In this new world of social distancing, a lot of us are working from home where our only connection to the outside world is digital. Now more than ever, it’s important to draw the line between necessary communication and distraction in order to stay creative. Most of today’s jobs require some degree of creativity, but it is extra important for it to thrive when you work in a creative field. So how do you come up with your next great idea when every digital alert seems to be trying to sabotage you?
Don’t get me wrong, technology is a great tool, and it can do a lot for the creative process. The idea that you should aim for total digital disconnection is not ideal. Also, it’s impossible. We need to respect that technology plays an important part in creativity, while admitting that we are a little too addicted to that notification ding.
Finding a healthy balance is the key to success. Here are a few small but effective things to limit digital distraction and boost your creativity.
Turn off all notifications on your laptop and phone. Find a place where you can keep your mobile phone that will be out of sight. Trust me, if you can see that phone out of the corner of your eye, you will be tempted to pick it up. If you find that you are missing out on important notifications after a couple days, you can turn them back on. I know, this one is really hard. That’s why I started with it. I promise it gets easier from here.
You will be more efficient with your time if you let yourself focus on things instead of constantly jumping back and forth between tasks. Pick certain times of your day to check your inbox. If you find yourself being distracted by thoughts like “remember to email Tim,” or anything other than the creative task at hand, do what I call a “brain dump.” Write down all those random thoughts on a Post-it® Note so you can get them out of your brain, but you’ll still remember them later. When your scheduled inbox time arrives, you can go ahead and email Tim.
Tapping into your creativity takes periods of uninterrupted concentration. It can be hard to get to this place if you are constantly distracted. When you are working on a project that requires you to focus, it may become necessary to set aside some time for it. Let your team know you are taking time to focus on a project. Make sure you chunk out the time you need on your shared calendar. If you are able to, step away from your desk and find a quiet spot to work. If you are tied to your desk, set up a sign that says Do Not Disturb, or any other witty sign that will keep people from distracting the creative process. You will get a lot more accomplished in a shorter amount of time if you give yourself this focus time.
Relaxing and empty moments are when our brain is able to make connections between unrelated things and find interesting insights. People often say that their best ideas happen while they’re in the shower. Probably because this is one of the only places that offers a relaxing and empty moment for most people. Since the invention of the smartphone, people tend to fill every empty moment scrolling through feeds or catching up on news. Stop doing that. Take those small moments to let your brain wander. You might be waiting in line at the grocery store when it suddenly hits you how to solve that creative problem for the campaign you kicked off last week — all because you weren’t looking at your phone. You won’t get paid overtime for this, but it will be worth it because it can save you a lot of frustrating, creatively-blocked hours at work. If you don’t think you can handle the grocery store line without your phone, make sure you are carving out time during your day to let your mind wander. Take a walk or jog, do yoga or meditation — whatever works for you.
When you kick off a project, it’s tempting to jump right into working on your computer. Technology allows you to search images quickly, create digital mood boards, research inspiring blogs, and collaborate with fellow artists with online review tools. You should absolutely do all of those things. But before you do, start with pen to paper. You can burn through ideas fast when you sketch, and your brain can be free to go a million different places in a short amount of time. The computer will only slow down your creativity at this point in the process. After you pick out your top five ideas out of the million that you sketched out, move your process to the computer.
Hopefully someday we will find the perfect balance and learn to live in harmony with tech. Until then, every day is a struggle to not let those technological distractions get the best of you. How do you stay creative while being surrounded by distraction? Share your tips on staying focused and creative by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.