idea ever1.

Tangents come at you all day long. Shiny objects flash before your eyes; the wants and needs of others will always try and knock you off your path. While many are adept at managing these distractions, the ADHD-sufferers among us have to learn ways to filter these things out in order to forge ahead. Inevitably we have to buckle down and begin to understand the concept of focus2 and work on ways to work around our own nature.

Inevitably, through experience and practice, we get better. We learn to stay on track, to keep our head down and to get things done. But the same things that help us get ahead are often the same things that end up killing our creativity. We fight so hard to stay on task that things become rote rather than instinctual. We become so focused on focusing that we lose our natural ability to take everything in.

One of the best ways to fight this is by capturing your ideas. Find fast ways to get them down and get back to what you were doing. For me, this is a combination of nvALT and Omnifocus, for you a piece of paper or a Field Notes journal and a good pen might be all that’s needed. Come back to these notes every so often and see if they still pull at your attention. It’s easy to be excited about an idea in the minute; it’s a greater challenge to reignite that spark at a later date. Getting the bones of your idea down lets you overcome the fear of losing something magical, but helps you get back to your work. Regularly visit these notes, ruthlessly eliminate the garbage and figure out what you want to do about the rest.

Then again, sometimes capturing and moving on won’t be enough. Sometimes the distraction is a message and true mastery isn’t in its elimination, but in knowing when to indulge in it. Distinguishing this particular grey area is often one of the great challenges the distractible will face. It’s learning the difference between trying to tell yourself something vs. when you are looking to avoid things. Both breeds of distraction appear to be the same on the surface, but one will quickly get you lost while the other leads you where you need to go.

Figuring out which is which… for some, this will never be a problem. For us, it will be a lifelong battle. You’ll never truly know with 100% certainly if you’re making the right choices, but if you keep looking to ask the right questions and work to determine what really matters, you have a far better chance of getting it right.


  1. Then again it’s also the root of quite a few crappy ones, but another post for another day…  

  2. I can’t tell you how many people take a natural understanding of focus for granted…  

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