Are Creative People More Easily Distracted Than Everyone Else?

Over the last year, more and more books are being published that deal with how creative people handle the distractions of modern living in a hi-tech age. Maria Popova over at Brain Pickings recently reviewed the book “The Creative Brain: The Science of Genius” by neuroscientist Nancy Andreasen. Toward the end of the review she mentions the relationship between creative people and distraction:

“Creative people, Andreasen notes, can be more easily overwhelmed by stimuli and become distracted. Some of the writers in her study, upon realizing they had a tendency to be too sociable, employed various strategies for keeping themselves isolated from human contact for sizable stretches of time in order to create. (Victor Hugo famously locked away all his clothes to avoid the temptation of going out while completing The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1830, which he wrote at his desk wearing nothing but a large gray shawl.) And yet for all its capacity to overwhelm, the creative mind remains above all a spectacular blessing:

Our ability to use our brains to get “outside” our relatively limited personal perspectives and circumstances, and to see something other than the “objective” world, is a powerful gift. Many people fail to realize that they even have this gift, and most who do rarely use it.”

There you have it. A neuroscientist confirming that creative people struggle with distraction more than others. As a result, the most successful have created routines and strategies for channelling their distraction into a positive purpose. If you’re checking your Twitter feed while reading this, you may be exactly the type of person we’re talking about.

In fact, I would go so far as to say it’s not the most talented or gifted creatives who achieve success, it’s the ones who’ve created a disciplined routine for getting things done.  What about you?  What’s the routine that holds back the tsunami of daily distraction and allows you to constructively create?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Neil Werenskjold

    When I’m focused on a story I write early in the morning 5-5:30 am till whenever. Even then I get distracted as the sun comes up and over the mountains outside my office. I sometimes find myself taking pictures of that outstanding view when clouds shroud the mountains in unusual light and colors.

    • Michael Saltar

      Spectacular. I bet you never tire of that view!

  • Bruce Herwig

    Squirrel!

    • walkercreative

      Love it!

  • wrburton

    I’m sorry. What was the question?

  • Bobby

    Curiously-all musicians I know are extremely focused and not all easily distracted. And creative as well. Maybe this just applies to writers?

    • I know it applies to more than writers, plus the musicians I know are pretty easily distracted… :-)

      • walkercreative

        I understand the ability to be both intensely focused and highly distracted. “Research” can take it’s own tangent if you don’t stay on top of it. That said, … as a writer, often “distraction” serves a “brain rest” for me — space away from the work of “creating” ideas, a time to rest on the waves of others’ thoughts or absorb lovely surroundings. Sometimes that channels the brain in new directions, refreshes, and helps make new connections. That said, I should probably get back my to my report now . . . lol . . .

    • Michael Saltar

      I’m both a writer and a musician, so I can offer some insight. We are both highly focused and highly distracted. The key for me is I am most able to create when I am in an atmosphere of joy and peace (read: sans outside distractions that can bring negative feelings or rude interruptions). However, even within myself, it is the very nature of creativity to spawn ideas, and those ideas can lead to “research” which can spin off into counterproductive tangents. The act of writing is more vulnerable to these tangents than creating music because, in music, there is audible feedback from the sounds we are making, which forces us to stay focused — a virtual auditory cocoon if you will — and increases the “joy factor.” In writing, the artist is working in silence and thus more sensitive to outside stimuli.

  • It’s all about focus. Anything worth doing is worth doing right, and with discipline is time well spent as you fulfill your dreams. Success in anything is completing your journey to your satisfaction.

    • Well said Mark!

      • Thank you Phil.

        It seems that most people focus more on the distractions than the job at hand. Other’s say that they do everything and I think, not well.

        What makes the few stand out is their understanding that if it were easy, everybody would be doing it. It should never be about fame and money. That’s taking the cart before the horse. It should be about fulfilling one’s bliss so that one day you won’t have to look back and say, “What if?”

  • @ibreathefiction

    I wake up at 6 AM every day to write. Al my friends are night owls, so getting up this early allows me to get something done before my message inbox or my twitter feed become too jumbled with interesting ppl and topics

    • Exactly my schedule. In fact I wrote my first two books going into the office at 6am to get two hours of work done before everyone else came in…

      • Michael Saltar

        Very encouraging and affirming post, Phil. I harness those bountiful delta waves from a good night’s sleep by starting writing at 5 am (no choice: my kids are up at 6)! Besides the lack of distraction factor, I’ve found that no other time of day yields as much creativity. It’s hard to shake off the dust of pressures, fatigue and responsibility as the day wears on. However, here I am writing this post in the midst of “taking a break” whilst rewriting a screenplay. Back at it…

        • Could not agree more Michael. After lunch, forget it for me. I can do meetings, phone calls, speaking, etc, but the later in the day, the less I can focus enough to make real creativity happen. Thanks for the comment!